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March 9, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

IWD 2022: Break the Bias

March 9, 2022 | 24 Mins Read

IWD 2022: Break the Bias

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Octavia Goredema, founder of Twenty Ten Agency, has coached leaders at renowned companies including Google, American Airlines, Tinder, General Motors, Nike, and Dow Jones, and is also the author of the new book PREP, PUSH, PIVOT: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. She joins Sarah to discuss the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day – Break the Bias.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Every year, we do a special episode of the podcast around International Women's Day. And we're doing the same today. The theme of this year's International Women's Day is break the bias. I'm excited to be welcome today by Octavia Goredema, who is a career coach, founder of Twenty Ten Agency, where she's coached leaders at renowned companies you're all familiar with, including Google, American Airlines, Nike, General Motors, et cetera. And also author of the new book, Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women. Octavia, thanks for being here with me today.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, thank you, Sarah. I'm happy to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Before we get into the conversation, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your journey.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, well, thank you for that warm welcome. And yes, I'm a career coach. I started my company Twenty Ten Agency because I'm really passionate about helping others to do their best work. And as a black woman, as I was starting my career, which began in England before I moved to the United States, I've been in here in Los Angeles I think 16 years now. I just started to see that there were just so many barriers to advancement and I'm really passionate about opening doors and making sure others have the opportunity to do their best work. And actually when I worked, myself with a coach for the very first time that I really had a light bulb moment and made a pivot of my own and trained to become a coach. And the work that I do is working with corporations, such as some of the larger companies that you referenced and also individuals. With companies help them retain talent, with individuals to find strategies to position yourself for promotion or to bounce back from losing a job or navigate a career break.

Octavia Goredema: But I recognize most people don't have the ability to work with a coach, Sarah. I discovered coaching when I was already maybe 15 years into my career. Most of the individuals I worked with, my team and I, we're the first coach they've ever encountered in their career. And so I realized there's a huge gap there. And so I wanted to write a book that would help underrepresented women navigate some of those really important and often challenging moments, especially if you don't have someone that you can work with one on one. And so my book was released here in the United States in the new year, and it'll be released in the United Kingdom on International Women's Day.

Sarah Nicastro: Nice, awesome. I'm glad we're here to have this conversation. I think it's really cool that you focus on helping on both sides. Helping businesses understand some of the ways that they may need to evolve or make changes, improvements, and then also helping to inspire individuals as well. One question I have is you mentioned the barriers when you started your career. How much progress do you feel we've made?

Octavia Goredema: It's not just actually the barriers when starting the career, it's actually as you are growing and developing in your career and the data speaks for itself. The pay gap persists. Before the pandemic, it was predicted it might take a century, Sarah, to close the pay gap. That's beyond my lifetime, your lifetime, my children's lifetime. Women of color continue to be the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline, almost regardless of industry sectors, data shows it. I'm really nervous and scared about what the data will show as we look back on what's happening right now. We've already started to see studies that show women are being impacted severely when it comes to unemployment and leaving the work force as a result of everything we've navigated and are still navigating through the pandemic.

Octavia Goredema: It's a really challenging and difficult time. And there's a lot of systemic issues that are contributing to the challenges that women face. As a coach, some of the work that I'm proudest of is the work that I've done during this pandemic in terms of supporting individuals in some of the most unprecedented and challenging times. There's still so much work to be done.

Sarah Nicastro: I think this year's conversation just feels especially important because we've seen the impact that COVID had and how it's amplified for women. I've been fortunate enough, privileged enough to continue working this entire time. I have two small children, but I have help. And I haven't had to sacrifice my career, but I feel so deeply for those that have been in that position. And so I think we're going to talk a little bit later about what are some of the things that companies can do to help get those women back into the workforce when they're ready. I asked you about progress because we've had a number of these conversations, one every year, the podcast has been around for International Women's Day, but also sometimes we feature women in field service, women in tech, women in stem and I have gotten feedback sometimes that if things aren't going to get better if you keep calling it out that way. It shouldn't be women in or it shouldn't be categorized that way.

