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Podcast: The experience of female leaders of colour in the corporate world

Simi Rayat Leadership Coach at Wellbeing Face, and Rhonda Williams CEO of Dream Life Academy.


The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge, designed for individuals to challenge gender bias and inequality to create an inclusive world.

So today, we’re joined by Leadership Coach Simi Rayat and Rhonda Williams, CEO of Dream Life Academy, who are here to share the key challenges that female leaders of colour face and how to best overcome these obstacles.
 

1Please could you introduce yourself to our listeners? Simi let’s start with you.

(01:02) My name is Simi Rayat. My background is a Chartered Business Psychologist, I work as an Executive Leadership Coach and I help corporate leaders to develop their leadership brilliance. So, I work with a lot of female leaders globally to help them progress to senior positions, particularly women of colour. I’m the founder and owner of a thriving psychology coaching practice here in London called Wellbeing Face, I’m super excited to be part of this conversation with you both today and I really appreciate the space to discuss such an important topic.

2And, Rhonda, how about yourself? Please, could you let us know a little bit about your background and your current role?

(01:42) Absolutely, I’m so excited to be here with you. So, my name is Rhonda Williams and I am an emotional intelligence strategist. I also am an executive coach helping leaders to get more consistent outcomes in the work that they do. I also work with women of colour in particular, to help them pursue and obtain executive level roles. By background, I’m a registered nurse and I’ve spent lots of time in hospitals and in leadership positions. I’ve held executive level roles such as Chief Nursing Officer and hospital CEO and a couple of VP level positions as well, one for a global organisation. And so, I’m very excited about this conversation, this is a very important topic that’s near and dear to my heart.

3. Now, I wanted to begin by asking you what has been your experience of being a woman of colour in the corporate world so far in your career?

(02:39) Really great question, Megan. It’s been interesting. I’ve had an amazing experience in my career. I have had some amazing opportunities that I’ve worked really hard for. I’ve also experienced some challenges along the way. And each of those challenges, in them, I find that there is an opportunity for learning and thinking about what I can take away and what can I add to my toolbox.

Some of those challenges are frankly because you’re a woman of colour, but it’s so important to me that we understand what that means and how that contributes to the wholeness of who we are. There’s a saying in the black community that says, “You have to work twice as hard for half as much.” Well, this is absolutely a saying and a myth that I’d love to see end. There is no reason for women of colour to feel like they must work any harder than anyone else because I personally don’t believe that success is synonymous with “hard work,” whatever that means. It’s important that you show up in your full and authentic self and that you take ownership of what that means but some of your experience is directly connected to those above and below you. And I want all of your listeners to really hear this.

Sometimes it’s not about how hard you’re working. You may simply be in a place that is either supporting, helping and uplifting you or you may be in an environment that is hindering you in some way. And it’s up to you to identify that and then take decisive actions to help manage and minimise that. So, some of it is your environment and the network that you build but even so, we have amazing opportunities in front of us.

4. Has your experience changed during the course of the pandemic and as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement?

(04:33) It’s so interesting. Being here in the States and living the whole Black Lives Matter movement front and centre, my experience is that it really has not changed during the pandemic, unfortunately so. The core issues that exist for women of colour are still here, they are deeply embedded, systemic and structural. We hear these stories every single day.

As I talk to leaders who are looking to pursue those higher-level positions, they share stories every single day that let us know that this has not changed. What is amazing and positive is there is more awareness and simply having awareness gives us the ability to elevate the conversation and approach this a little bit differently.

As I said earlier, it’s so important for us to know that even though this truly hasn’t changed yet, I think there is small movement and progress and we still have to be in that position of taking ownership of ourselves and our circumstances. We simply cannot wait for the world to be fairer. So, self-ownership, in my view, is really the path to true success.

5. For those listening who may be of other genders and/or races, how can they go about truly understanding what the unique experiences of women of colour and indeed those of other minorities in their organisations are? What role do organisations have in facilitating this?

