Angelica Ross is the definition of a multi-hyphenate: As a founder, CEO, transgender rights activist, actor, producer, and singer-songwriter, she wears many hats at once. After teaching herself web design and coding, Ross began working as a webmaster. In 2014, she founded TransTech, a Chicago-based social enterprise company that trains transgender people in tech skills and helps get them jobs.
Now, since finding mainstream success onscreen starring in FX’s Pose and American Horror Story, Ross is launching a sister company, TransTech Global Enterprises, an agency that provides services including web development, app development, marketing, and social media management. In an Inc. Your Next Move interview with the Honey Pot CEO Beatrice Dixon, Ross discusses some of biggest things she’s learned in her varied career. Here are three key lessons for entrepreneurs from the conversation.
1. Focus on yourself
“People are constantly looking outside of themselves for definitions, for blame, for support,” says Ross. “I’ve learned that looking outside of yourself is an incorrect way to practice this thing called life. You can find all you need within yourself.”
Ross says that the biggest turning point in her life came when she was struggling financially and unable to pay the bills. After coming to accept her circumstances and environment, “I started to reject the scoreboard of bank account balances and credit scores, which are supposed to determine what my value is.” Letting go of the need for external validation allowed her to stop waiting for the good things to come her way, and start creating her own opportunities, she adds. From then on, she was not only able to face her challenges, but “demolish them.”
2. Know your worth
In addition to knowing yourself, Ross says that you should also always be aware of and protective of your value. As an example, Ross recalled an incident on a film set where a person involved with the production wore T-shirts with slogans like “Build That Wall” or featuring an American flag with the words “I Don’t Kneel.”
Ross says that while she shouldn’t have had to be the person to step in, she knew she couldn’t allow that to continue. “I pulled out every ounce of privilege I thought I had at that moment. You would’ve thought I was a full-on White woman because I was like, ‘I’m not coming out of my trailer until this situation is handled.’ So many White people saw the situation, but didn’t know what to say or do, and were allowing this environment to happen. And it had to be on the Black person to stop the show and say, ‘Hey, something has to change.'”
3. Create a safe work environment
Ross says that business leaders have a responsibility to set the tone in the workplace not just by hiring diverse employees, but by creating a space where people feel welcomed. Tone-setting actions can be visual, such as setting up nameplates that include pronouns, or introducing single-stall bathrooms. Another suggestion from Ross: Demystify the track for advancement, and then reward those who excel in their jobs.