Today has been incredible; I am inspired, enlightened and accountable. I will explain why and hopefully I can share this positive energy with you.
Upon meeting the remarkable Kalpna Woolf, CEO of BeOnBoard at Bristol’s Women’s Business Club, I connected with her energy and passion for more diversity in leadership.
“It is an indisputable fact that diversity on Boards drives greater innovation, attracts a superior talent pool and deliver increased profitability. BeOnBoard is a game-changer in terms of social and economic impact in the city, it will finally allow people with leadership skills from every gender and ethnic background to break through the glass ceilings and add the undeniable value of diversity of thought to the shaping of our future business economy.”
– KALPNA WOOLF, CEO AND FOUNDER
Being young (or at least in comparison to many in leadership roles) and passionate about levelling-up women in a masculine world, the dots connected. My mission to support females to become leaders and Kalpna’s mission to deliver on diversity at leadership and board-level aligned beautifully.
I purchased my ticket to learn about the challenges with identifying emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds, supporting their development to be board-ready, and providing a network platform to connect business Boards to potential Board members.
Now I am home reflecting, the whole day has been an eye-opener. I was naive to limit my thinking. Some, if not all, of my a-ha moments might inspire change for you and your organisation.
The first impressions were set high, with several people at a sell-out event waiting in the lobby to be shown to the meeting room. All of which were high in energy, welcoming and engaging.
Now I have a confession to make. Please forgive me…
For the first time in my life, I entered a room being the minority, surrounded by a different race.
It was my first experience of feeling the “odd one out” and uncomfortable to mix with people “who are not my kind”. For years I would hear my Muslim friends say exactly the same but I shrugged this off as I didn’t believe it to be true.
Wow! I am enlightened. I never thought I would feel this way. It wasn’t until I was put in a situation (which is not common for many) that it challenged my thoughts and beliefs.
I do have an unconscious bias.
Within seconds I reflected on how I made friends, who I spend time within work, how I network and communicate.
I quickly jotted down on my notepad – “I must make a conscious effort to reverse my behaviour to be more inclusive.”
The rest of the day unravelled with many more learnings.
To prevent this from being a book, I will share my highlights.
Dr. Tunde Okewale MBE, Doughty Chambers opened the 4-panel discussion on “Leadership, why inclusion matters” with a tremendous analogy (that I will cite at my own speaking events). He explained that a standing ovation happens when one, or several people stand up to create a movement, in this case clapping. Eventually, this will have a ripple effect in the audience, as more and more people stand up inspired, until those at the back of the room, have no other choice but to stand up to see.
It takes one person to stand up, to create change, and others will follow.
This is applicable to any change. The actionable advice was to not wait for someone else to do it, you can be the one or few, who start the ovation.
Oh, I was inspired!
His top tips for leadership are:
- Do not make an excuse – be an example.
- Don’t ask, the answer will always be no – put yourself in positions others are not yet doing so, to speak on their behalf.
- When rejected, take no as a question, not an answer – learn to apply yourself better.
- If you never take a step forward, you will remain in the same place – make changes to get different results.
- Tough times do not last, but tough people do – learn to love problems and failures, you will grow.
- Things do not happen quickly, they happen suddenly – lay the foundations and growth will come.
Following Dr. Tunde Okewale on the panel was Ololade Adesanya, Director at EY Financial Services, Professor Jane Harrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UWE and Margot Day, Global Director for Risk and Commercial Law, Buro Happold Limited.
The fair summary combining these 3 talented leaders who happen to be female, strongly agreed that despite being told they will find it difficult to be a mother and be in leadership, had a burning desire to prove they can be both and exceed expectations.
Women can be in demanding roles, parent and be a leader.
Regardless of what barriers are in your way, you can still achieve. Ololade sees barriers as hurdles, therefore she can climb over them and encourages others to do the same.
“Being authentic got me ahead, not acting like what is expected” championed Margot Day. Each panel member agreed on being true to yourself, believing in your message and delivering it. This will help eliminate the next big challenge they were faced with – imposter syndrome.
A staggering 70% of people suffer from imposter syndrome. It is worth noting that the whole panel at some point in their lives suffered from imposter syndrome, feeling they should not be at the table because they were not good enough.
The majority of the speakers do not have a privileged background, yet they stuck to the fundamentals of leadership and achieved their passion. They fully understand that it was never luck that got them where they are, it was the sheer determination that created their path.
Before heading into the Q&A, I was already on the edge of my seat and writing notes enthusiastically. This advice was golden.
As a young female, with a working-class background, scraping by at university living with massive passion for change in her heart, I had been awakened to the potential of being on a Board as long as I followed the leadership fundamentals.
Hell yeah. I am ready! The world is ready! Let’s go…….until these dashes of realism were discussed.
Are young people getting the support they need to move into leadership?
Both Professor Jane Harrington and Conroy Grizzle, UWE lecturer and coach agree that schools need to do more to prepare students with a growth mindset. Whilst some schools do this, they are completely outbalanced by those who do not.
Conroy later went on to deliver the leadership mindset which echoed a lot of the panel and speakers throughout the day. He leaves a unique spin on leadership mindset, that you can think yourself into a role – by feeling and imagining you already are, will eradicate having to sell yourself as ready or capable. After all, confidence is built upon repetition and cultivating competence. But he makes is very clear that you must have the will and desire in order to succeed.
Why has it not changed and are we ready yet?
Firstly, we are in different times now, whereby we are comfortable to have uncomfortable conversations. The standing ovation is happening with a smaller number of people but it is just that, a small number. To keep up the momentum, we must be proactive to drive change.
You know what is coming next…
Of course, we are not ready. This is why Kalpna Woolfe and her team are on a mission to make a change. There will be hurdles to climb over, but we must stand-up now, take action, no matter how small or insignificant that may seem today. Otherwise, we stay still and will be waiting for change for longer.
There are tremendous benefits for EVERYONE when it comes to diversity. Supporting change will improve our economy, the environment and our community.
To me, this is a huge win-win. I want to, and get to grow my leadership skills at pace. At the same time, I have also made the commitment to support diversity in leadership, by working with BeOnBoard to unlock my greatest potential and inspire others to do the same.
The final push was from our last speaker, Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol.
I must shamefully admit, I did not know who the Bristol Mayor was. He is certainly not the old short white male I had in mind. Once again I had made an assumption.
Damn you unconscious bias.
Marvin made me smile from ear to ear, ignited a fire in my belly and grow taller in my seat as he said
“be bold and take a hand up when you’ve been given one”
From this day forward I am making significant changes.
I will be ruthless, yet true to myself.
I will voice my views, without shouting over another.
I will be proactive with all that I do.
I will listen and learn, without judgement.
I will empower others, leading by example.
I will be accepting of others, building an inclusive and diverse team.
My website has been updated with this new value: