How I Built My Personal (DEI) Brand
After investing more than 15 years of my life in the consulting, training and professional development space, I’ve evolved into an Inclusion and Culture specialist, focused on helping leaders apply DEI successfully in their companies. I always knew I would address inequalities in our society through my work, and help people of all cultures and backgrounds communicate better with others, especially those they feel disconnected from. However, I didn't plan out how to build a successful personal brand from the jump.
Before I forged my career path as a DEI consultant and found my sweet spot, I spent several years studying and deep diving to understand what prejudice, discrimination and injustice are and how they impact a variety of Black folks, including me, a 'light skinned' Black person, my dark skinned family, and the economically disadvantaged Black community I grew up in. I never expected to become a Black female leader in the DEI and anti-Black racism space, because frankly I naively believed I wouldn't have to deal with that as an adult. But I always had a voice and spoke on things that mattered.
Growing up, I was profoundly aware of how privileged I was to be a healthy, educated and accomplished little girl — well, that is until I was 13 years of age. Then a 7 year old little French boy called me “Negre” while I was travelling with my Italian family in France, and I realized that no matter how light skinned Black I was, I was still Black enough to inherit the hurt, the prejudice and the disdain ingrained in Euro centric education and socialization.
That day, I learned how such a simple word could mean so much. It’s the French word for the colour black. Yet, it has inherited the meaning of the N-word in North America — a word that has a negative, offensive connotation to the people using it and the people it refers to.
That day further ignited the human rights activist in me. I focused my life on learning as much as I could about other cultures and my own, including Black history and African/Caribbean culture. It made me curious and more appreciative of my Black roots, so I remained resilient even in the face of opposition and other challenges. As a cross-cultural trainer with large companies that had overseas teams, I was committed to learning and sharing as much as possible about cultural awareness, which is at the core of my DEI work.
But, of course, we all have privileges and challenges. Black women in leadership roles are no exception.
What are the main challenges for female leaders?
Most of us are aware of the many challenges women leaders face — the greatest of which is finding equality in the workplace. We’re generally paid less for the same position and amount of work as our male counterparts. It doesn’t matter if we work more either as we try to prove ourselves worthy of the title “leader.”
In our quest to convince others that we are just as good as — if not better than — men, we are sometimes willing to accept lesser pay for our efforts. As a result, we work twice as hard — only to be called ball busters or b****es when we become vocal about our needs and exhibit strength and assertiveness.
As we work with men in the corporate world, we realize that the world — including women like us — is less welcoming to women who are hungry to make a change and who dare raise their voices.
These obstacles are compounded when one is from an immigrant family, not born into a network of professionals, lacking career mentors and 'exotic' looking as I was commonly referred to. Whether a compliment or a distinction to set me a part, I used it to build my brand and stand out from the crowd.
I know myself, my experiences and the richness of our community. In that I take pride, and as an Inclusion & Culture specialist, I am confident that the work I do will benefit not only the Black community but also enrich the rest of the world.
What does a DEI consultant do?
When people hear the term diversity, they usually associate it with ethnicity. However, it also refers to gender, physical ability, religion, culture, age, sexual orientation, and other factors. There are numerous benefits to achieving diversity in the workplace, but only when equity and inclusion are taken into consideration as well.
DEI consultants are tasked to lead these initiatives. We study organizations objectively, evaluate their existing or current efforts, and propose new strategies to help clients achieve their DEI objectives.
As a DEI consultant, my ultimate goal is to help businesses (and my clients specifically) develop a high level of cultural intelligence so that anti-Black racism and all types of prejudice and discriminatory practices can be minimized and eliminated.
How do you become a diversity and inclusion specialist?
There was a time when I was a cross-cultural communications trainer and consultant for global firms who couldn’t say the word racism because companies were not ready to address it.
But since George Floyd’s death, I can say it out loud and clearly, and so Tough Convos was born to focus on those hard to discuss and address issues.
After years of working with companies where I felt I couldn't be myself or say the uncomfortable truths they needed to hear, I hit a milestone in my life. I learned how to marry both my creative and intellectual abilities, and how to not allow the limitations others imposed upon me affect my confidence.
I then focused on building my image and my personal brand — because I knew that to influence others and earn their trust, I needed the experience and expertise to back my professional aspirations.
This is why today, even with the establishment of my company Tough Convos, I continue to invest time in continuous learning and sharing what I know. In addition, I publish niche articles that revolve around DEI and help companies achieve their DEI objectives.
The entry into DEI work for many is different — from knowing history, engaging in activism, HR work, corporate culture, cross-cultural studies, and global businesses — as all these come with positive experiences as well as limitations.
We should specialize in what we’re best at to ensure we keep DEI alive and it does not become solely a trend, but rather an integrated part of the whole of a company and how they operate. This way it' snot an after thought, an extra to do, but rather a way of thinking when you're doing what you're doing. This way we can better collaborate and ensure real change in our companies and the world.
Ready to make a difference in your workplace or community?
Set up an appointment with Tough Convos to get things started.