(06:06) That’s a great question, Megan. Creating the dialogue and raising the awareness is key. It’s about being curious to listen, to learn, not to judge or assume, which needs to be encouraged and led from the top, so from the board.

And I think it’s about creating a culture of psychological safety where people feel accepted and respected. So, this can be through forums and open discussions where people of all backgrounds, genders, levels within the organisation can talk about their experiences and share their ideas on how the organisation can become more diverse and inclusive. And then in turn, have these ideas turned into strategic initiatives that are owned and supported by senior leaders. Reaching out to external providers, diversity, and inclusion specialists to really facilitate these conversations, to enable those conversations to happen more openly and to foster healthy conversations around this topic is absolutely vital.

And I think, to add to that point, it’s also then using this insight and involving different levels in the organisation as part of the co-creation of the policy. And it’s so important that the new policies are designed by the diverse representation of the organisation’s employees. And the sessions that I talk about in terms of facilitating those conversations, they can be on topics around what it is like in terms of flexible working in the organisation, what is the promotions process like, what is the recruitment process like, what are people’s experiences around being managed and being led in the organisation.

So, I think that real curiosity to learn and not to assume is massively critical here. And I think, also, it’s really becoming aware of our own unconscious bias. And then this goes beyond just the unconscious bias training that happens in the training forums in organisations but it’s ensuring that those conversations continue outside of the training so that it’s part of the everyday conversations and our interactions with others and it’s part of how we show up when we are working and we are interacting with others.

6. Now, Rhonda, in 2020, it was reported that of all Fortune 500 CEOs, 1% were black, 2% were Asian, 2% were Latino, and 5% were women. What do you think has led to this and what steps do those at the top need to make to improve these statistics?

(08:53) Well, when I hear those numbers, I think to myself “Why is this? How did we get here?” And if we rewind and we think about the history, obviously, for years and years, business was dominated by the white males and that just was the way that it was. And so, there’s a systemic process that’s built into sustaining this. It’s not always something that we’re trying to do, it just happens.

For instance, Simi mentioned the promotion process. If you are with an organisation and you have an opening, what are you likely to do? You’re likely to think about those in your network that might be a good fit for this. Well, who’s in your network? If everyone in your network looks like you, then you can see how it would easily lead to someone looking like you getting the position. And that doesn’t mean that you’re approaching it with any malintent. It simply believes that we must be more thoughtful in how we bring this forward.

So, organisations, really must look closely at this. And as they think about where they are, Simi mentioned becoming curious, so where are we, who are we. One way to really engage this curiosity is to conduct an assessment of the organisation – “Where are we in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?”. I recommend that that be done by an external, third party or an independent source. You don’t want yourself internally going through and asking these questions because we know we have biases, we know we love our organisations, we know that we have positive intent. So, having an external person come in and help you with this to engage with you as a partner to say “Where are we? Are we really elevating our environment of belonging?” and then looking at those gaps that may arise out of the survey.

And so, when you’ve finished the survey, you’re likely to say, “We’re doing really great in some areas and we have some opportunities”. Well, where do we close those gaps? How can we bring the entire team together and really begin to live our values to understand that who we aspire to be as an organisation has to be reflected in the type of team that we build and the environment that we build? I think that’s really important.

As we do the assessment, it’s so important to know that the idea is not about judgment and there is no blaming. This is simply about understanding where you are versus where you would like to be and then engaging in very substantive actions that go beyond performative statements. One of my pet peeves is performative actions and statements. I put a sign up or I post on social media and I say “Yes, Black Lives Matter and we support that” but there’s no real action, no real substance behind it. So, to really move the organisation forward, it requires substantive actions and it requires the organisational leaders to truly commit to lasting and sustainable change.

7. And Simi, following on from some of Rhonda’s points just now, many organisations have hired heads of or directors of diversity and inclusion. How important is it that these people have a regular communication to the C-suite?

