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04 December 2008

Guest blog: what the Obama victory may mean for diversity in corporate America

Hello again.  Our latest guest blog entry comes this week from New York based Simi Sanni Nwogugu, an executive coach with her own diversity consulting firm that helps clients retain and advance women. Simi is a good friend of PwC in the US, where she co-ordinates the coaching programme for the PwC US initiative, Full Circle; she also organised and participated in last year’s PwC panel discussion on juggling work and motherhood, “Life Changes” - and has a very strong dedication to the leadership development of women at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

When I sat with Simi at October’s “Working Mother” dinner event, I asked her if she would write me a blog entry (or two!) about her views and experiences of life in corporate America and Nigeria.  She immediately sent me two great proposals and here is the first one – which is particularly timely in a week which saw President Elect Obama name three women (Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano and Susan Rice) to his cabinet http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/us_elections_2008/7716467.stm.

About Simi:

SimiSimi received her MBA from Harvard Business School, and a professional certificate in Organizational and Executive Coaching from New York University.  She received her Bachelor’s degree with Honors from Mount Holyoke College, where she developed her passion for helping disadvantaged women and children.  She is married with two young sons and divides her time between her two favorite cities in the world – New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.

“I developed several diversity initiatives for corporations in the United States that understand the value of a multicultural workforce.  Many of the individuals I coach are multicultural women in middle management who have been identified as high performers that the companies want to retain.  One thing I hear over and over from the women I coach is their lack of trust for “the system.”  Some of these women have been enrolled in many half-baked diversity initiatives that go nowhere, and they believe that management is “all talk and no action” when it comes to actually promoting them to leadership positions. 

In short, there is a lack of trust – when the time comes, will the white people actually do what they say they will do?

During the last few months of the presidential election, many of the women I coach expressed this same sentiment about the possible election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.  Though many of their white managers and colleagues expressed admiration for Obama’s policies, speeches and experience, my clients were not sure that the color of his skin would not prove to be a deterrent when it came down to hitting that button in the polling booth.

I watched the election results with a very diverse audience – my neighbor, a white single mom; a biracial couple who run a local Brooklyn yoga studio; a group of German tourists who had been at the speech Obama gave in Berlin; some African immigrants like me, and many others – and we were all rooting for the same man (at least, we hoped so).  When Obama was declared the winner, there was a collective gasp, just before the shouts of joy and hugs.  In that gasp, I could also detect relief – it was okay to trust again.

I’m not saying that the election of our 44th president will end America’s racial tensions, but, as an immigrant who has been observing trends for the past fifteen years that I have lived in America, I am hopeful that this will mark the beginning of a more trusting relationship between the women that I coach and their managers. And that is exactly what we need to break down the barriers preventing a more multicultural executive suite.”

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