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Diversity & Authenticity

How do we show up authentically, and create an environment where others do the same?

I was recently at a conference where the keynote speaker was Orlando Ashford, President of Holland America Cruise Line.  It was a conference for Chief Human Resource Officers and other senior HR folks, and interestingly, until he joined Holland America as President, Orlando’s background was almost entirely in HR.  In just over 4 years at the helm of Holland America, he’s had a huge positive impact on the company, both from a financial and a cultural standpoint.  A huge part of that has to do with his background in HR and the lens he brings to his role as a result of that.   

As an African-American male, one thing Orlando spoke about in his keynote was the importance of diversity within companies.  And how diversity doesn’t just happen – it needs to be fostered and actively built by individuals.  He encouraged the conference attendees to think about the circles they move in and consider how diverse (or not) they are. When you have a dinner party, for example, do the guests all look like you?  Or is it a varied group?   

We need to acknowledge our differences, talk about them, and share our experiences with each other. 

I made the point in a past post that it’s human nature to gravitate towards people who are similar to you, for many reasons.  To echo Orlando’s point, I think more of us need actively to work to diversify our circles or our companies, and we need to do this by being curious and having open discussions with people who are different.  He pointed out that the approach of “not seeing color” or other differences doesn’t serve us well.  We need to acknowledge our differences, talk about them, and share our experiences with each other.  Those one on one discussions are what change us and our organizations, so it is critical to create an environment where those relationships and discussions are encouraged and celebrated. 

Another fascinating point Orlando made was the importance of showing up authentically.  He used himself as an example and talked about how as a younger professional, he adjusted his dress and music and the way he spoke so that he’d appear more polished.  He would listen to rap in his car on the way to work, but just before pulling into the parking lot he’d switch to jazz, believing that projected a better image.  But it wasn’t authentic.  These days he doesn’t pretend, and it’s served him far better.  It’s better for him, and it also models something far more positive for employees at his company.   

I love thinking about how showing up authentically is a key piece of fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion.  It makes sense to me that one complements and supports the other.  I know that for me, as I’ve gotten older I’ve been more and more willing to show up authentically without being worried about how people perceive me based on my likes and dislikes. And I think both myself and the companies I work with and for are better for it.   

How do you show up authentically?  And how do we create cultures that encourage others to do the same?   

Beth Yehaskel is Ceresa’s Chief Customer Officer, and is responsible for leading sales, business development and customer success. She has more than 20 years of experience scaling rapidly growing companies and building customer service teams, and previously held VP roles at Spredfast and Jungle Scout. She’s a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast, former Peace Corps volunteer, and a Ceresa mentor herself!

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