(12:31) I think it’s absolutely critical and commitment to gender, cultural diversity needs to come from the board. The target setting, the budget allocation, appointing leaders that are responsible for gender, race, diversity and inclusion, fostering a culture of inclusion and measuring the success of these initiatives, the accountability needs to start from the top.

I think that the progress in the last decade has been made in terms of organisations hiring specific leaders of diversity and inclusion but it’s often one person or a small team but it needs to be championed at different levels in the organisation and in local geographies as well. And I also believe middle managers have a greater influence than perhaps they realise to foster and role model those behaviours to a broader spectrum of employees that are looking up from entry-level roles and looking up to them and beyond.

I think, also, essentially it needs to be wider and not just be the spoken values of the organisation, but it needs to be actioned. As Rhonda said, it needs to be actioned through the policies, through the way structured processes are designed and it needs to be experienced and felt by every person in the organisation. And that can only happen if it is ingrained within the systems the way in which organisations and people within those organisations collaborate, communicate, and how decisions are designed to make.

8. And what do you think are the unique challenges and issues faced by women of colour in the workplace, regardless of role or seniority? What role do leaders and organisations have in helping overcome these?

(14:28) I think there are unique challenges that are real for women of colour. And, in fact, we don’t refer to it as the glass ceiling metaphor. We refer to it as a concrete ceiling, illustrating that it’s even tougher for women of colour more so than white females going through the higher ranks of an organisation to the highest ranks within an organisation. And I categorise these unique challenges into three main areas.

The first one really is around stereotypes and perceptions. So, often women of colour will feel that they’re overlooked, and they’ll feel somewhat invincible in an organisation. Quite often we’re judged by false stereotypes and quite often we will need to justify why we’ve made certain decisions and questions. I was working with an Indian CEO leader a short while back and the stories that she was sharing with me in terms of how her decisions as a CEO were still being questioned in certain parts of her role whereas male counterparts in senior positions, their decisions weren’t being half as questioned or at all questioned as they were with her.

Also, I think it goes back to Rhonda’s point that most women of colour do grow up with the belief that you have to be twice as good as them to be successful, that you have to work really hard. And often this is a perception that women of colour hold that to get ahead, we do have to work harder, we must work longer hours. And in some ways, we end up overcompensating and doing a lot more without it being recognised and acknowledged.

Also, when a woman of colour exerts assertiveness, that can be perceived as being angry or a bossy woman rather than being perceived as a respected and an assertive leader. It’s quite interesting because the spots at the top are very limited as well for females, let alone for women of colour. So, there’s often that perception as well but maybe I’m rejected by other women of colour especially when there are so few seats at the top.

The second area really is around opting out. So, when we look up in the organisation and we see that the role models that are in the most senior positions in the organisation, many women who get to these positions tend to emulate a lot of masculine qualities. And when women or aspiring female leaders look up to them, they don’t feel that they can relate to those qualities or they feel that they don’t align with those behaviours or those values and they don’t want to conform so, they opt out.

Also, there are too few role models. There are not enough women at the top that embody the diversity of the employees that are looking up to them. So, our biological need to fit in, we see this as a threat, and this encourages us again to opt out because no one at the top looks like me or talks like me or is going to understand me.

And I think the other point is around being torn between being authentic and stimulating. And we tend to opt out in terms of sharing the more personal and vulnerable side of ourselves. Many women of colour feel that personal information they may share about themselves or if they reveal too much, they fear that that could be used against them. So, not opening up and having that authentic real self can be quite hard to bring to the workplace, especially when you are trying to head for those more senior positions.

Finally, I would say it’s about not being supported, so quite often being overlooked. Women of colour tend to need to go actively to find their own mentors. Quite a lot of managers may not be in tune with their career goals and therefore, they may not feel supported. And perhaps they’re less likely to have bosses that are going to promote their work contributions to others and really help them navigate the organisational politics or socialise them outside of work.

So, often they’re left feeling on the outside of these informal networks but, as we know, a lot of those informal networks do propel a lot of high potentials forward in their careers. And I think it’s really important in terms of a lack of mentorship, sponsorship or allies, as we know these individuals or networks and particular roles in these networks do play a critical role in terms of getting ahead and supporting women to get ahead.

