Why do you invest your time & effort in association work?
I’m an Ismaili Muslim of Indian origin, born in Kenya, educated in the UK, living in Belgium. I am the first generation of my family to go to university, to qualify and work as a lawyer. I come from a community that believes in educating girls.
I didn’t come from a privileged background – my school fees were paid by an uncle who was a lawyer and who believed in me before I believed in myself. I vowed to pay his generosity forward in a ripple effect through the work I do on equity, diversity and inclusion and as a role model in business.
Through the platform of INSEAD, my alma mater, I have been able to champion equity, diversity and inclusion – supported by the research of INSEAD, its professors and the amazing network of +65,000 alumni.
What are the top three success factors of impactful association work?
1. Culture: It’s about creating a culture of collaboration and cooperation. My values are based on the South African word “Ubuntu”. If you create a culture of inclusivity and walk the talk, others follow since they are naturally inspired by this positive energy and authentic leadership based on solid values.
2. Networks: I have the privilege of being educated at a premier business school: INSEAD that has equity, diversity and inclusiveness (EDI) as a value across the work it does. It does ground breaking work on EDI and has impact through its global alumni network and strong global connections. We use these networks to inspire and to amplify our outreach.
3. Integration: This means putting equity, diversity and inclusion as values across all that we do. So we work on our ‘in reach’ to get buy-in. Once we have this buy-in, we work, share and influence ‘outreach’ with partner organisations and business.
What should we #ChooseToChallenge when it comes to association work?
Apart from loving the word “Ubuntu”, I also love the word “integration”: If we take the example of nature or even the human body, we learn that everything works together in a system.
We are all working together on the same issues of equity, diversity and inclusion and I think that we are all greater than the sum of our parts. I’m excited to integrate with other players to create a much stronger, kinder, more empathetic ‘whole’ – based on equity, diversity and inclusion in business.
How is the association sector dealing with diversity and inclusion? Has it changed?
When we started branding ourselves as the ‘Inclusive Leadership Initiative’ – as opposed to ‘Women in Business at INSEAD’ – we found that we attracted men and women equally to our cause – so words and branding do matter. Surprisingly, “Women in Business” not only put men off (I would be put off by a club called Men in Business, wouldn’t you?), but also women.
Also, talking about “fixing women” or “what men are doing wrong” is perceived as offputting and preachy. It’s so important to ensure the narrative is positive so we can see the vision of a world based on equity, diversity and inclusion. Once you change the narrative to something positive and balanced, once you find programmes that put EDI into practice without preaching, you will attract many more to the ‘ubuntu circle’.