Sarah Nicastro: And the first time I got that feedback, I really thought long and hard about it because I try to be very careful about just reflecting on my own practices and making sure that I'm not doing something with good intent that is having the opposite impact. But I think the reality is there's still so much work to be done. And I think that until it doesn't need to be called out then we keep calling it out.

Octavia Goredema: Yes, absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I don't know how else we talk about it. I'm glad to be here doing that today. As I mentioned in the intro, the theme of this year's International Women Day is break the bias. And so I wanted to start by talking about what are some of the biases that you feel are playing a major role in still holding women back today?

Octavia Goredema: Well, there's so many. And not every woman's experience in the workplace is the same as anyone else's, but the data just shows when you look at the most senior levels of almost any company in any industry, the representation isn't there. The representation isn't there. When you look at what women are earning, it's not a parity with men when you look at the data. We've had legislation that's been put in place to address these things. And even those things still don't translate. Those things are still there. And then as a coach, I have a unique glimpse into what actually happens in someone's career. What happens after they are hired or as they are promoted and then after they're promoted and even senior leaders. And the things that happen day in and day out, no one else might ever know.

Octavia Goredema: There's a lot of biases or experiences that can be invisible even to somebody else who works alongside you, or is sat in the same meeting as you, always on a Zoom with you. It can be a very personal experience that not only is sometimes difficult to identify, but can be very difficult to talk about. Very difficult. Sometimes you don't even know if you've not been invited to a meeting that you should be, or if you've not been considered for a project or how do you know that in that moment as well. And so this is what makes it even harder. That's why we often then look at the studies and we look, well, how many women are there? And there's two black female CEOs in the fortune 500.

Octavia Goredema: We look at things like that because those are the indicators that we have, but the actual realities of what's happening day in, day out are invisible and nobody sees. And when you are building your career, what I often see as a coach is there comes a point, it's not the same point for everyone, where you hit a ceiling. You might not see that ceiling coming. You might not even realize you've hit it for a while, until you are actually reflecting and you're perhaps looking, or maybe looking at your peers or you're comparing, or you have a conversation and you suddenly realize, oh my goodness, that person earning how much, because it's not always immediately apparent to you.

Octavia Goredema: And this is what makes it even harder. And you mentioned you have children, Sarah, I have children too. And it wasn't until maybe five years into parenthood that I really realize, oh my goodness, a lot of these things are not my fault. I didn't make a mistake in terms of what I think it's just that the systems are not set up to support working mothers in many cases in the way that they should be. And that can be a very difficult thing when you are navigating this because you don't know.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Octavia Goredema: You don't know.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I've shared a number of my own experiences as someone who wanted to be a mom and have a career, and some of the things that have worked against me, some of the comments that have been made and are still made all the time and you mentioned some of the systemic issues earlier and I think that the reality is there are still very real gender norms and belief systems around that in place that are not only deeply rooted, but multi-layered, that it, to your point, can be really hard to point all of those things out. I mean, I feel like my husband and I have a pretty egalitarian marriage and it still is influenced by all of those things and the expectations and all of that. Now when you think about the theme of this year's International Women's Day breaks the bias. I know there are a lot and they can be hard to sort of identify, are there any that come to mind that you think people need to be particularly aware of or focused on?

Octavia Goredema: That's a really hard question to answer, because there were so many layers to that. And I think I would like people just to, regardless of their own gender and background, but to really perhaps ask that question of themselves and where can they support other women? Where can we, as women support other women? Where can we pay it forward? What are some of the things that we can do that can help support and amplify? Because I very much believe that these conversations continue, need to be had beyond March 8th and beyond Women's History Month, they just need to be ongoing.

