Day One Closing Keynote Lerato Semenya Being your Authentic Self

I write this as a fellow South African.  Lerato Semenya is a Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, Facilitator, and international Speaker. I have attended many of Lerato’s presentations. This was by far the most powerful!

The last Keynote Speaker of day one and Lerato did not disappoint. She had us all hooked from the get-go as she took us through her journey. The theme of Lerato’s presentation was “What does authenticity mean, as we travel this journey? Is it being true, thinking about the realness of you and how you should be showing up in spaces? Is it about self-awareness, being intuitive, being able to be anchored in something?”

We all come into different spaces. We all have a deep desire to contribute completely and with meaning. We all long to “belong”. Belonging to something and mattering to other people. She asked thought-provoking questions. “How can we do that if we spend huge parts of our time “masking” huge parts of “who we are”? Masking destroys the concept of belonging and causes doubt and questions on how we show up. This means we cannot wholly show up in spaces to allow us to flourish like we should be able to do.

Lerato defined the differences between Inclusive Recruitment and Inclusive Sourcing:

  • Inclusive Recruitment is connecting, interviewing, and hiring a diverse set of individuals through understanding and valuing different backgrounds and opinions (Lisa Hohman Concordance Healthcare Solutions).
  • Inclusive Sourcing should consider intersectionality and go beyond more than gender or race. Connecting and understanding the value that comes from people from different backgrounds.

Taking into consideration the local economy, history, and the job market. We advertise for roles asking for all the “must have’s” and “nice to haves”. We don’t think about the sections of the world we are cutting out. This is due to our personal view or lens we are applying in talent acquisition. We are all trying to attract rock stars into our world.

How do we make those deep meaningful connections on behalf of the company we are working for she asked? Whether you are an agency or internal it is about you as the face of the engagement. You are the culture.  Culture develops in an organization whether you play a part in its development or not.

Diversity is a Fact. Inclusion is a series of Intentional Actions.

She defined Inclusion as … “a work environment where all individuals are not only treated fairly and respectfully but have equal access to opportunities and resources”.

Lerato asks the question when interviewing “How do you portray the company culture to them”? Are they able to imagine themselves working and contributing meaningfully to the company? People are saying it’s impossible to occupy a place in this world if I can’t occupy it in the manner that I see myself in”.

What are the solutions? Some are personal. This is where there are elements of self-awareness and others are organizational. Lerato recommends you put in deliberate actions within the organization. Create cultures for innovation, belonging, equity, etc. Use the personal to influence the organization and vice versa.  It takes a deep-rooted commitment to self and the consideration of others to be able to see as much as to be seen. What stops us says Lerato, is our Bias and Unconscious Bias. She broke it down as follows:

Bias is a subjective predetermined preference towards a viewpoint about roles, behaviors, and individuals. What stops us she says is the lens through which we see ourselves and how we look at things. Bias is huge in recruitment/sourcing. The job ads we place, our interviewing structures, and the questions we ask.

Unconscious Bias is where we are unaware of our prejudice or preference.  We believe that we are acting objectively and fairly. These biases come from everywhere. The messages we receive as we grow, early experiences, upbringing, family, peers, religion, media, and social norms. They create high levels of stress, frustrations, and emotions.

Lerato spent 17 years in the corporate space feeling “unsafe”.  She wished she had some element of awareness to self-express. Her favorite quote from Nelson Mandela. “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” and from Maya Angelou “When you learn, teach, when you get, give”.  We can achieve this advised Lerato if we change the lives of people, one person, at a time.

These are her guidelines in practicing psychological safety in the workplace:

  • Assume positive intent
  • Engage in dialogue, not debate
  • Hold yourself and others accountable for demonstrating cultural humility.
  • Be open, transparent, and willing to admit mistakes
  • Embrace the power of humble listening
  • Create trusting and safe spaces – where a little discomfort is okay
  • Commit to having conversations that matter by speaking up to bridge divides

Lerato posed the following questions:

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  1. When you think about yourself and your journey in life -Are your words authentic, thoughtful, and carefully chosen?  Yet not to stifle open discussions?
  2. Ask yourself, “am I considerate of the other person to be able to have a meaningful dialogue?

She talked about a social contract where you will go to a trusted person. Ask them if you can count on them to give you honest and constructive feedback? e.g.: do I use words that are hurtful or offensive to you at the moment because emotions run high?   People are willing to be present, willing to learn, willing to be seen.

A new and interesting concept Lerato introduced is Covering”. This is where individuals cover their identities. Not hiding something but downplaying it. For fear of drawing unwanted attention or making others feel uncomfortable.  This really hit home as it’s sad that we have to cover up parts of ourselves to be more successful in the workplace

Lerato gave examples of covering. Coloring our grey hair and the value we attach to youth. We don’t want to show we associate with a particular group for fear of attracting unwanted attention. We are allies of the LGBTQIA community and are too afraid of how we will be perceived. A topical one that created huge debate is online virtual backgrounds. Lerato believes people hide behind virtual pictures. I totally agreed with Lerato’s statement of “When you do that we are all robbed of rich content because of the notion of covering”

In Conclusion

A powerful and impactful session. Presented with such humility and filled with so many insights. Lerato ended off her session with these impactful words for us all to action:

In order to liberate others, it is crucial that we liberate ourselves. 

I have used my candle to light yours and I’ve lost nothing by doing that. My light does not have to dim for yours to shine”

We all have the ability to change the lives of people, one person, at a time, “Feel the Fear” and “Do It Anyway”.

Caz Pollock is the Founder/CEO of  “Pollock & Associates” an Executive Search and Specialist recruitment company. A wholly South African-owned business that she founded in 2008. She specializes in connecting South Africa’s brightest middle and executive management talent with the country’s most prominent employers.

She has spent the past 36 years in the competitive recruitment industry. Before founding her own business, she worked for both of South Africa's leading staffing service providers, Kelly and Adcorp. Here she held many senior positions including Managing Executive, Divisional Director, General Manager, and Marketing Manager.

Caz is passionate about the industry and embracing the rapid change of technology and sourcing on a global level. In the mature phase of her career, she embraces each morning with “What can I learn today?”.

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