So, going back to your question in terms of what managers can do. I think, companies have already invested a lot in diversity and inclusion training, which is great, the unconscious bias training but it really has to go beyond this. And it starts with what Rhonda said in terms of having a real honest assessment of where we are now on our recruitment practices, retention, cultural audience, talent development plans. Where are we? Let’s have that real honest assessment now, measure those clearly against best practice and also then recognise where we need to be. Once we know the gap, it’s then looking at how those policies and how those strategies can be designed more appropriately. And, again, coming back to the co-production point, I think that’s really important here.

And I think the other final point to really raise is around women of colour and especially not just women of colour but women generally tend to not put themselves forward for roles unless they feel that they have got all of the skills and qualifications, whereas men are likely to be more likely to take that risk and put themselves forward.

So, even with recruitment practices, it’s also looking at why not assessment of potential, not just competencies because, as we know, a few executives have all of the competencies of an executive. Women of colour are less likely to put themselves forward unless they feel that they have all the experience. So, by assessing for potential and assessing for things like learning agility, curiosity, self-insight, engagement, determination, these are all really good ways to widen and broaden the candidate talent pool and it’s also illustrating to female leaders that you don’t have to be there exactly right now but you can still put yourself forward for promotions and the senior opportunities and make it known that you are wanting to get ahead.

Thank you, Simi, and I agree the concrete ceiling is a very powerful and a very telling metaphor.

9Rhonda, do you think women of colour in particular feel they can’t call out any bias or inequality they may be experiencing in the workplace? And what can employers do to help their employees feel comfortable raising concerns and opening this conversation?

(21:59) This goes directly to one of the points that Simi made and, Simi, your points were amazing in that previous response. And one of the things that you mentioned is feeling like you can show up as your authentic self. And that’s so important for women of colour in the workplace. We are all unique and different and we bring something different. And there we talk about valuing diversity but truly valuing in the way that we allow everyone in our environment to feel true to themselves. It took me many years to feel that I could open-up in the workspace and be my authentic self because of the things that Simi mentioned. I was concerned whether I going to fit in, was I going to be judged for certain things, but as I’ve gotten older and really began to lean more into who I am, that’s become a little bit easier for me.

So, now I celebrate that I’m a woman who absolutely loves NFL football and I sit around on Sundays and I watch football with my sons and we eat too much and we have drinks and we have fun and I don’t watch love stories and I love action movies. And so, all the things and all the fullness of who we are as women of colour, we absolutely need to be comfortable bringing that in a judgment-free place.

And so, as we think about whether we feel if we can speak up about bias or inequalities, if we don’t feel that we are in that place of psychological safety or represented, then you tend to default to that self-preservation mode or what Simi referred to as opting out. You don’t feel safe because you will be judged too harshly, you’re now going to be viewed as the complainer.

There was a study that was done that shows that when people of colour in general bring concerns forward, it is viewed as whining. I want your listeners to hear this. If I, as a woman of colour, came forward and said “Well, hey, I’m going to just share how I felt in X, Y, and Z. Here’s what happened,” people are often viewing us as “Oh, here they go again. They’re complaining and whining” where if we had someone, one of our white counterparts, bring that very same issue forward, it’s received differently. And that’s a study that’s been repeated, and so, the results continue to be the same.

So, what does that tell us? It’s not always safe to come forward. And so, organisations must work hard and be intentional in creating that space of awareness, of openness, inclusion and not only inclusion, but of belonging. Instead of just waiting for someone to bring forward, ask and get curious, as Simi mentioned. Ask folks how things are doing, how they are feeling. Ask general questions about “Do you feel safe here? Do you feel like you can be yourself? And if not, what can we do?”.