Octavia Goredema: And so I think that would be the challenge that I have often. Often, I sometimes go into companies and work across the board, not just with women, not just with men, not just with individuals who are being coached, but with senior leadership as well to really think about how to set up diverse talent and underrepresented talent and want your female employees for success in the long term. In the long term. Because that's what matters, because it's not just about hiring women, it's about advancing women and supporting women throughout our entire careers. Yes, there's a lot to do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Besides conversations like this, I mean, if you were going into work with an organization and speaking with them on how do we break these biases and stereotypes in a way that allows us to make more progress, what does that look like? I mean, what are some of the things that organization should be doing?

Octavia Goredema: Yeah. I think visibility and advocacy really matters. Be invested, identify opportunities to support women with their professional goals. As a coach, I see the women that are thriving in terms of the women I work directly with are the ones that have sponsors at their organizations. It's not just about providing what's needed for us to do our best work, but being there to support when we make mistakes and to show and nurture and amplify and be a resource. Often, as we progress, there are fewer and fewer role models we may have. And so it's really important that it's not just having someone to look to, but someone who is invested in your success. If you, as a leader and whatever level of leadership you are, always be mindful about who is on your team, or who is in your organization and the visibility of those individuals and those opportunities for those individuals and what you can do to make a difference.

Octavia Goredema: Because those opportunities can change someone's whole career, whether it's a stretch assignment or even a meeting that you are part of, or a conversation or a mentorship, or just understanding what might come next, or what they might be for you, can really change someone's perspective. The mentors that I have had and continue to have, have been transformative for me. And so I think it's having that intent, which can be sometimes hard to measure. It's not something that's always immediately tangible. A lot of organizations are trying to make those culture shifts to have these systems and to nurture pipelines of talent, not lose women as we progress. I think that is very, very important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. You mentioned earlier that women of color are the most underrepresented group in the corporate pipeline.

Octavia Goredema: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: What is your view on how that changes?

Octavia Goredema: In my book, I think I quoted a study from Working Mother Media that talked about 46%, only 46% of underrepresented women in their study had attended a meeting with senior executives in the last two years compared to 63% of white men. Advocacy, visibility, mentorship, coaching, professional development, it all matters. A lot of companies are trying really, really hard to diversify their recruiting processes and they're bringing it up. But it's retaining those individuals. That is just so key. That is so key. And that takes time. That takes time.

Octavia Goredema: Being an advocate also involves being a good listener as well, providing space to ask people questions and be responsive to what you hear. And so there are some companies that I've seen reports on who are actually, especially at the start of this year, who are actually making a real stake here and we have time compensation for executives to hitting certain goals and targets long term. This is important to us. And if we succeed, these are the measures by which we will, but it takes time. And so when you as an individual are navigating your career, you can't control all of these environments that are around you. And so the book that I wrote, Prep, Push, Pivot, I really wanted to support women who are navigating this. And also if you are a leader who has underrepresented women on your team, read the book and it gives you a perspective on perhaps some of the questions and challenges that we are considering that might not have been front of mind for you and awareness and understanding, I think is really important.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. When it comes to retaining diverse talent and some of the considerations that are maybe unique to women, what do you feel like is some of the most important things. What are some of the needs that companies need to accommodate or address to be able to retain and develop more women?

Octavia Goredema: I think providing the visibility that I talked about too, and also those stretch assignments and opportunities, they've been countless reports that talk about how, when we are looking at roles, whether that's for promotion or new roles, women tend to look at all of the job description an see where we align. And if we align with 80 or 90% of it, yes, we can do that. Well, in comparison, more often than not, men will just put their names forward regardless.

