How to find your voice

Got that sneaking feeling that you don’t fit in? Lost your voice as a result? Here’s an inspiring story with the advice you need to overcome it.

Got that sneaking feeling that you don’t fit in? Lost your voice as a result? Here’s an inspiring story with the advice you need to overcome it.

Let’s face it – at work, and sometimes in society in general – it can be hard to feel like you fit in. Stereotypes still reign supreme, and unless you look and sound like the archetypal model of corporate success, which in most cases, is a straight, Anglo-Saxon male who is above-average height, it can be easy to feel as if you’re not represented anywhere or worse, feel as if your voice can’t – and shouldn’t – be heard.

One person who relates to this quandary more than most is Div Pillay. Div is the CEO of MindTribes, Co-Founder of Culturally Diverse Women (CDW), an innovator for inclusion and recent keynote speaker at BRAVO. MindTribes is an award-winning specialist diversity and inclusion consultancy that focuses on supporting businesses to harness both the commercial and human benefits of inclusion. Additionally, through her work with CDW, Div has supported over 400 women from 25 cultural heritages in Australia to find their voices at work and advocate for their career pathways.

Pillay, who is Indian, grew up in South Africa and moved to Australia in her late twenties. She founded MindTribes nine years ago after 15 years of being a senior HR practitioner working for corporates where she experienced both covert and overt racism over a prolonged period. She lost her voice during those years and then rediscovered it.

Div has an incredible story and offers empowering advice for those battling against marginalisation, in and out of the workplace and those who want to be allies and advocates.

Feeling the need to ‘fit in’

Div has lived a tumultuous life, full of challenges and opportunities, and has developed what she calls a ‘complicated’ relationship with race as a result. Div grew up in apartheid South Africa; a racially divisive period in South African history where the government enforced segregation policies against non-white citizens, under the Group Areas Act.

Div, of Indian descent and therefore considered a person of colour, was forced to live on the outskirts of Durban, South Africa, away from affluent white communities and services, in an all-Indian community – this was the norm. Indians, Blacks, Coloured lived in homogenous communities and created ‘bubbles’ of existence. Black South Africans were the most marginalised and Div counts herself privileged by virtue of her education and middle-class upbringing.

Over the first two decades of her life, Div grew aware of her own and others marginalised existence and began to question everything, from where she lived, the opportunities she had, even what TV station she listened to. She tried to make change in her sphere of influence as a young HR professional and she made some waves elected as the youngest Rotarian, Director of Youth Services and mobilising for equality bringing young people together across races to act for a better tomorrow. However, post the First Democratic Elections in 1994, the country was battling against its history of racism and violence ensued. Div is a survivor of a violent attack where she was abducted in her car in 1998. Despite trying to forge ahead in a job she loved, the only viable option for her husband and unborn son was to leave for a better life, bringing their family to migrate to Australia in 2002.

But things in Australia weren’t quite what she’d hoped for. She explains: “As a migrant, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. In Australia, I felt like I didn’t have a voice of my own, because no one wanted to talk about racism or cultural identity.”

At the time, people seemed to want to do the opposite of talk about race or identity. They just wanted Div to conform, she says “they [everyone, and especially corporate Australia] just wanted you to fit in. So, for the first ten years of my professional life here, I worked on fitting in. I did this to the point where I lost my own voice and diversity identity.”

Opening people’s eyes

Feeling like she lost her voice and identity supercharged Div to try to make a difference, and so she founded MindTribes and Culturally Diverse Women as a result. Despite her success in finding her own voice again, she recognises the work yet to be done; she shares that the key to helping others find their voice is by first opening all our eyes to systematic discrimination and marginalisation.

“What we [MindTribes] do now is we work with corporate and public businesses to really lean into their discomfort around race and cultural and inclusion and acknowledge the lack of representation of people of colour in politics, in media, in our boardrooms, and in our senior leadership levels. We can’t talk about harmony and how wonderfully multicultural we are, without talking about racial inequality and cultural exclusion… we need to do both.”

Div believes that lack of diversity and representation needs to be addressed just like any other business problem: “[After we get people to acknowledge the diversity problem] we then treat it as a problem to solve, just like any other business metric. Something we need to lean into and then drive change.”

When there is greater diversity, Div says, people will not feel the need to hide their identities. Cultural and racial diversity can no longer be treated as a celebration of multiculturalism – we need to move beyond surface-level cultural tropes, like food and language to see the business benefit of global thinking.

“[MindTribes] helps people really understand the benefits of people coming from different home countries, e.g., people from different countries have been exposed to emerging innovations as consumers and employees and they carry this knowledge and expertise into workplaces in Australia. This can open diverse sourcing channels, give nuance to investments overseas, give deeper understanding to global issues and more – are you really leveraging your diverse talent?

Creating your own sphere of influence

To recognise there is a gap is one thing, but to use your voice to advocate for change is another. You may be feeling like you have lost your voice or that you must hide your identity or what you believe in – this is not something anyone should ever have to experience – if we are truly going to be inclusive. What can you do as a procurement professional? Here is what Div has to say:

“As a supply chain or procurement professional, you are so important. There’s so much you can do, whether it be with your stakeholders or your supply chain logistics partners, and with supporting your diverse talent to advance.

“You can absolutely lead as a procurement officer or senior category manager – you are in charge of the choices your employees, customers and consumers have on behalf of your brand – are you choosing diversely”?

Div insists that procurement professionals can have an extraordinary amount of influence and can do an extraordinary amount of good – social and ethical procurement absolutely needs a diversity lens and this judgement lies with procurement professionals. Div challenges us to question ourselves and question our judgement bias. And there are more of these types of challenges from Div. re a few. Find out what they are in her incredibly inspiring session for BRAVO.

Div Pillay at BRAVO.

Procurious’ BRAVO program is exclusively designed for ambitious women who want to advance their careers and drive real change. BRAVO membership runs for 8-months so there is still time to sign up and take part in the full program of mentoring, masterclasses and leadership.

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