On Remembrance Day, I attended the second day of the Council of Nigerian Professionals' 2022 Power of Inclusion virtual event, which focused on inclusive leadership. The panel consisted of a diverse group of corporate and community leaders who shared their professional insights and personal experiences.
Founder and CEO of Black Professionals in Tech Network, Lekan Olawoye, was an incredible keynote speaker. Lekan has a reputation as a passionate advocate for organizational change and lasting progress, and he most certainly exhibited that passion at the event. He observed that inclusive leadership is actually about sponsorship, and went on to illustrate how sponsorship has transformed and transitioned him from being a leader because of what he has been through, to being a leader because of what he can give. His message was clear and simple: “Good leaders only become good leaders because they have other leaders sponsor them.”
To Nation Cheong, a respected partnership builder, strategic thinker and United Way’s Vice President of Community Opportunities & Mobilization, the “burden” of leadership is to foster trust and psychological safety within our spaces. As leaders, we need to have the clarity of mind, values and purpose to challenge existing norms within our organizations, which show up in policy, practice and, most importantly, culture. Nation spoke eloquently about the necessity of accepting the uniqueness in all of us, and firmly rejected the idea that inclusion means not seeing difference, not seeing colour, not seeing our different abilities. That, to him, is a myth that undermines true inclusion, true sponsorship, true equity and true values which we aspire to when we talk about equity, diversity and inclusion. He noted that the vision of an organization, community or society should demonstrably reflect the values of every member—in all their shapes, forms and mindsets. That takes more than extending an invitation to the table, because the table has already been set and the chairs have already been placed.
For Tyson Jones, Regional Vice President, Commercial Financial Services at Royal Bank of Canada, inclusive leadership should be about providing a platform and opportunities for people to demonstrate the heroes that are already in them. He talked about his own father, a teacher who immigrated to Canada from the Caribbean more than 50 years ago in search of better opportunities. Tyson’s father applied to different organizations and none of them would consider him—except one. He was hired as an accounting clerk, and although his abilities surpassed his job duties, he did the job anyway and used his savings to study accounting in the evenings. He eventually got his Chartered Professional Accountant designation, which qualified him for a mortgage and enabled him to purchase his first home. In an incredible twist of fate, 20 years later, he became that firm’s managing partner.
The story of Tyson’s father resonated deeply with me because I went through a similar experience when I immigrated to Canada. My sponsor was the director of a not-for-profit organization and offered me a job as an administrative coordinator at a time when no one else would hire me because I had no Canadian experience. My sponsor gave me the opportunity to earn a living, which enabled me to support myself financially as a new immigrant and pay for my equivalence exams that I needed to take for my law degrees to be recognized in Canada. Even though I was overqualified for the job, it opened doors for me and it allowed me to access better opportunities.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my fellow Canadian Bar Association Women Lawyers Forum Executive member, Edosa Adams-Edode, who invited me to attend this thought-provoking discussion. For Edosa, inclusive leadership means taking into account the leadership expectation of the less-favoured, making people feel they are valued and giving them a sense of belonging. According to Edosa, the characteristics of an inclusive leader are humility, awareness of one’s own biases, curiosity about others, cultural intelligence and effective collaboration. Fortunately, inclusive leadership is a skill that we can all learn. The key is to work at it one step at a time, as illustrated by the African proverb Edosa quoted: “If you want to move mountains tomorrow, you must start by lifting stones today.”
Citlali Rios of eCampusOntario also weighed in on the discussion and urged everyone to not just bring their own chair, but two more chairs to any conversation where we see that representation is lacking.
It was great hearing all the different perspectives as we commemorated those who serve to protect our rights and freedoms. For me, the discussion highlighted the importance of creating a space for us to raise awareness and bring solutions to the challenges we face in our organizations, institutions and communities through dialogue and the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges that we face today, it seems clear to me that transformational change occurs when we engage with a diversity of thought.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Ogang is a bilingual lawyer admitted to the Ontario and Kenyan Bar. She practices Wills & Estates, Immigration and Business Law at her firm, AngeLAW, in downtown Toronto and offers services in English and French. Angela is a member of the OBA Council, the Secretary of the OBA Young Lawyers Division (Central), and the Secretary of the CBA and OBA Women Lawyers Forum.
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