Octavia Goredema: And I've seen that play out in my own household. I was talking to my husband about an opportunity a female friend of mine was considering that she was a little concerned about some components of the job description. And my husband said to me, "Who reads job descriptions? If I want a job, I just go for it." He said, he said, "If I read the job description, I won't be able to do half the things on there so I don't want to pay attention to those things." And so identifying when you see potential, nurturing that potential and creating conversations and opportunities and exposure to get that pipeline of women to feel supported and amplified and ready and mentored, because that is so key when we are breaking barriers of our own, the next opportunity, even the one that we can't see yet are the ones where we want senior leaders to be identifying, highlighting, nurturing for those things.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Octavia Goredema: That's what's so important. Providing space to grow whether you at the start middle or more senior in your career.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I guess what I'm trying to do in my mind is take some of these points that are important, that there are also fairly broad. Like when we talk about create awareness and advocate, I mean yes, but if I'm listening to this and those things aren't intuitive to me, then what does that look like? And what I'm thinking about is three areas, at least that come to mind. One is company culture in a few ways. Number one, I mean, there are companies for which this is genuinely important and a authentic objective. And then there are companies who have these initiatives simply because they have to. But then I would also say related to company culture is the environment that is created to uncover and acknowledge biases to speak up and speak out to have leaders lead by example, in terms of making the culture, working woman friendly, working mom friendly.

Sarah Nicastro: I don't think that a lot of working moms can succeed in a certain type of ultra rigid culture that is a little bit more outdated. The second thing I think of is programs or systems. Some of the things that we've talked about, starting with awareness, but also mentorships and career development paths. Those are all things that companies should be focused on building out so that it isn't leaders who want to play a role in this aren't trying to create the wheel every time. There's sort of a process and a system to help accomplish these goals.

Sarah Nicastro: And then I think the third is leadership enablement. Because there are leaders for whom this will be a personal goal or commitment, but there are those that it's not. So you mentioned perhaps they're incentivized to play a role in this. The other thing is perhaps they are trained or coached in their own right to be better adept at recognizing their own biases and examining what do their teams look like and what does that mean and things like that. I don't know. Those are kind of the three things that came to mind.

Octavia Goredema: And the strategies vary depending on the size of your organization and the demographics of your people and your goals. Large organizations have employee resource groups and networks, which are great, but then you'll have to think about what is how those organizations, how are they funded? Often the people that are leading those organizations are doing jobs. They're doing their day job and they're also creating some kind of mechanism for other employees, which is so powerful. But how is that recognized? How is that supported in the long term? Are you using that? That's a really fantastic incubator to also listen. Are you asking questions in those scripts that could help you and give you insights that you wouldn't hear otherwise? Are you providing safe spaces for sharing? You might have company meetings or channel meetings where you report out, how are you listening back?

Octavia Goredema: There were lots of different considerations for organization, but if you are making an effort to hire, we want to keep your talent. You want to find opportunities. The pay for your business and your organization will just continue. And so you want to make those investments and provide advocacy and mentoring and supporting, and sponsorship, and also hold space to listen to the people that are already part of your culture and your organization, and hear what they might need to your point, because those voices can be so valuable and not everyone perhaps has the opportunity to share in that way when we are at work. Creating spaces and opportunities to do that.

Sarah Nicastro: That's a good point. I mean, if there's an organization that hasn't made as much effort as they want in this area, start by creating a focus group of your women employees and ask them what they think honestly about the experience and what could be better and that's a good point. We talked a little bit earlier about the fact that women were impacted significantly more than men by COVID when it comes to loss of work and having to leave their career. Do you have any thoughts on how we can best support women's reentry into the workplace?

Octavia Goredema: Yeah. The numbers that came out of some of the initial studies for the first year of the pandemic were just horrifying. And as I mentioned at the start of our conversation, I hope it's not the case, but could have the potential to set women back for decades when you look at the ramifications of what that means in terms of not just loss of earning capacity, but just what it takes to rebuild and restart your career. Setting the women that you are hiring up for success as we've talked about is really important. Listening to what might be needed in terms of maybe flexible schedules or roles and responsibilities in terms of locations. But I think above and beyond that, looking for the long term in terms of how to continue to advance women and that next cycle and that next generation, and continue to pay forward because it's above and beyond just this moment right now. The pay gap, which we talked about at the start of our conversation was already going to take decades and decades to close.

