Look around. How many women of color leaders do you see? It’s time for action, not words
— August 17th, 2020
Throughout my career, I’ve always struggled with belonging.
I recognize that the industry I chose to develop my career (internal communications) is not known for its diversity (91% white*) but even in the organizations I worked in there was a distinct lack of color at executive level, particularly women of color.
Early in my career, I rarely spoke about it as I never wanted anyone to think I was different from them or worse make people feel awkward.
I’ve spent so much of my life trying to fit into whatever ‘normal’ was that I started to lose my identity. I never really gave the color of my skin much thought as I was determined not to allow my heritage to define who I was.
If I felt someone was treating me differently, I spent a lot of my time trying to convince them I was like them – to the extent I called myself the ‘comms chameleon’. I felt proud that I could adjust my personality to fit into whatever that person needed me to be.
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The turning point
Several years ago, I lost a friend who I used to work with. Her death reminded me of some final words she shared with me about having to work harder than my white colleagues to be noticed – she wasn’t wrong. In her final months, she had faced microaggressions, and to this day I will always regret not finding my voice sooner.
I felt I owed it to her to embrace who I was and not shy away from difficult conversations or be worried about ‘rocking the boat’. So that’s what I did. I stood up for what I believed was right, I refused to partake in any ‘banter’ that was derogatory, and I spoke my mind if people were mistreated.
I had finally found my voice, and over the years, I became more confident in stepping up and out. But I was tired of not seeing people like me around a boardroom table. I was fed up with people telling me that the talent wasn’t there or that they couldn’t find anyone that ‘fitted the bill’.
I knew that wasn’t the case and I had to do something. That’s when I met Priya Bates.
A Leader Like Me – the mission
Priya was someone I connected with instantly as we both had similar experiences in our career. We spoke about the challenges we faced in organizations and in our industry. We both believed in ‘be the change you want to see’ and it was during our first conversation we decided we had to do something to help women who, like us, had spent years working in organizations where they never saw a leader that looked like them.
We wanted a community where women could speak to each other about their experiences in a safe space and receive support from people who understood how they felt – that’s when we established A Leader Like Me.
A few months later, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer and the Black Lives Matter movement changed the landscape of diversity and inclusion. The days where organizations could write some meaningless lines in their Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) policy were finally passing, and people were holding them accountable – but like many things that don’t impact the majority we knew that this torch on EDI will eventually dim.
So, our mission for A Leader Like Me is to create longevity. We are determined to drive measurable diversity by creating a support network to lift up women of color who need inspiration from leaders like them.
The women Priya and I have spoken with previously have often told us how isolated they’ve felt and how they lacked support in their workplace. Many had undertaken generic women in leadership programs in their organizations but they were never fit for purpose and they didn’t address the main issues facing Black and minority ethnic women getting leadership opportunities such as bias, barriers to entry, confidence etc.
They are often a tick box exercise to make the organization feel like they are making a difference. If you look around your organization, how many people of color do you see in senior leadership roles? How many of them are women of color?
If these programs worked then we wouldn’t have to keep having the same conversations year-on-year.
We know that the more people we have talking about diversity, inclusion, and belonging, the more changes we will see. We want our members to feel confident enough to push back against unfairness, step up, and put themselves forward for opportunities. Even though the program and subscription is currently aimed at women of color we hope to expand on this in the future so we can include more under-represented groups.
We’re currently going through beta testing, but initial feedback from our founding members has been positive, and we will launch fully in September, followed by a conference in October where we will be celebrating diversity in leadership.
As organizations, PR agencies and Communication teams start to focus on increasing diversity amongst their teams, we hope A Leader Like Me can play a part in encouraging them to look outside their arena and see the talent that’s surrounding them. We know how much value leaders from a diverse background in senior leadership roles can bring – so I’d say now is the time we stop talking and start to take action.