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Female Disruptors: Pascale Joseph Of Equity Through Liberation On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pascale Joseph.

Pascale Joseph has over ten years of combined experience in the non-profit, public, and private sectors. She is a fierce believer in centering humanity within organizational policies and has dedicated her career to creating culturally responsive, aware, and competent companies that celebrate their teams by sincerely investing in their personal and professional growth. Pascale is a current doctoral student at Robert Morris University and the founder and principal consultant of Equity Through Liberation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

When I was younger, I thought I was going to be an architect. That was my dream. I was inspired by my uncle and would often take some of his balsa wood and foam to secretly build models of my own. I told myself that I would grow up and return to my childhood town of Trenton, New Jersey and completely revitalize it and renovate everyone’s homes for free. Although I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture Studies and began my graduate studies in Landscape Architecture, my love of debate and public policy lead me off a path focused on designing the built and natural environment, and onto one focused on the policy and impact of those designs. I began my career at Michael Baker International, as a Planner, and my work led me to various military bases, where our team was contracted to create development plans for places like Fort Campbell, White Sands Missile Range, and many others. While I enjoyed the travel and the opportunity to work with Servicemembers and their families, I knew the private sector would not be a place that I call home. Being a Black woman in a pre-dominantly white, male field held its challenges and that was when I first began developing my philosophy and expectation of what leadership looks like. I began challenging organizations that had antiquated and often oppressive policies that prohibited the growth and psychological safety of employees, primarily those of historically excluded identities. I created and a lead a women’s development group and a women of color group for a private company and that was really the starting point of my shift from architecture and planning to people and culture. The roles I took on afterwards had operational and strategic components through which I was able to begin honing my skills in coaching and facilitation of understanding what it means to be authentic, vulnerable, and empathetic. The operations roles then began including people and culture, and as I honed my coaching and facilitation skills, I realized that there is nothing I love more than helping others discover their power and how to use it for their professional and personal growth. I also realized that to do so, I needed to embed myself in roles that focused primarily on people and their humanity, ensuring that equity and justice is a solid thread throughout every team, department, and individual. I’m now the Associate Director for People & Culture for a national non-profit and have a consulting business.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

As the child of Haitian immigrants, I was born a fighter and in my roles I have used this determination to tell my story. Haiti’s culture is a rich source of inspiration and I value the stories that have been shared with me and have found beauty and inspiration in even the most tragic memories that have been passed down. I realized there is value in my own story as well. I began sharing it, the beautiful and the ugly; and have used the value of storytelling as a crucial part for instilling individual and collective accountability and as a component of DEIB and leadership in my training and coaching philosophy. To me, storytelling is the gateway to displaying vulnerability and empathy. If you want to be an authentic leader and lead with purpose, these components are critical to inclusivity, empowerment, and justice. I work to disrupt the traditional practices in business that expect people to merely survive under the status quo, by modeling, designing and facilitating trainings, and crafting policies and processes for organizations to shift away from contributing to the reinforcement of oppressive systems and completely dismantling them instead.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I volunteered with multiple organizations to help with their vision and development plans early in my career. I just started to learn how to weave my personality into my facilitation style, especially since I was conducting these workshops solo. In the middle of giving an enthusiastic speech about the importance of being honest with yourself during a SWOT analysis, I stumbled through saying “threats”. I just could not get out the “th” sound and finally I stopped and said, “ok whatever, you know what I mean” and ended the sentence with a loud cackle. My laugh will either get on your nerves or make you laugh too, and luckily for me it eased the tension in the room and the participants laughed and shared their own moments of fumbling through a sentence. That experience taught me primarily not to take myself so seriously that I forget I’m human. Anticipate mistakes because they will happen. But when they do, there is always a solution. Also, incorporate laughter where you can when you’re presenting.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Two of my former supervisors, who were also great mentors, were people who saw potential in me during a time where I constantly second-guessed myself. Their support in encouraging me to share my voice and wield my intellect gave me the push to pursue and achieve goals that had been on my list for quite some time but avoided putting into action. For example, I knew I wanted to pursue a Doctoral degree, but kept stalling. I applied to one school in the past and got rejected, and I assumed it was because I wasn’t and never would be ready or qualified. I came across a program that I was deeply interested in, the PhD in Instructional Management and Leadership program, at Robert Morris University, but I couldn’t bring myself to finish the application. During one of my weekly check-ins, I talked about where I eventually saw myself going and how determined I was, but how sometimes, I felt uncertain about the path that I’ve laid out to get there. My mentor asked me why I insisted on getting in my own way, and I didn’t have a valid answer. I realized that I was talking myself out of applying to school and other development opportunities, because ultimately I was afraid to fail and therefore I rationalized that it made sense not to try at all. I went home that day and I sat up all night drafting my application and essay. After spending a few days proofreading everything I clicked submit. I needed that kick because I’m currently in my second semester in that program and am so thankful for that one simple question that forced me to stop self-sabotaging.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

One of the most important things to consider when we’re looking at these “systems” is understanding that while a system has withstood the test of time, which doesn’t necessarily mean it has provided benefit to the entirety of society. Disruption, especially in today’s standards, understands that not all things that have endured serve a meaningful purpose for all peoples. Disruption loses its meaning when the disruptor loses their integrity. For example, co-opting or performative action that’s done for the sake of likes, clout, or whatever you want to call it. I see it like taking the route of accomplice-ship. If you are to be an accomplice or disruptor, you must do so intentionally and sincerely. Disruption does not always look like protesting an oppressive system; it could be as individualistic as calling out the problematic practices of your place of work or challenging the longstanding racism within your family with your relatives. To me, disruption is not done in self-interest, but rather for the benefit of the collective, especially in the name of historically excluded folks.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