Octavia Goredema: Really look at your compensation practices and make sure that you are equitable in terms of how you compensate your employees is so important. Not all women are caregivers, but for those who are, I do hope that maybe the one silver lining coming out of everything that we have been to and are going through the pandemic, that employers that will be much more aware of what it takes to be a working parent today. Because that has been, and will continue to be a challenge. So that we can keep women in the workforce for as long as possible.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I should have thought to write this down and I didn't, so I don't remember any of the names of the organization to reference, but I have seen some different programs created to help with this effort people that are strategically looking for opportunities to offer really flexible roles and hours.

Octavia Goredema: And reentry into the workforce.

Right. So that if there are women who left that can't just come back, maybe in the manner they did before, what are some alternatives? The other thing that, sorry, I thought was really important was, I don't know if it was an article or a podcast, but it was around looking differently in this situation, but really just in general about gaps on resumes and not using that as something that is negatively perceived. Sorry, what were you going to say?

Octavia Goredema: Yes. I was going to say, yes, I just received an email, I think yesterday there are a lot of companies who have reentry to work programs where they're specifically recruiting from large companies like Wells Fargo to Facebook, to smaller companies too, and really targeting women who have taken a break, maybe not just because of the pandemic, but have taken a break in their career. And yes, to your point about gaps in resumes, I know often as employees we are looking to minimize risk. But I can attest as a working parent, I have done my best work ever since becoming a parent. Women have so much to give and there should not be ... A gap in a resume is a non-negotiable. This is what I say to women that I coach who are concerned about this. I talk about, you can do this role.

Octavia Goredema: Your skills and your acumen remains regardless. But I think the pandemic also perhaps has made that more aware that there is no one perfect way to navigate anyone's career and we have to as a whole support people who've stepped away from the workforce for whatever reason, so that we can get our economies back and so we can continue to thrive. And so, yes, I hope the silver lining will be that there's been a lot of less that have been learned in a very short and very pronounced space of time. And I hope that we can find ways to support women who are looking to reenter and rebuild whether it's now or in the future.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think the other thing is I've read a number of different articles and studies is looking at this isn't applicable to every single type of role understandably, but I mean, looking at the need to evolve the culture around how we assess value. And this, I think was exacerbated by COVID when we had so many people working remote, it becomes less about, okay, how many hours, minutes, seconds is your butt in a seat at a desk versus what is your contribution toward the objectives. I think that's the way it should be, but I think this situation maybe has helped employers that were kind of hanging on to that need for control to recognize that if you focus on creating an environment in which your talent can thrive, they will most times step up to the challenge.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, people care and want to do well generally. It goes back to kind of that cultural part as well. You talk in your book about how fear is a very big challenge for women when it comes to their careers. And you mentioned earlier the example of your husband saying, I don't even read job descriptions. I just apply. Whereas sometimes a woman or a particular personality would kind of overanalyze every single characteristic. Why do you think fear is so prevalent and what advice can you share?

Octavia Goredema: I think often there's fear of making a mistake. Fear of dropping a ball, fear of just not delivering. And I see that manifest constantly, and it's not about level of seniority. And so I think it's really, really important to know that building your career's, yes, the most personal and valuable investment you'll ever make, but also know you have to give yourself permission to fail sometimes. That doesn't mean you want to set out to fail. That's how you learn as you go. I think it's so important. I always have a smile when I see you see these very senior executives who get fired and bounce back better.

