Comfortable in my skin. Cozy with who I am.
For me, that Beyoncé lyric is more of an aspiration than a statement of fact – but I’m getting there.
I am a brown second-generation Mauritian Telugu woman who grew up in England in the 90s and 00s. I am blessed and flawed in equal measure and have my share of privilege.
For a range of reasons, for most of my life being myself has not felt comfortable. The exhausting work of being accepted, liked and not rocking the boat was more important.
I managed to get away with this approach for a long time. At work, with friends and family, and pretty much everywhere. Being promoted to a leadership role a few years ago was one of the catalysts for making me realise that committing to understanding, valuing and taking responsibility for who I am and what I bring to the table was long overdue. Not only that, I began to see it as necessary for leadership success.
Identifying as a leader
Taking time to reflect on my achievements, capabilities and interests has been valuable in allowing myself to identify as a leader. If you don’t recognise it in yourself, how can you pursue those roles and seek out that experience? Looking back I’ve realised that in my early career, it literally did not occur to me that I could ever become a team manager or take on a leadership role. I didn’t see leaders who looked like me and I really had unconsciously internalised the belief that those positions were not for me.
Owning unconscious bias
Getting to grips with my unconscious bias has been a sobering experience. I’d argue it’s something we all need to know about ourselves, but if you have hiring and firing responsibilities and hold power in the workplace, this depth of self-awareness and personal responsibility becomes essential. Learning about concepts such as the ‘model minority’ and realising I am part of a system that perpetuates racism and discrimination is uncomfortable, but having my eyes open allows me to challenge myself and others to do things differently.
As part of this year’s Xec course, we had the opportunity to spend a day at tech PR agency Harvard, reflecting on authentic leadership. Yes, we used tools to dig into our characters and where our strengths lie, which will be familiar to many. But more importantly, the session was a safe space where I felt I could be myself and share with vulnerability. That meant I got something more out of it than I was expecting. It was empowering to truly see that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to leadership and that I don’t have to change who I am to be at this level. So, yes, I can have hundreds of documents saved to my desktop and still be a leader (IYKYK).
Exploring different perceptions
Exploring different points of view has been really transformative to my understanding of myself and others. As one example, I’m really glad to have encountered the term ‘global majority’ as another way of describing people who are Black, African, Arab, Asian, Brown, of mixed heritage and indigenous to the Global South, who together make up 85% of the world’s population. Especially perhaps for me and any fellow Comms pros for whom words and language hold a lot of significance, it is comforting to hear words describing my identity in a way that feels expansive, rather than minimised.
Beyoncé, the comms industry needs you! Please keep serenading us on the benefits of self-knowledge and self-acceptance!
P.S. No I did not get tickets, but someone else on The Xec. Class of ‘23 did…
Gemma was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She is being mentored by Gabrielle Laine-Peters, Consultant, Digital Transformation & Ethics.