The leaders don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes the team that is working with you, they’re more than willing to help in solutioning but we have got to ask the questions. And so, being comfortable calling out biases or inequities requires you to build trust with your team. And trust is not an event, trust is a journey and it can be violated or broken at any point and you may hit the reset button to zero and then you must rebuild it. It’s an ongoing evolving type of element that exists in your organisations.

So, in today’s challenging climate, we should be asking the questions, we should be intentionally engaging in trust building behaviours because there are behaviours that build trust and then there are behaviours that cause trust to feel violated or it reduces trust in your organisation. So, creating that place of psychological safety typically is not accidental. This is an intentional act and journey by the organisation so that women of colour can feel comfortable speaking up about biases or inequities because that is the only way the organisation can grow and can improve.

(Simi – 26:27) Can I just add to those amazing points, Rhonda? Your point around trust, I think, is so important about trust and being intentional. And often, I think, as leaders we think trust is sweeping in a moment of crisis and being the superhero and saving the day but it’s really not about that. Trust is really built over time through small significant moments. And I think quite often as leaders we forget that and really recognising that through those small moments of time, frequently demonstrating opportunities where trust can be built, that’s how trust is built with a leader and their teams.

(27:16 – Rhonda) Absolutely, Simi, and what’s important about that is that as leaders and organisations are looking to build trust, it has to go across all levels of the organisation. We want to be mindful of the fact that trust does not come by issuing a pay cheque, right? A pay cheque is not synonymous with trust. Trust comes in the way that you interact and the way that you treat your team.

10. Rhonda, how important do you feel sponsorship and mentorship is in helping women of colour progress their careers and helping leaders advocate for this?

(28:05) This is such an important question. And I think the first place we start with sponsorship and mentorship is understanding the difference between the two. So, if you are a woman of colour and you are in the workspace and the workplace, it’s important to know if you are in need of sponsorship or mentorship to understand the difference between the two and the value that that can bring in terms of not only your career growth but also your personal growth.

So, I view mentorship as a relationship. It’s often a relationship that is a pull relationship. And by pull, I mean, you are likely to be the one initiating the interaction with your mentor, you will be the person who is going forward saying to your mentor “Hey, can I get on your calendar? Can we spend a couple of minutes? What can you share? What did you see here? What was your experience?” So, you’re actively seeking out that information many times in a mentor relationship. Often the mentor relationship is unpaid. It is someone who believes in you and is willing to invest their own time and energy in helping you grow and seeing you succeed.

A sponsor is very different. A sponsor is a person that you are looking to with the distinct goal of helping you move your career forward. Sometimes and likely they are a person who is within organisation while a mentor can be internal or external. So, a mentor can be anyone that you look up to, that you have respect for, and that you feel comfortable with. A sponsor is going to be someone who’s within the organisation and they are operating from a position of privilege and power. And that sponsor is going to be the one who is bringing you forward. They are elevating your voice. They are championing for you both when you are in the room with them and when you’re not.

How amazing is it to have a sponsor that is in a closed-door meeting and a subject comes up which you are an expert in and that sponsor says “You know what, I think Simi would be an amazing person to bring into this. She’s got this skillset. She’s been a dynamic part of our team and I would love to see her have the opportunity here.” That sponsor is really advocating for you behind the scenes. The sponsor is also going to come to you and share some feedback with you because this is how you’re going to grow. The sponsors should have your permission to bring forward anything that they feel can help you. For example, if you were showing up in the workplace and you are not showing confidence, you are not being consistent, or bringing your full self to work in a way that people can really begin to see you at those elevated levels. The sponsors should have your permission to share that feedback with you. You should create that space for them knowing that their desire is to help you succeed.

Also, I want to say this important point about sponsorship because I’m working with a partner, we are designing a program for sponsorship in an organisation. And a part of your question was how leaders can advocate for this. For many organisations, if you are a large Fortune 500 organisation, you should have a formal sponsorship program. If you are even a mid-sized business, you should have a formal sponsorship program, meaning your sponsor knows what it means to be a sponsor, they are understanding and accepting of that role. The worst thing we can do is try to make someone a sponsor who does not desire to be a sponsor and doesn’t know how to be a sponsor.

