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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

A Conversation with Odessa 'OJ' Jenkins, CEO of Bonfire Women


Odessa OJ Jenkins is CEO of Bonfire, a distinctive talent development platform, helps employers engage, retain and empower diverse talent by equipping women on the rise with workplace confidence, coaching, and core skill development tools. We sat down with Odessa Jenkins to discuss OJ's current role at Bonfire as well an LGBTQ CEO.


Tell us about your role at Bonfire. What are some of your goals in this new role?

In my role as CEO at Bonfire, I have the awesome responsibility of driving the strategic direction of the business. The company’s mission is to accelerate business by equipping women with leadership opportunities. My goal is to ensure the success of the companies that partner with us and to equip the women and men who participate in our leadership programs with an unshakeable belief in women's ability and value to lead in the workplace.

 

What role does your position at Bonfire play in the overall entrepreneurial landscape?  

Our programs are designed to ignite the power of women, ensuring that talent has the environment to rise and succeed. By equipping women with essential skills, self-belief, knowledge, and influence, Bonfire is contributing to a new generation of leaders who are poised to reshape the future of the workplace, benefiting not just themselves but their organizations and the broader business ecosystem.

 

How do you feel about women and members of the LGBTQ+ community currently in the workplace? 

I think many women and members of the LGBTQ+ community still find it very hard to feel SAFE! Thus, it remains hard at times to be a woman at work; it remains harder and more complex to be a queer woman at work. Intersectionality is a complexity that most companies have yet to address. These are the facts: Women, and especially women of color, remain underrepresented at every stage of the corporate talent pipeline. Women are given fewer opportunities to lead, and corporate culture very rarely disproportionately amplifies femininity and womanhood the way it does more masculine, male-dominated theories. I’ve read McKinsey research that found that LGBTQ+ employees report feeling the most lonely and being the only one at work. That “onlyness” leads to disengagement and not being fully authentic. Yet, women are more ambitious than ever within and outside of the workplace (obtaining more C-suite positions and starting businesses at a blistering rate). This is why I do the work that I do. I will never be okay existing in a world where people stop trying to create environments of inclusion and equity in all places and spaces.

 

Talk about why you formed the Women’s National Football Conference and what you plan to accomplish in the near future.

I formed the Women's National Football Conference (WNFC) to create equity, awareness, and economic advancement for women in tackle football. After a decade in the game, I looked back and saw that I had accomplished everything you could in women’s football: Hall of Fame, national championships, gold medals, yet no one knew who we were and no one was thinking about sponsoring or paying us. I recognized and honored the work involved in creating opportunities that men and boys in football had, but the drastic disparities between women's and men's football, including on-field experience, recognition, and compensation, were too much for me to handle. My vision for the WNFC is to provide a sports property and business where women can compete, be seen, and be compensated at the highest level.

 

How do you feel about the conference's growth over the years? 

I'm excited about how far we've come in just a few years of existence. Seeing more women and girls, and our fans and allies in football fall in love with the WNFC gives me great pride. Yet, we have just scratched the surface. There is so much more potential in this business and in this sport for women and girls.

 

What barriers or obstacles did you have to overcome throughout your career? 

I think the biggest barrier is access to resources (capital and nepotism). The data related to what Black women start with is no secret. Everything is harder and we have less time to "prove it." Yet still, we are the fastest-growing demographic of small business owners. We have increasing participation in homeownership, and the rates of Black women obtaining college degrees are doubling every twenty years. Despite the obstacles, we are winning.

 

As a role model for founders and female athletes, what is the most important lesson you learned playing competitive sports? 

The biggest lesson from sports that has helped me as a founder is resilience. When you are a founder, you lose... A LOT. Sports teach you not to translate a loss into failure. As a founder or executive leader, you must become a master at overcoming hard moments. How does that translate into corporate America?

 

Talk about your role at Bonfire and the importance the organization plays in the overall entrepreneurial landscape.  

Bonfire accelerates leaders so that our partners can accelerate their businesses. This can only happen if women are equipped and afforded equal opportunities to lead in all areas of the workplace. The corporate workplace and small business workplace are interconnected in many ways: community, vendor relations, contracting, talent, economic impact, technology. As leadership improves across the corporate workplace, we inherently affect small businesses, the community, and the world at large.

 

How are you helping women of color overcome barriers in the workplace?  

Bonfire and our programs play a crucial role in helping women of color overcome barriers in the workplace by providing them with a brave space to network, build skills, gain mentorship, grow knowledge, and acquire tools to accelerate their careers. We focus on techniques to build influence, power, authority, and allyship in the workplace (many of which are limited in diversity). We build community and provide a space for coaching. More importantly, we show representation for women of color at every step of our program.

 

As an LGBTQ leader, what advice would you give other LGBTQ individuals who are struggling with career advancement?  

First, ask yourself what it is that you want to do. No really! So much of what we do, and what we are trying to achieve is because of what other people think. Plan your next move based on what you really want. If you want more money, ask for it. Don’t ask for a promotion if you don’t want more responsibility. Be clear about what you actually need in the moment and what will fulfill you in the future.

 

What is your personal goal for 2024? 

To end the year in better mental and physical health than I started the year.

 

What is the best career advice you ever received?  

Never get too high with your highs or too low with your lows." - Uncle Jon Solish


You can learn more about Odessa Jenkins at https://odessajenkins.com and BONFIRE WOMEN by visiting https://bonfirewomen.com/ 


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