What is your story? Or in other words, what made you your awesome self you are today?
This seems like such a simple question, but it isn’t. It’s very easy to define ourselves and our stories by our careers, but we are so much more than that. I think women generally have a difficult time defining who we are outside of our careers and our children. It is very easy to define ourselves as a mother, a wife, an executive, etc. But the challenge comes when we look beyond these roles. We give so much time to everything else that we often lose sight of who we are inside.
I am all of these things: a mother, a wife, a new grandmother, a daughter, an executive at a sales and marketing company, the executive director of a non-profit, but I am also a convicted felon. I’m a woman who through my own actions, made a huge mess of my life, then faced the consequences head-on. It is through this experience that I define who I am today.
I am a woman who is capable of anything I set my mind to. I am a highly motivated learner who is driven to achieve my “next big thing,” no matter what it is. I am passionate about learning, creating new experiences, and enabling others to recognize their value and seize opportunities to achieve more than they ever thought possible.
What message do you promote?
We’ve come a long way in changing the societal stigmas associated with the formerly incarcerated, but there’s still much work to be done. The narrative that’s widely accepted today is that U.S. prisons are reserved for the worst that society has to offer and that those who are incarcerated are unsalvageable. This is a myth. About one-third of Americans, today have a criminal record so the reality is they must be salvageable. Finding empathy and providing a path forward for individuals with a criminal record will not only help them personally but strengthen families, communities, businesses, and economies.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
I’m the Chief Social Responsibility Officer of Televerde and the Executive Director of the Televerde Foundation, and my passion is empowering incarcerated women. I have a personal connection to this community and I know the devastating impact of having people and businesses wanting to define you by your worst mistake. From my perspective, the more we can develop these women, the greater their ability to leave their criminal record where it belongs: in the past. The mission of the foundation is to help currently and formerly incarcerated women successfully join the global workforce and to do this we will provide training, education, and personal and professional development programs that will enable the women to develop the skills necessary for meaningful and rewarding careers and successful community reintegration.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to
A few years after my release from prison (I realize not everyone can relate to that specifically, but stick with me), as my sales career was progressing, I recognized the impact my lack of experience and education had on my ability to grow and truly feel accepted by my peers. I realized that if I wanted a seat at the table, then I was going to have to earn it through advanced education. The decision to further my education and pursue a master’s degree did not come easily. I still had children at home and I was realizing increasing responsibility in my career. However, I had developed a passion for learning and became highly motivated to prove that I could be successful. I wanted more out of my career. I wanted to make it to the c-suite and I believed that advanced education would be the path that took me there. I will say it was challenging, probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but it was worth it. I learned. I grew. I developed real business acumen and relationships that have supported me throughout my career. I encourage all women to never stop learning. Knowledge is the one thing that no one can ever take from you.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I am inspired every day by women who are pursuing and achieving their dreams. Every day, I witness women successfully transition back into their communities. They reunite with their families and their children, start professional careers, graduate from college, buy houses, and achieve things they once believed impossible. It is simply a gift to be able to witness their dreams come true.
How do you SHOW UP?
I don’t shy away from putting in the work. I am a firm believer in earning your seat at any table. You’re not entitled to anything. In order to earn things, you need to show up consistently, do good work, and be a trusted contributor.
If you could give one piece of advice for women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
Learn, work hard, set goals, ask for help--and this is important--don’t be afraid to say what you want. I am a firm believer in this idea from the Alchemist, “When you want something bad enough, the universe will conspire to make it happen.”
Connect with Michelle Cirocco