Kadedra Warren-Jones is a Senior Retirement Plan Account Manager at NFP where she has worked for over 22 years. She also completed six years with the U.S. Army Reserve, where she was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant. Kadedra believes that everything in life happens for a reason and that each of us sets our path when we work hard and believe in ourselves.
Here is what Kadedra had to say when we asked her about authenticity and self-empowerment:
How can you discover your authentic self?
In order for you to be your authentic self, you have to participate in different things—classes, groups, extracurriculars. You need to have different experiences. When I was younger, I didn’t like blueberries. I didn’t even try them to see if I would have liked them then, don’t ask me why, but I love them now! That’s because I gave blueberries a chance. You have to be willing to give things a try to learn what you do and don’t like. Then you can be your truest self. It’s also important to remember that when you put yourself out there, you can’t worry about what others will think.
How can you be your authentic self in your personal and professional life?
As a black woman, it is definitely hard to be my true authentic self professionally, especially working in a field where not too many people look like me. However, I still show up as my authentic self. When you come with your best self, you are your best self. It’s crazy that some people stereotype others based on how they look. In the black community, wearing head scarves is a sign of beauty, but others don’t always see it this way. I don’t hold back and refrain from wearing scarves though. What I do is remain true to myself and put myself out there in a way that won’t offend others. Rather than remaining silent, I try to educate others and share my perspective and experiences. For example, I tell others about the CROWN Act, which is a California law that prohibits discrimination based on hair style and texture.
When you are faced with a challenge, what motivates you to keep going?
I think just knowing that when you have someone else dependent on you, such as when you are a mother or a friend, encourages you to keep going. It’s also knowing that you have advantages. If I was born in 1840, I would see the world differently and would definitely be different than the person I am today. Could I have done what Harriet Tubman did? Would I have been strong enough to move forward in my convictions? God gave me a brain to think, and I stand on the shoulders of so many courageous and steadfast women who came before me and had to fight harder just to be seen as human and have the same rights as others. This makes me want to keep going and pushing.
What are three ways you can think outside of the box?
One, speak up. You have to use your voice, especially when you look different than everyone else in the room. You are an asset when you are unique. Two, do the research and put in the work. While it’s important to speak up and contribute, you can’t come in too strong without knowing what you’re talking about. Learn as much as you can to become knowledgeable about your industry. When you know what you’re talking about, you can think more creatively because you’re not worried about just getting the facts straight. Three, avoid groupthink. Groupthink happens when everyone thinks the same, which usually results from everyone looking the same. In order for people and businesses to become more innovative, we need to welcome diversity of thought. Get different people into a room and be ready to listen and learn.
What is the best way women can prepare to pursue roles in traditionally male-dominated fields?
First and foremost, don’t be afraid to sit at the table with the men. As long as you put in the work, you are worthy of having a seat at the table. When you have a seat at the table, push the envelope. Challenge the status quo. Get your hands dirty and pull your bootstraps up. I was a Staff Sergeant—Chemical Operations Specialist in the United States Army Reserve, so I’m not intimidated by a room full of men. You should learn how the men in your field operate, so you can learn from them and meet them where they’re at, but you can still be feminine.
How can women be advocates for themselves and other women?
We need to see it more. Young girls need to see that the sky is the limit. When I was younger, we didn’t think about women being involved with the NFL. Now, we have a female assistant-coach in the NFL and female officials. These women who are breaking barriers in a male-dominated field should speak more about their journeys and show themselves more to younger women. They should discuss their experiences, what they learned, and how they accomplished what some may see as an impossible feat. When we teach one, we reach one and encourage others to dominate as well, so that younger women see that anything is possible. We need to praise other women’s success—we’re not competitors. I also embrace the mentality that I won’t be the last, but I’m happy to be the first.
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
20-year-olds need to give us more advice! I was a headstrong 20-year-old. I was a Staff Sergeant and Platoon Leader before age 24, so I really was already a leader and go-getter at a young age, using the skills and experiences I obtained through being resilient and knowing that I could do anything by trying and giving it my all. You really just need to continue to be you. Be kind. Be patient. You will always reap the benefits of the fruits of your labor when you are your authentic self.
Kadedra Warren-Jones is a Senior Retirement Plan Account Manager at NFP. She started her career at Lincoln Benefits Group in 1999, which was acquired by NFP in 2013, and has been with the company since. She attended Pierce College and received a degree in Business Finance. Kadedra also completed six years with the U.S. Army Reserve. She believes that everything in life happens for a reason and you set your path when you believe in yourself and work hard.