So, creating formalised structures and processes around it, this is a part of what I mentioned earlier in terms of truly committing to substantive actions, to going beyond performative, to creating processes and structures that are going to support your efforts for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So, the difference between a mentor and a sponsor and helping the sponsors receive the education so that they can be amazing sponsors and help elevate the voices, competence, and the potential of women of colour in the workspace.

11. What role does allyship play in really tackling inequality in the workplace?

(32:59) I love this, and this is so important. And I think we touched on this a little bit earlier, as you stated, Meghan. For allyship, it is about number one, are you empathetic with women of colour and those in the workplace that might be from marginalised communities which is a term that I don’t particularly care for but it is one that is popular. So, I’ll use it in that vein. Are you understanding of that?

And then, are you an ally, meaning are you saying “I believe in this. I believe diversity, equity and inclusion is the right thing to do, it’s the human thing to do and I am willing to commit myself to being involved and being a part of the solution”? If that is you, then you have the potential to be an amazing ally. And as an ally, what we ask is that you continue to lift the voices, to point out biases and equities. It cannot always be the person of colour pointing it out.

As I referenced this study earlier, we know when it is only the person of colour pointing it out, then it just is viewed as “Blah, blah, blah. Here they are whining again” but when others are pointing it out, it gets a different level of attention. So, we absolutely need our allies to step forward and speak up. For women of colour, one of the challenges that we sometimes face is maybe we’re in a meeting and we make a statement or we put forth a solution or an idea and we’ll get sort of a cursory “Oh, well, that’s lovely” and then we’ll move on to the next person. Well, when our white counterpart puts forth the same idea and everyone goes “Well, that’s brilliant. We absolutely love that,” the role of an ally in that situation is to step forward and say “Oh, you think this is a great idea. That’s so wonderful that you agree with the point Rhonda made earlier. So, how can we come together and move this forward?”

It’s a little subtle raising of awareness that we need. The role of an ally is to speak out. And that doesn’t always have to be public, that can very well be private, to go to someone privately to say “Hey, I’m not sure if you realise this and this is probably not your intention but here’s how it landed. Here’s how it felt. Here’s how it may have felt to our women of colour in a workplace. And I think that we are all committed to being mindful and creating an inclusive environment.” We must bring these things forward because otherwise, there simply isn’t the progress, we don’t build momentum, or get the push forward.

And so, it’s important that our allies are willing to speak up. Sometimes, it’s at risk to themselves and we absolutely understand and appreciate and get that. I would like to believe that they could do that in a way that creates that safety for themselves because if we don’t have allies in the workplace, then where are we? We’re back to square one.

So, it’s important that allies understand that this is a commitment to a cause. This is a commitment to our shared humanity to create a more fair, inclusive, and equitable environment and being unrelenting about that, not doing that from the background.

I’ll just give you a quick example. Sometimes I’ll be involved in a situation and it feels unfair and I speak up because at that moment, that is what is needed. So, I speak forward and no one else says anything, but then I go back to my office and I close my door and a colleague comes in and says “I’m so glad you spoke up. That just wasn’t right. That was so unfair.” – “Well, why did you not speak up at the meeting? Why was I the only person that spoke up?” And in that moment, we need our allies to step forward and to create that power in unity that we have together to say that this is not okay. So, the role of sponsors, mentors, and allies, they are all critical in tackling inequity in the workspace.

12. Now Simi, turning back to you, many women of colour may feel they’re not given the same personal development opportunities as others in the workplace. How can leaders tackle this and remove any bias in these processes?

(37:36) Well, I think when training is offered, many females think it’s because they have got to be fixed but this is not true. It’s really about recognising that there are flaws in the system and the policies but it’s also about helping women to develop their own confidence, as Rhonda said, for them to have that voice and to be able to push through these challenges.

