My dad promised me he would join me for each university introduction day. Together we set foot that day, for the first time at the Eindhoven University of Technology. There were 200 candidate students with their parents; and yes, we were the only Black family!
I am the 0.5% of this new candidate student population. That is not a statistic that makes you immediately feel like you belong. Both my dad and I were nervous at the start of the day, but extremely proud at the same time, knowing that this would be part of my future too. “Chest & chin up, be fearless” was our family motto. A motto, given in by my mother who is a fearless force herself.
It takes heart, stepping into a different environment, where you are the first or the only one like you. Every time I step into a room where I am the single representation of diversity, I assess how I can showcase commonalities. And with whom?
During my graduation thesis project, I found myself in a highly competitive corporate environment advising a – not diverse – senior management team on a strategic project. Like any other fresh graduate, I felt: how do I belong? But I also wondered: how different is the person they see in front of them? How great it would have been to be able to meet my future self as part of that senior management team, to tell me to loosen up and be myself!
Instead, there was no color in that particular room, nor in most corporate rooms that I have entered since. And with that, for sure, I have felt a certain pressure to pre-empt any bias that might exist. Over time, what empowered me, was not to focus on how I was perceived, but believing in what my own personal added value is. I started to realise that the ability to not be concerned about how I am being perceived, is an actual strength.
Clearly this strength had to grow over time and several of my managers have become strong sponsors throughout my career. Along with that, I have met ethnic diverse leaders in all the various places I have lived and they continue to inspire me.
I have co-founded Roots Inspire to unlock the power of diversity for organizations and strengthen their pipeline of ethnic diverse talent. More importantly, however, I want to offer young ethnic diverse talent a platform to meet their future selves and do even better!
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