The Confidence Factor for Women: An Immigrant Womans Journey to Leadership

Growing up in a home where everyone had an “accent” sounded natural to me. It never dawned on me about the immense sacrifice my family made to leave their home country of Trinidad & Tobago. As a child, I vaguely remember the conversations about the importance of having a plan to leave, however as I became older, I realized how much the American dream meant to my family.

Most of my immediate family emigrated to Canada or the United Kingdom in a quest for a better life filled with new opportunities for professional growth. My Grandfather was an engineer in the Caribbean and was willing to start over in an effort to give his grandchildren the opportunity to truly become more than a “wife” or a nurse, which were the options given to women in my time. He believed that his granddaughters should have more and leaving was the only way to provide.

However, my journey was a bit unique. I remember classmates making jokes about my accent when I was in grade school in New York City. In addition, although there was no need for language acquisition, my teachers would chastise my work publicly in middle school for spelling. They would site that my European spelling of common words such as “color” — spelled C-O-L-O-U-R abroad, was incorrect. In Trinidad, I sat A-levels and was regarded at the top of my class in my formative years. Now, I was struggling to remember to leave the ‘U’ out of my words as some of my teachers would say “those people” as they referred to the immigrants in class.

To build my confidence, my grandmother enrolled me in an English class on weekends to learn how to dilute my accent in public. It was the beginning of me learning how to live without the shame of being considered “one of those people.” However, after college, entering the workforce proved to create a unique challenge when I realized I wanted to lead.

The grade school thinking of,

  • “Would they hear the accent?”
  • “Would they ask about my background?”
  • “Would they laugh at me?”

Everyday, I would procrastinate, not out of the fear of rejection, but simply out of the fear of judgement. With a Trinbagonian flag waving proudly in my car and often, speaking in my native patious in private conversations with family and friends, I would cringe when people asked me if I ever considered “moving back there,” as if my decent to America was temporary.

Then, I stopped worrying and seeking approval from others. I would eat my Roti in my office without a care in the world. Diluting my individuality and culture to avoid the eminent questions about my heritage was too much of an act to keep up. When I started my first company, I realized that my gift was my culture and it helped me to build a global company so I can accommodate the needs of women around the world.

Why is this an issue?

Everyday, around the world, women who are committed to leadership have to make tremendous sacrifices. Women with “strange” or ethnic last names (like mine, yes it is Hindu), noticeable accents and pronunciations, and other cultural practices; are often left to feel omitted due to naturalization. However, naturalization does not dictate the ability to lead.

I want to encourage women of the Diaspora — LEAD! Your accent, your culture, your beliefs, etc make you unique to the market. Do not dilute your value due to fear. Many immigrant women remain silent due to the fear of judgement and professional ridicule. The pending question of “where are you from?” that comes before your value is a question that will never change, but the global leadership climate for women in leadership is changing. Where you are from is less important than adding value and changing the limited narrative of women. Remember, you have made a substantial sacrifice to earn your seat at the table, now make sure everyone can hear you.

Leadership is global, not cultural — Carol Sankar

I will see you at the top!

To learn more about joining the Confidence Factor for Women in Leadership movement for exceptional leaders, visit www.theconfidencefactorforwomen.com

Carol Sankar is a business advisor for high level executives, service based visionaries and a leadership expert who is committed to assisting passionate, high-achieving leaders simplify their lives while increasing revenue by becoming productive, not working harder.Carol has been featured in Madame Noire, LearnVest, The Steve Harvey TV Show, CNNMoney.com, TEDx, Daily Worth, Entrepreneur Magazine and Essence Magazine

For details, visit www.carolsankar.com