And it’s also recognising the difference here between equality and equity. Equity acknowledges that difference or inequality does exist, but it aims to provide specific support to those under-representative groups to create that even playing field. So, it’s not that the same training needs to be provided for everyone but it’s really recognising where these thirteen leaders are at and what training or coaching, or as Rhonda mentioned, a mentorship sponsorship program would be most appropriate for them. And it’s really about their leaders and their managers really tapping into understanding where they’re at and where their aspirations lie and being able to be really, truly open to support them and provide the provision and support very intentionally and proactively.

13. Now, for many leaders and employees, the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on the inequalities that exist within their organisations. Now, I’d really like to know which organisations have most impressed you in their response?

(39:10) It’s such an interesting question, Megan. Large global businesses and CEOs, it was great to see that they came out and they shared their views on social media.

I quite like Amazon’s example here that they had the banner of Black Lives Matter on their homepage and they had a blog that gave further insight and support in terms of support that they were providing to black communities. I remember reading that one Amazon customer had complained about the slogan and he had come back to say “All Lives Matter” but Jeff Bezos replied but “Black lives matter. It doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter.” And he went on to say that Black Lives Matter speaks to racism and the disproportionate risks that black people face in our law enforcement and justice system. And I think this is such an important point because as public engagement and the talk and interaction with the Black Lives Matter movement starts to slow down and as time passes on, as humans, we tend to forget some of these large injustices that have happened.

The question that I think that we need to keep asking ourselves is how we maintain the momentum because the momentum needs to be maintained. The awareness is out there now but action needs to happen. And I think, for organisations, it can be quite easy for them to come out when incidences like this happen and come out and speak and voice their opinion but at the same time, it’s then looking at what are they really going to do in terms of what are they actually going to commit to, to creating lasting change when they’re away from the high level of scrutiny. And it’s looking at “Well, what are the actual actions? What are the changes that are going to be made? When is that true assessment going to happen around their policies and systems and structures and when are those changes going to be made?”

I think another important point to raise here is especially large global organisations, they have a great opportunity as well to influence and have a greater impact especially when they’re working with third-party suppliers. So, if they’re using suppliers for their recruitment practices, for their talent development practices, working through that supply chain and working with suppliers that also buy into supporting the initiatives and the direction and their view on supporting this movement. And I think that’s hugely important because they can have an influence to really impact the wider systems and the impact on the policy at a wider level for a greater number of organisations.

And, I think it’s realising that as organisations review their diversity and inclusion policies and practices throughout the organisation across all the policies and practices, it’s remembering that Black Lives Matter is one part of that strategy. It’s absolutely an important part of that strategy but it’s one part of that strategy and that we still must be inclusive to other minority groups as part of that strategy though in its entirety, it is completely inclusive. And I think that’s where organisations can make a huge significant difference but it’s about taking action now.

And it’d be interesting. Rhonda, have you got any examples of organisations that you’ve come across that you’ve seen some real active changes in how they’re operating because of Black Lives Matter movement?

(43:12 – Rhonda) Really great question, Simi. One of the things that, in working with the partner, we’re in the active process of doing is going out and looking at statements by corporations that were made during the whole Black Lives Matter movement because in effect, what we plan to do is to go back and contact them to say “Okay, what was this followed up by?” And it’s great. The statement was amazing, yes, absolutely, but it can’t just be that.

And so, I’m not sure about specific companies but I wanted to add something, I think, that’s important. There’s a story that sort of has been floating around when we say that “black lives matter” and the response is “all lives matter.” There was a person who had just an amazing response to this and the response was “Well, saying “all lives matter” when you hear “black lives matters” is akin to saying all houses matter but there was one house that’s on fire. And so, let’s put water on all the houses, right? No, you need to care for the house that’s on fire.” And that was what that means.

And for organisations, they must understand their role and really move this conversation forward. We know that the median gap in terms of wealth for white Americans versus black Americans, for instance, is probably about a seven times difference, right? So, white Americans average about seven to eight more times wealth than the average black adult. Those types of challenges continue to plague us, and corporate America has a tremendous role to play in that. So, I’m not sure about the specific companies but I do know that that is one area that we want to engage in is really helping organisations to get a score and for that to be publicly recognised to say “Here’s where we are in our diversity initiatives and this is what it means to us and here’s what we’re doing about it.”

