Image credit: Francesca Uriri
I recently engaged a senior colleague of mine in a heartfelt conversation that touched on some of the challenges of being a woman of colour in Silicon Valley, navigating those challenges, and trying to understand what diversity and inclusion meant on a personal level.
I love conversations like that because it captures the nuance that is often absent in what I call “career forward” conversations—especially for women, and even more so for women of colour like me.
As we were rounding up the conversation, she gave me deeply important feedback—one that I’ve mulled over, almost daily since we spoke.
“Stop asking for permission,” she said to me.
I was curious and found her choice of words very interesting.
Asking for permission? What did she mean by that?
“You need to trust yourself and your instincts more.
Stop doubting your capacity or abilities.
If you want to do something, just go ahead and do it.
Don’t second guess or doubt the outcome.
Just trust and believe in yourself.”
Where I was initially confused about what she meant about me needing to stop asking permission, it immediately became clear what she meant.
You see, as a woman, you never quite get rid of impostor syndrome. I mean—you know it, you’ve read up on it, you’ve trained yourself to identify and overcome it—but it doesn’t quite disappear. In fact, if you don’t make a conscious decision to be aware of it, it’ll constantly disrupt your life and career journey—and not always in a positive way. Add to the fact that I’m an Isoko woman from Nigeria—raised in a culture that tends to over-index on caution and respect, especially for women—and you can immediately see where those invisible (but very real) hurdles come from.
Insight like this is deeply important—perhaps even more so than conversations around “leaning in,” “getting a seat at the table,” or “improving personal effectiveness” (whatever that means haha). Because until you are able (and willing) to bring your full self to work — and that includes an understanding and acceptance of your cultural influences and/or differences— then it’s going to be challenging to fully thrive.
I believe this forms part of the nexus of work in the Diversity and Inclusion space. How do we celebrate and encourage the difference in a meaningful way? How are we creating and enabling spaces for a myriad of people from different personal and cultural backgrounds? How are we harnessing that to build a workforce that is better engaged and inspired? And how do we incorporate this into day-to-day work in ways that make these individuals feel valued, understood and appreciated?
No easy answers or quick wins here. But perhaps, understanding the complexity of the challenge is the first step towards creating a sustainable, workable solution.
Content credit: Francesca Uriri