This week marks 21 years of my career and I’m grateful for everyone who has inspired, trained and mentored me.
I can pinpoint two conversations that gave me the confidence I needed to make decisions. Asking for help has created numerous opportunities for me over the years.
I now have the pleasure of advising Comms professionals as a trainer, consultant and mentor. I love working alongside practitioners to increase their skills, knowledge and confidence, so they can succeed in their careers.
A week ago today I launched a new Online Masterclass: How to review and plan your 2020-2021 internal comms. I’ve been overwhelmed with the response as Comms pros around the globe have been investing time analysing and planning, with 560 people enrolled so far. I made it available for free as my gift to the global Comms community. You can access it via my new Online Masterclasses website.
Today I have news of a new initiative that supports and nurtures women of colour. It is the brainchild of Comms professionals Advita Patel and Priya Bates and is called A Leader Like Me.
I’ve been reading about it online and invited Advita and Priya to share their story here with you.
I know first hand the power of investing in your network and professional development, I applaud and welcome the work they’re doing.
Here’s our conversation…
Please can you explain what A Leader Like Me is?
Advita: It’s a 12-week programme and an annual subscription service for women of colour who want to progress in their leadership journey but are struggling to make traction in their workplace.
Priya: A Leader Like Me creates a conversation around diversity in the workplace and particularly provides skills development, a safe space for sharing experiences and issues, and a support network to drive success personally and professionally.
Why do you think something like this is necessary?
Advita: For many years I refused to acknowledge that I was different from the majority of people that I worked with – I genuinely thought that if I refuse to engage in the fact that I was an Asian woman then no one else will notice.
I remember proudly calling myself a comms chameleon and telling people how I can adapt my personality to fit in with what people want.
When I think about it now I feel sad that I felt like I couldn’t bring my whole self to work and that I had to hide parts of my identity – mainly due to fear of being treated differently.
When Priya and I spoke about this in January we connected over our shared experiences. We knew if we didn’t have the support of our community we wouldn’t be where we are today – so we decided to do something about it and create an empowered community where people who are under represented can feel like they belong, ask questions, grow, develop and learn – without the fear of judgement.
Priya: Yes. What started out as Advita asking me to mentor her because she didn’t see other leaders her in our profession, turned into an idea and now initiative that will give to other women of colour, what we wished we had.
Even though our conversation began in January 2020, before the BLM movement that created a global conversation on diversity, we knew something was missing in our own lives.
We also realised that our stories were incredibly similar despite differences in our age, country of births and country of residence. We experienced the same challenges that we independently overcame and instinctively knew we could address in a bigger way.
What do you hope A Leader Like Me can achieve?
Advita: Confidence and hope. Being a minority in a majority workplace can be very lonely. You often don’t want to over step your mark as you’ll fear that ‘you’re rocking the boat’ and people will think you’re being a nuisance – so you stay quiet. When you bring up uncomfortable subjects like race, gender or sexuality defense mechanisms go up and people start to panic.
If we want to see true change take place then courageous conversations are needed and people need to have those chats in a respectable, safe manner. Our programme gives our community the confidence to step up and step out when they need to. We help them find their voice and give them support when needed. We knew the community was going to be powerful but I completely underestimated how powerful.
Priya: I agree. Imagine being told (through words and actions) that you had to work harder, achieve more and never get the opportunities, and when you did achieve success, you would always be questions or overlooked because of your gender and race. Now imagine what its like having increased awareness and a proactive action plan to increase diversity in organisations from the bottom to the top.
The truth is you walk into a room or towards a table where you’re often the only person or woman of colour at the table. Just because an organisation has checked a box because they are concerned for their reputation, doesn’t mean they will do the hard work to ensure you are successful.
In addition, many colleagues will be resentful because the job went to a person of colour…even though those doors kept us out in the past. We are helping these women develop confidence and courage to drive success.
When they don’t feel they belong, they will receive skills and strategies to help them assert themselves and share their perspectives. We’re helping them dream of what’s possible and develop a thick skin to take on the challenges.
How does it all work?
Advita: Every week for 12 weeks we hold a live 30-minute session covering key topics that we know can hinder progression, such as imposter syndrome, personal branding, productivity, self-belief etc.
Alongside these sessions the group are given a workbook to work through at their own pace – in the book we have key activities to help them focus and think deeper about themselves.
To support them we also allocate an accountable buddy so they have someone they can connect with instantly. Every member in the group also has access to a private community where they can share questions, thoughts and ideas.
Priya: And so far, after only six weeks, the feedback and testimonials from our first cohort have been mind-blowing and better than we could have imagined.
They are developing a real sense of comfort and community and once the 12-week development program is complete, they can continue being part of the subscription community to ensure they always have a support network behind them.
Who can join?
Advita: At the moment it’s for women of colour who are in a leadership position or aspire to be in a leadership position. But we do hope to extend to more under-represented groups in the future.
Priya: For those women of colour who don’t necessarily feel like they need the skills development, they can still join the subscription community in order to support other women in their journeys and contribute to the conversation.
Advita: And we’re always looking for allies and supporters. A wonderful person got in touch a couple of weeks ago to sponsor a space for someone – we were just overwhelmed.
What’s next for A Leader Like Me?
Advita: We have so much planned because it’s important not to let the spotlight dim. As well as the programme and subscription we are hosting two diversity events. One is Diversity in PR which takes place 20 October 2020 and the other is Diversity at the Top which takes place in January 2021.
We wanted to host these events because we want to acknowledge that even though race is really important there are other under-represented groups who need a voice as well. We also wanted to host an event where speakers had the opportunity to share their stories and the challenges that they faced, including their strategies on how they coped.
Priya: Agree. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we keep the conversation around diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity and representation alive and well.
We want to ensure there is a movement forward and that we don’t get complacent or feel that the BLM and Diversity movement was a TREND where we simply used a hashtag and changed our profile pictures to black because it was the cool thing to do. A Leader Like Me hopes to drive diversity so that future generations see more leaders like them at conferences, in communication and around organisation and association board tables.
How can people find out more?
Advita: You can find out more at Aleaderlikeme.com or you can follow us on Twitter/Instagram @aleaderlikeme and if you want to attend the Diversity in PR conference then we’ve got super early bird tickets available until Sunday 13 September 2020.
The second cohort for A Leader Like Me closes on 22 September, if you want to join or find out more please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit aleaderlikeme.com.
Thank you both very much for sharing the thinking behind A Leader Like Me.
Thank you for stopping by
First published on the All Things IC blog 10 September 2020.