(45:07 – Simi) That’s fantastic, Rhonda. I think that accountability is so key.

14. Simi, what do you think are the three qualities that make an inclusive leader?

(45:29) I would say the first one is about being deeply self-aware. So, being aware of your own biases, personal flaws and then using your emotional intelligence to be able to manage how you show up and the impact that you have on others.

Secondly, I think, it’s about being curious and proactive. So, really showing that curiosity and open mindset to listen, to learn from others without judgment and listen with empathy to understand.

And, finally, I think it’s really about engaging from a place of compassion, again, using your emotional intelligence but using your cultural map, your intelligence to adapt and flex your authenticity and style to really bring out the best in those that you lead and engage because the more authentic you are and the more in tune you are with how to be able to adapt your style, you’re role modelling that for others in your team as well . And I think that really allows for an inclusive environment to be fostered within the organisation.

15. And finally, the same question to you, Rhonda. What do you think are the three qualities that make an inclusive leader?

(46:53) Really great question. To add on to what Simi mentioned, listening is such a critical skill. Often, times when we are thinking about communication, we’re thinking about speaking and getting our point of view across. However, the art of listening is so critical in terms of being a leader who is really seeking to be that inclusive leader.

So, it’s the art of listening for not only what is being said but what’s not being said. What is not being said in your organisation because people are not comfortable, they don’t have that place of psychological safety, they don’t believe that if they speak up, there’s going to be a change, they’re afraid that there’s going to be a retribution if they speak up or they’re not committed or engaged really in the organisation, they don’t buy into the mission? So, not only what is being said but listening for what is not being said.

The second one, I would say, for that inclusive leader is a leader who is consistently inviting and honouring everyone’s perspectives and contributions, inviting those contributions, not just waiting for the person who may not feel comfortable and they may never speak up if you don’t ask them but how valued and appreciated do they feel when you stop and you say “You know, Nancy, I haven’t heard from you. I really would love to get your input and to hear your thoughts on this.”

And then, also, a leader who is committed to transparency in the organisational shortcomings, their own personal leadership shortcomings, and in establishing the goal of movement. Perfection is not the goal. Most teams do not look for their leaders to be perfect. They do look for them to be open and transparent and they do want to be a part of the solution in helping to move in that direction.

So, I would say really mastering the art of listening, inviting and honouring the perspectives of everyone on the team, especially those diverse voices, and then also really seeking to move forward and to lean into that role of being transparent in every phase of your leadership.

About the authors

Simi Rayat works as a Corporate Leadership and Emotional Intelligence Coach helping leaders elevate their leadership brilliance. Simi is the founder of Wellbeing Face, a thriving psychology coaching and talent development practice. She works with clients across the globe in both private and public sector, across a diverse range of industries. Simi is a Chartered Business Psychologist and uses her deep expertise and passion in the psychology of people to share pragmatic applications for leadership development. Using this integrated and eclectic approach, Simi is able to create significant ‘ah ha’ moments for her clients and bring about compelling shifts in their thinking, behaviours and outcomes which lead to incredible and sustainable results.

Rhonda Y. Williams is an author, executive leadership coach, emotional intelligence strategist, and DEI Advocate. With past executive roles in healthcare, such as Chief Nursing Officer & Hospital CEO, Rhonda has personally experienced the effects of overwhelming stress. After a pair of dueling life crises, Rhonda decided to Stop the Madness. Today, she is known as The Stress-Free Leader and she helps leaders & entrepreneurs who feel there are simply not enough hours in the day transition to becoming Stress-Free Leaders. She also coaches leaders and minority women of color to prepare for and pursue executive level roles. She is the Host of The Coffee with Rhonda Show and The Stress-Free Leader Podcast.

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