Industry-pioneering social media strategist Candace Marie Stewart has many strings to her bow. Recently named by Vogue as one of 67 people changing the fashion world and adding a new role as an Adjunct Professor in social media at Parsons School Of Design—all while running social media for Prada in America—the Arkansas-native also founded Black In Corporate in June 2020. The much-needed initiative champions and supports Black individuals as they seek to progress in challenging structures and has just launched virtual six-month-long mentorship programs that pair Black professionals with a mentee. Here, she tells The Daily about her decade in the social media world, the impetus for launching a mentorship scheme, and why she never takes no for an answer.
You recently launched the Black In Corporate initiative. What’s the response been like? How did you know you were ready to launch such an important platform?
The response has been amazing! There are so many Black people in this space who need these resources, so I’m very happy that I was able to start the organization. During my 10+ year career navigating from company to company in the corporate realm, I saw not only a lack of Black colleagues, but the systematic racism that was embedded into the guidelines, policies, and practices that propelled white individuals towards success and Black individuals towards failure. Knowing that corporate culture was not a system built or designed with Black individuals in mind, I thought it was vital to create Black In Corporate—a much needed resource for those looking for assistance, support, and guidance behind corporate walls, where change is needed most.
Tell us about the new Black In Corporate Virtual Mentorship program.
One of the most substantial aspects that is missing in the corporate sector is the lack of mentorship for Black individuals who do not come from wealthy and connected backgrounds. While my ancestors were enslaved, my white counterparts’ ancestors were building businesses, wealth, and professional relationships with a 400-year advantage. I repeatedly found myself in the scenario of having a greater skillset, not to mention a more advanced educational background, but because I lacked an internal connection or a family friend in a ‘high place’—I was overlooked. Because of these experiences, a major goal of Black In Corporate is to create a mentorship system and program for Black individuals who lack generational access to mentors and generational wealth. I cannot wait to launch this virtual mentorship platform. A lot of time and effort has been placed into this space.
Is it industry-specific?
This tool will provide those who are at a disadvantage to have a greater opportunity to thrive within a corporation—no matter what field they decide to pursue. The mentorship program was designed for Black professionals who are in a corporate space or looking to be in a corporate space. Black In Corporate’s virtual mentorship program pairs Black professionals from various backgrounds including finance, law, fashion, media, entertainment, art, and more. We have tapped over 50 seasoned Black professionals who have committed and signed up for a six-month long program that will rotate twice a year. During that period, they will mentor two mentees. Everything will be virtual. During this timeframe, mentors will be a support system and work together with their mentees to help identify their goals, as well as define a clear and concise path to their goals with measurable milestones.
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How did it feel to be listed as one of Vogue’s ‘people changing the fashion industry’?
That was a very surreal moment for me. It’s something that I for sure envisioned happening at the beginning of my career, but for it to actually happen—I think I’m still processing that.
Black In Corporate seeks to champion individuals entering the workforce. Is there anyone you’re grateful to for giving you your own start in the industry?
I cannot narrow it down to just one name, as it was not just one person that helped me get to where I’m at right now. However, I will say that there were a multitude of sponsors and mentors who championed me on throughout my career. I wouldn’t be here without them.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Never take no as your final answer. I’ve received over a thousand ‘nos’ in my career. If I would have actually listened, I would not be where I’m at today.
If you could tell your teenage self, growing up in Arkansas, one thing; what would it be?
Trust yourself. I have had to make many tough decisions throughout my life and sometimes trusting myself can be extremely hard at times. However, if I am willing to bet on anyone—it is definitely myself.
You started off as a finance major, when did fashion come calling?
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be in the fashion industry. However, I did not know exactly what that looked like. I remember having a conversation with my mother about what I wanted to study in college and I conveyed to her that I was thinking about pursuing a fashion degree. Her advice to me was that fashion was fickle and that I should obtain a finance degree. She said that no matter what, if I still wanted to have a career in fashion after college or venture in a different direction, the finance degree would come in helpful, because at the end of the day every company needs to make money. And that is exactly what I did! I got my BBA in Finance while in Arkansas and moved to New York City in the summer of 2010 to pursue an MBA in Marketing and Finance. I started in the finance and banking world, but then quickly transitioned over into Fashion Journalism.
You started your career in social media for the likes of Refinery29, Barneys, Prada, etc.. What attracted you to work in the social media industry?
The deeper I dived into Fashion Journalism, I realized I had a love for the social media aspect within fashion. The part that I love most about the social media industry is that there is not a day-to-day. Literally, every day is different and that is something I can appreciate. I tend to get bored if something stays the same for too long. The beauty about my job is that it changes so frequently—from the clients to the actual platform itself.
How do you get it all done?!
I do not! I never do. However, I learn to prioritize, finish what I can, and show myself grace for the things that I do not fully complete in a day. I keep in mind that tomorrow will be a new day.
How have you found lecturing, is this something you thought you would progress into?
Lecturing has been one of the highlights for my year. In the beginning of the year when I made my resolutions, one thing that I wrote down is that I wanted to teach. Never in a million years did I foresee it being a professor at Parsons, teaching their first social media course for their Master’s program. I have been able to build my curriculum from the ground up and tackle very timely topics during this time.
What’s next for you?
I am not 100% sure, but it will definitely have Black In Corporate at top of mind. I pride myself in being both an advocate for Black individuals and using my voice to champion for people of color behind corporate walls—and Black In Corporate is definitely the tool to do just that.