Should Leaders Cry More? I Think So.
Advocating for greater diversity and inclusion in the tech industry as a Black and Asian woman means I’m no stranger to discomfort. I have vivid memories of some of the first diversity workshops I delivered in London in 2017. In these sessions, I invited participants to reflect on structural oppression, on their own implicit and explicit biases, and the privileges they’ve been afforded through their lived experiences. I challenged participants to consider the role they play in blocking greater diversity and inclusion.
No one wants to be the bad guy.
My reflection prompts were often met with aggressive reactions. At best, my heart raced and my face flushed — at worst, I felt attacked, fighting back the tears as well educated men claimed that there were no qualified women or people of colour to hire, that the issue was not with them, but with the lack of ability and talent amongst those who did not look like them.
Why did I join the Acumen Fellowship?
Well, it was getting lonely fighting the good fight. Despite having an incredible support network, I didn’t often find myself surrounded by leaders tirelessly challenging the status quo.
The work of creating systems change presents unique challenges. It goes beyond solving problems, to diving into your personal motivations, purpose and drive. I was starting to ask myself if the emotional burden and psychological distress was worth it. I figured being around like-minded folks would be just the renewal of hope I needed — and I was right.
But like all the best things in life, the real value of the fellowship experience didn’t come without a bit of struggle. Throughout this experience, I have had to challenge myself and challenge my expectations. I have had to reconsider what is an ideal way to learn. I have had to reconsider what is an ideal way to build trust — especially as the pandemic forced us to create intimate moments over not-so-intimate Zoom.
One of the most transformative moments on this fellowship journey came on a snowy Sunday in January 2021. We were wrapping up an intensive few days of work exploring power, authority, and the productive zone of disequilibrium. We had spent hours in pairs, small groups and as a whole fellowship community, discussing the role discomfort plays in creating change.
I am no stranger to discomfort.
But it dawned on me that I had been silently enduring discomfort. I was holding back. Even amongst peers who clearly loved and supported me, I was shying away from an opportunity to share an important perspective.
Once again I was back in 2017, at one of my first diversity workshops. I wondered, do I take the risk? Do I challenge our group to think more deeply about the role structural oppression plays in this conversation? To acknowledge that each of our lived experiences affords us privileges and that to leave that out of this discussion is simply not an option.
My heart raced and my face flushed. This time, I could not fight back the tears. What followed was the next challenge for our group to tackle: how to process my declaration and my emotions. How to take responsibility for the lens through which we view the world, and the privileges we have as we speak, act and reflect. How to acknowledge that this is a constant journey for each of us, for all of us, and we don’t always need to have all the answers, we just need to be willing to do the work.
I’m proud of myself for speaking up, I’m proud of the fellows for listening, and I’m grateful for the way our community has evolved from this conversation and continues to today. I can see how that teary moment became a marker for this experience — perhaps the tears punctuated the message in a way, only real vulnerability can.
Applications are open for the 2021 UK Acumen Fellowship, learn more about the programme and apply before the 5th of May.