You will come across many people who will tell you what you cannot do, never add your voice to that chorus. — I am harsh on myself when it comes to setting expectations and goals and achieving them. Like many others, all the should have, could have, would have’s echo quite loudly when I am left alone with my own thoughts, but I’ve come to realize that although sometimes, it may be harder to ignore the criticism we give ourselves, we should never talk ourselves out of an opportunity. We especially should learn to value our own dreams over the ones that may be pushed on us because of filial expectation or societal ignorance. Before I chose the route of architecture, I started my undergraduate career on a medical track. Being a doctor is a dream that many parents have for their children and mine are no different. However, with that dream came the justification that the medical field was much more suitable for women than architecture. I told everyone who asked that I was going to be a doctor and when I secretly declared my architecture major and shared it with my parents, there wasn’t as much initial support as I would have liked or hoped for. But I stayed the course because that was what made me happy. That path is also what provided me with the journey that led me to the point in time that I find myself at now and my parents eventually understood why I chose the dream that I chose.

Celebrate your fails as hard as you celebrate your wins. — The experiences where you fell short of a milestone contribute to your character just as much and possibly more than the moments where you faced achievement. In the past, I made myself physically ill because the thought of failure was so terrifying that I would make myself emotionally, mentally, and physically unwell obsessing over the possibility of failing. In turn, that obsession made me hide so many things about myself because I was ashamed. I was diagnosed with severe depression and to me that meant I failed the expectation that I should be strong, unwavering, and to some extent without emotion, but that’s not the case at all. Moments where we encounter the unexpected or the disappointing is not the end. There’s power in unpacking the historical, societal, and filial expectation that we should aspire to perfection. Perfection should never be the goal; it is limiting, problematic on so many levels, and a fictitious construct built for elitist purposes. If you do not acknowledge the moments where you almost made it, you run the risk of repeating the same actions and you’ll just run in place without ever getting anywhere.

Please put on your mask before helping others with theirs. — I’ve never understood the glorification of self-sacrifice, even though I’ve fallen into that trap of belief myself. You could be a coach with a backlog of clients, but coaches need coaches sometimes too. If you’re a manager with a team, be sure you’re taking care of you so that you can model for the people you lead. I have spent the early part of my life always making sure that everyone else was ok, meanwhile I felt like I was sitting in quicksand waiting as it slowly engulfed me. That mask can stand for anything from your mental, emotional, and physical health or even your time. Be sure you invest in yourself, your joy, and your spirit.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Right now, I am working on my doctoral degree and I’m also proud to say I’ve starting my own consulting firm, Equity Through Liberation, LLC. It has been a dream of mine for so many years and quite frankly I came close to thinking it was never going to happen. But I’ve reached a point in my life where I am confident in myself and all I have to offer, and I am hitting the ground running all for the sake of sharing knowledge to disrupt and shift the distribution of power across as many tables, board rooms, and communities as I can.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

One of the things I have personally faced, particularly, as a Black woman, is having to constantly battle stereotypes. Women are also more likely to face confirmation bias than men. I’ve been in rooms where I was more experienced than the men on my team or even more senior, but I’d be ignored or everything I said had to be seconded by a man for it to have any validity. It can be infuriating, and still happens here and there, but I make it a point to address it when it happens.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a book that I hold close to my heart. My cousin gifted me that book after I had a conversation with her about how confused I felt about where I belong in the world. I was in high school and that was where I first started feeling tension between who people expected me to be and who I saw myself as. I sat and opened the book up to a random page and I’ll never forget the first line I read, “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So, it’s better to listen to what it has to say.” That line has stuck with me since then and I’m always reminded of it whenever I’m faced with decisions where I feel torn. That book taught me that my obligation in life is to walk the path in which I feel the most fulfilled and that I cannot seek out dreams that others have dreamt for me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I have this “pie in the sky” dream of creating a leadership development program for QT-BIPOC youth from lower income communities where they spend the summer abroad learning diverse topics from art to finance to history, that program would then provide guidance and coaching to support pursuit of an education and/or profession. Most students from low-income neighborhoods can rarely leave their towns, states, or the country. Study abroad programs always felt so inaccessible, but I want people to experience all the different adventures the world has to offer, because exposure to those experiences can be wonderous and you should not have to be wealthy or part of the status quo to take part in it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The snake who underestimates its prey will eat its own tail.” I know my friends are cringing reading this because I make up random axioms all the time, and to be fair I have made up so many that I cannot remember if I legitimately heard this some place or if it is one of my creations. It means live with integrity and honesty because there will be moments where your works of deception backfire on you. I have never been someone who believed that I had to lie or step on others to get to where I want to be. Sometimes it has been to my detriment, but I feel a lot lighter without guilt of dishonesty weighing me down. While it may not be true for everyone, to me, no dream is worth peeling the skin off someone else’s back for it to come true. At the end of the day, you do quite a bit of harm to yourself (and to others) by moving through life disingenuously.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn but I can also be reached via my website, www.equityxliberation.org.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.