I’ve been part of committees as well as advisory boards for several years on very varied topics: emerging tech, DEI, customer support, operations…
After some reflection, I recently decided that I wanted to broaden my impact and I started to apply for non-executive board positions.
It’s not been easy or quick because I’ve been very picky about the organisations I’m submitting my applications to. First and foremost, I want to be part of the board of an organisation connected with my values and the legacy I want to leave behind: Working towards building inclusive products, workplaces, and societies.
The feedback I’ve got so far on my applications it’s that my background is difficult to “put in a box”.
- I’ve been working on software companies for 18+ years BUT not in the IT or software development departments.
- I’ve been part of the acquisition integration team operationalising the transfer of thousands of support tickets, accounts, and contacts, as well as creating standard operation procedures for support, onboarding thousands of customers and internal employees, and running support operations BUT technically I’m not in the operations department.
- I have countless proof of DEI advocacy — including spearheading diversity initiatives, writing, speaking, inclusive leadership programs, mentoring, and coaching — BUT I’m not in HR.
In summary, I’m not enough or — even trickier — I’m too original, as I was told in France when I applied for a job for which I fulfilled all the requirements but — guess what? — the fact that I had done my engineering and M.Sc. degree in Venezuela, my Computational Chemistry Ph.D. in Canada, and my post-doc in Greece meant for them that they couldn’t relate to me or my experience. Frightened by the difference I was bringing with me, they decided to go with a candidate from the same university that everybody else in the department.
But this week something different happened.
I met with the CEO of an organisation with several open board positions to learn more about them and check if my profile was of interest before submitting my application. The position description specifically asked for DEI expertise.
At the meeting, the CEO described the organisation and I was in awe at their purpose and impact. Then, it was my turn to talk about my background. I told him about my different roles as Director of Support and Customer Operations, award-winning inclusion strategist, as well as a DEI board advisor for an NGO focusing on making AI work for everybody.
We talked about the need to diversify their board members and that they wanted to operationalise DEI in their organisation. My brain began to talk me out of the position. I mentioned something along the lines of “I fully support the need to diversity your board and obviously I’m white” and “I’m an inclusion strategist but I don’t have an HR background”…
And then, the magic happened.
The CEO told me that they were recruiting for 3 positions — not one, as I thought — and that my experiences as an immigrant in different countries, my work in tech, and my DEI journey would bring a very unique perspective to the board.
Suddenly, I experienced a shift.
From feeling that I needed to fit into boxes created by others — to be tolerated- I moved to feel welcome.
This is not only about hiring people. It’s about customers too.
Some months ago, I was talking with an organisation that works towards ensuring that data and AI work for all people and society. They wanted my feedback about their website in the context of my hat of inclusion strategist.
I pointed out that the site didn’t comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standard. But that was only the beginning.
For example, I told them about how there were no images showcasing people with disabilities, old people, or children on their website. I also mentioned the lack of pronouns and the signals that sends to users from the LBTQAI+ community.
Once I finished with my high-level evaluation of their website, I waited for my interlocutor’s feedback:
“You mentioned visitors of the website feeling welcome. I never thought about a website in this way”.
And his face lighted up. I hadn’t realised until that moment that I used the word “welcome”. I’m glad I did.
To welcome people, start with your own feelings
When we talk about DEI, we often talk about “managing” the feelings of the people that society puts in a low-status category: Women, LBTQAI+, disabled, old…
- We should make them feel included
- We should make them feel that they belong
- We should make them feel…
But the reality is that we can only control our feelings. The idea of “making somebody else feel like they belong” is a nice construct but doesn’t reflect how our brain works.
We’re a “circumstance” in others’ lives. We’re their “environment”. Their thoughts about that environment are what make them feel included or excluded — that they belong or they are only tolerated.
What if instead of thinking about others’ feelings, we started by thinking about our thoughts and feelings?
In other words, when you have a new colleague, manager, direct report, neighbour, or family member, my challenge to you is to interrogate your thoughts about that person.
For example, are you thinking?
- “I need to make X, Y, and Y so the person doesn’t think I’m racist”
- “I must watch what I say to avoid hurting the person’s feelings”
- “I should say X, Y, and Z so the person knows I’m their ally”
and as a consequence, are you feeling?
Instead, I offer you to “try” thoughts like
- “I’m interested in what I can learn from this person”
- “This person will be an asset to the organisation”
- “As a manager, I can help this person to fulfill their potential”
And what feelings do those thoughts elicit? I can share how I feel when I “try” those thoughts with a person.
In summary, we should care about our own thoughts and feelings because they drive our actions.
If you feel “judged” because you think “I must watch what I say to avoid hurting the person’s feelings”, probably you will “send vibes” to the person about being hypervigilant, sound scripted, and you’ll minimise your contact with them.
On the other hand, if you feel energised because you think that you can help this person to fulfill their potential, chances are you’ll share your knowledge with them, introduce them to your networks, and assign them stretching projects that will lead them to promotions.
The bottom line
We put a lot of effort into discussing actions to affect others’ feelings of inclusion and belonging.
Instead, if we truly want to produce meaningful DEI progress, we should start with our own thoughts and feelings. Only then, we will move from tolerating to welcoming.
QUIZ: Patriarchy and You
How much is patriarchy ruling your life and career?
We believe that we make choices based on logic and objective criteria.
The reality is that the patriarchal rules embedded in our socialisation often decide for us.
This 3-minute quiz will tell you how much patriarchy impacts your life and career choices.