Why we need more diverse leaders to share their stories, now more than ever!

Credit: Kiana Bosman via Unsplash

The following post is a reflection on the rise of minority leadership as we enter 2020. As humans we are heading into a time of change, we have to understand that there is a new norm. Now, more than ever we need to look for leaders from diverse backgrounds to support change and create environments for new perspectives. Whether that is by race, gender or ability great leadership comes from everywhere and we need the right representation. In June, I was selected among 24 other leaders across different backgrounds to be a part of a 3-week leadership program designed by Colorintech and Facebook.

On Week 1, we heard the perspectives of 4 amazing diverse leaders:

· Maria Zverina, Engineering Director at Facebook

· Pratap Prabhu, Engineering Director — Video Monetization at Facebook

· Julien Codorniou, VP, Workplace at Facebook

· Morin Oluwole, Global Head of Luxury at Facebook

Confidence comes from vulnerability and being authentic

“The practice of being a leader is enjoyable by itself” — Maria Zverina

Not trying to be someone you’re not and instead of owning who you are can build authenticity. It is impossible to be perfect and it’s ok to make mistakes. There can be more pressure when you are a minority. Sometimes you have to accept your faults and show you are willing to learn.

“There is only one version of you, no need to wear a mask at work” — Pratap Prabhu

For someone of colour failing in the workplace can feel like you are letting down your whole community sometimes. As peers that may not look like you could judge you more.

It’s important to open up to failure early in your career. Maria Zverina shared how failure can leave many leaders burnt out and not able to build trust across the team. For years after failing as a leader she wanted to play it safe and return to just coding as an engineer.

Although, Maria faced challenges with gender identity while growing up. She found the strength to overcome these barriers and become more of a courageous leader. The courage to show vulnerability as a leader supported her to connect with her future teams. It is about showing you are human and enabling it to become contagious across your team.

Lessons learnt: No one is perfect and it’s ok to be human! Optimise failure and talking about your failure.

Leadership in tech and building inclusive teams

How do you define good leadership as a person of colour?

What do you do when no one looks like you in the room?

How do you remain accountable but true to yourself?

No matter what you look like. In the words of Pratap Prabhu, what defines a great leader is “what you do when no one else is looking”

The hardest lesson for many leaders is the ability to build a stage for people to thrive. Creating a room for people that are smarter to teach you what they do best and learn from each other.

It can be easy to feel like you are not being heard as a minority in a room. However, showing empathy first can bridge the gap no matter what you look like or sometimes think. Not understanding people’s perspectives and needs within the business. And trying to give them what you think they want.

“Always listen and learn to understand what other people need” — Morin Oluwole

Empathy is to emotionally understand another. It can become our compass for ethical behaviour through compassion and perception. It builds a world of kindness and encourage the natural ability to help each other.

This same level of empathy is fundamental when building a diverse team. Once you build a diverse team it is easy to grow and get people to join. The quality of decision making would improve as you get a wider view of ideas and insights.

Lessons learnt: Getting buy-in from senior members and making sure everyone wins.

Imposter syndrome as a minority

At any stage of your career, you can have a feeling of imposter syndrome. This can manifest itself by not thinking you're good enough. Thought such as ‘it’s only a matter of time until you are found out’. Being a minority in a leadership role can add to this pressure as you feel that you have more to prove. Or worst you’re been put into a role to check a diversity box.

Pratap agreed that working in a non-inclusive culture and coming from a diverse background can be a big challenge. When you are working at home. You can think to yourself am I doing enough.

You can overcome this by having a mentor. Someone that understands your role, how much value you can bring and provide support to guide you to move forward. The ability to know your stuff as an expert helps you to build more confidence when presenting your idea to a room or individual. Having the right mentor who can really look out for you and support you through tough times, even as a minority leader.

As you evolve as a leader, it can be harder as there is less representation in the room. It is important to address things ahead of time and come in with enough information and facts. Everyone has different personalities; some people might not say that much but they have an impact as you back it up with facts.

Lessons learnt: Everyone faces imposter syndrome speaks to someone you respect and creates an open dialogue.

Final thoughts:

There is a difference between management and leadership. Management is defined. Anyone can be a leader across your community and workplace. By caring about people around you and issues. The ability to say that this is the wrong thing by pushing for solutions and inspiring others.

How do you create leaders in your community? Giving them the space to build and learn from mistakes. Giving the right opportunities to excel?

Innovation | Strategy | Making a difference through writing, listening, talking and doing

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