Octavia Goredema: If you really look at it, you see people make mistakes at very senior level. It's not necessarily a career ender, really keep pushing and keep striving and don't be afraid of making a mistake. Don't feel you have to do everything perfectly. We have to learn and we have to grow and I think it's very important if anyone is mentoring someone else to be really transparent about the mistakes that you have made. What you learned from those, how you navigated those. It's really important thing to do and to give space for that. And also you as an individual trust. But even if you do make a misstep, you'll learn from it and you'll keep moving forward.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think another area where fear plays such a big role in all of this for everyone is fear of speaking up. I think that when it comes to this idea of breaking the bias, like you said, so much of the cumulative effect of why women are not equal to men in the workplace today is those little things. I mean, it's the daily, I forgot to put you on the meeting invite or gaslighting or all sorts of things. And every day, people see that happen and it's really easy to be fearful that if it's a leader that's doing that, oh, well, I can't say something because they're my superior, or I don't want to start anything, or let me just stay in my lane.

Sarah Nicastro: And the reality is we all play a part in making the progress we want to make. And yes, it can be very uncomfortable to have hard conversations. I can think back on times where I avoided them myself, but you know better, you do better. Right. And I think that's another area where people need to consider stepping outside of their comfort zone and helping keep the progress moving by addressing things like that when they see them.

Octavia Goredema: I agree. And everything you say is valid. It can be very difficult. In that moment, if there is someone more senior than you to use your voice in that way. And I've been in that situation, before I had my coaching company, I was employed. And I remember having to say to the CEO of the company where I worked, "Is there a reason why I wasn't included in that meeting?" I feel I should have been there and I would've liked to have been there. And this is the reason why. And I did end up receiving an apology, but that wasn't the immediate reaction. It came much later. You don't know what the response will be, but ideally your employer wants employees who are there to add value and to solve problems and to help do things better.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah.

Octavia Goredema: And to help do things better. And so if you are using your voice to show where you add value or where things could be different or where things could be better, then you need to observe and then see what happens next.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Okay. All right Octavia. Any final thoughts, words of wisdom. What do you hope that people take away from this discussion?

Octavia Goredema: It's an ethos that underpins everything that I do. And that I open my book Prep, Push, Pivot with, which is knowing your worth matters, especially in the moments where your worth is not being reflected back at you. I think that is really important. And for employers recognize the worth of what women on your team and your future female hires will bring to the table. And it's, of course your worth is represented by what you earn, but it's more than just that. It's what you need to do your best work and what you need to thrive. And as individuals, what are the non-negotiables for us in our career and making sure that we are building careers that align with our goals and our values.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I have a special shirt on today. I don't know if you can see it says carry as you climb.

Octavia Goredema: I love that.

Sarah Nicastro: And it goes back to the point you made earlier, which is, as women, we have an obligation to help one another as well. Yes, all of the white men in senior leader positions need to really reflect on what their teams and organization looks like and how genuine they are about their desire to really progress related to this. But until we are at a point where these conversations become less necessary, we really have to help each other out and support one another, speak up on one another's behalfs, just really advocate for one another, lift each other up, all of those things.

Octavia Goredema: Paying it forward really matters. And it can be also in ways where we're not necessarily using our voice in front of others, but in terms of suggesting opportunities or resources to others. It can be in small ways or it can be in really impactful ways. Paying it forward is so important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think there's a real thing particularly because women are still at a disadvantage in the workplace. I think there can be a tendency towards the scarcity mindset and well, if I help her, then I will somehow disadvantage myself and we just have to move beyond that. I mean, we all need to be helping one another and you're never going to be disadvantaged by championing someone else.

Octavia Goredema: Absolutely. Yeah. I couldn't agree more.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Tell folks where they can find Prep ... Oh goodness. Prep, Push, Pivot. Where can they find the book?

Octavia Goredema: Prep, Push, Pivot is available wherever you love to buy books. You'll be able to find it at your local bookstore or at your favorite online book retailer. And you can also go to my website, octaviagoredemago.com if you need more information.

Sarah Nicastro: Excellent. All right, Octavia, thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Octavia Goredema: Oh, thank you, Sarah. It's great to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureofFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.