Michelle C. Mayer-Ship, CEO of Dress for Success, on burnout and career advice

This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It personal with successful CEOs discovering everything from how they got to where they are to what gets them out of bed in the morning to their daily routines.

In August 2020, it was started by Michelle C. Mayer Ship dream job – Becoming the first woman of color reveal his identity Major League Baseball president and culture officer.

Barely a year later, in September 2021, she said She announced that she was leaving. The truth was that the pressure of being a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic had led her to a breaking point.

Meyer Schep says the burnout has nothing to do with MLB: Her peers in other organizations have felt the same unrelenting burnout. First came the discovery of how to make work happen during a global health crisis. Then, nationwide racial accounts after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

“As a black woman, I was worried about my kids, worried about my personal safety, worried about all of that,” Meyer Schep, 55, told CNBC Make It. “I was completely taken advantage of.”

A few months after leaving MLB, she got a call about Dress for Success. The 25-year-old nonprofit, which helps women through the job search and interview process, was looking for a new CEO.

The role came with a significant pay cut, and Meyer Shep was still focused on recovering from burnout. But she was drawn to her mission: Women lost more jobs than men during Covid, stayed out of the workforce longer and are being rehired at lower rates.

In January, she took the job. Dealing with these big problems with the nonprofit’s limited resources may make it vulnerable again, but she says she doesn’t know any other way: “Every personal evaluation I’ve ever done calls for my best quality as caring.”

Here, she discusses burnout, the country’s gender pay gap, and why you should make such risky career decisions as I did.

After realizing it was on fire: ‘It was a firefighting every day’

Almost a year after the epidemic, I remember coming home one night. One of my sons said to me over and over, “Mom, you look really tired. You look so tired. You have dark circles under your eyes.”

I kept thinking, “Oh my God, do I look that bad?”

For 20 years, I’ve been on the hamster wheel. During Covid, I was in 150% crisis management mode, unable to do the normal things I would have been doing as a people leader and diversity leader. She was fighting fires every day.

I started to have health problems. I didn’t sleep. One of my colleagues said to me, “Michelle, you’re not going to be good to us if you’re not good with yourself.”

That’s when I knew it was time. I was exhausted both physically and mentally, and completely used up. She moved away, with no plan but vacation.

It wasn’t until after I stopped working that I realized how tired I really was.

On being a black woman in a room with white men: “Believe me, no one wants to blend in”

In law school, I was the only woman, sometimes the only person of color, and definitely the only black person in the class. My difference was actually my superpower.

I was able, through my live experiences, to see things that the majority of people in that room did not appreciate. And when I talk about whatever it might be, you’ll see people say, “Oh my God, I never thought of that.”

People around the table, in the classroom, in the conference room, can come from different backgrounds and experiences. Everyone will see something that the other cannot see.

Don’t make me tense. It doesn’t make me feel like I don’t belong, or that I should internalize. Look for the word “absorption”. Believe me, no one wants to accommodate.

I want to show and be able to use my difference as my superpower to contribute in a meaningful way.

On Occupational Risk: “If You Feel Too Good, You Don’t Grow”

take risks. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable in your career. Volunteer on extended assignments, join a committee or lead a project. If you feel too good, you’re not growing.

The biggest risk of my career has been to quit labor law. I’m the first person in my family to go to graduate school, and I’m the first lawyer in my family. My parents were very proud of me.

I practiced law for 10 years, and everyone assumed I would be a partner in a law firm or run a legal department somewhere. My husband at the time was a lawyer. This was our space.

Over time, I realized that I did not enjoy the litigation aspects of my employment law practice. She preferred aspects of mentorship, training and advice on the job. This prompted me to take other ways to use my skill sets, and it gave me a role as the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer at the New Jersey Department of Labor.

Entering a new role, doing something I hadn’t done before, was really scary. I was afraid I would let my family down. I was entering a whole new arena with a different group of colleagues to build relationships with.

But I’ll tell you, I’ve never looked back. Your best plans for your career may not be the final stage.

On the economic advancement of women: “I don’t know if the wage gap will ever be fixed in our lifetime”

The wage gap has always been a problem. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if it will ever be fixed in our lifetime. I really do. If I hung my hat on it, I would probably feel depressed every day.

I’m just telling everyone to do their best to negotiate and make sure they know the value of their work when they go for interviews. I hope the people in my previous position as Chief Human Resources Officer will do everything they can to ensure equal pay.

number of women who returned For the workforce is actually Back to pre-pandemic numbers. The issue now is: Will they stay in the workforce? Will the working conditions help us meet where we are, and will it be flexible regarding our needs with the family, and all that?

I am cautiously optimistic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Want to earn more and work less? Register Free CNBC Make It: A Virtual Your Money Event On December 13th at 12pm ET to learn from money gurus like Kevin O’Leary how you can increase your earning power.

Open an account now: Get smarter about your finances and career with our weekly newsletter