Over the past two years writing my Mind the Gap blog, it has felt terrific when readers tell me they can relate to the experiences described by the women I’ve profiled. It’s even better when someone says, “I had no idea some women face these challenges! What can I do?”
That’s why I was so excited to chat with Ritu Bhasin, a sought-after author, speaker and equity, diversity and inclusion specialist, since she is an expert at helping anyone become an ‘ally’ to those who struggle to be heard, respected or recognized in the workplace.
From lonely conformist to vibrant entrepreneur:
As the Founder and President of bhasin consulting inc., Ritu applies her first-hand experience as the daughter of immigrants who overcame work and cultural expectations to become a thriving entrepreneur.
While growing up, Ritu’s instincts were to become an advocate against racism and the inequities that People of Color and Indigenous Peoples experience. She describes how, unfortunately, “When I was growing up, holding a fulltime job in equity, diversity and inclusion didn’t really exist, but I knew that this is what I wanted to do.”
As a result, she chose the closest career option - becoming a lawyer - and spent a decade in the legal profession in Toronto’s conservative financial district, first practising law and then working as director of legal talent. Recalls Ritu: “I came to realize that being in the legal profession in this way wasn’t right for me. I felt like I couldn’t be who I am, and it felt really lonely and difficult.”
After a decade attaining professional success in the legal sector, Ritu decided to pursue her mission of helping create a more equitable, just society. As she reflects on her tenure of leading her own consultancy for over ten years, Ritu confesses that, “For the first several years, I doubted my abilities as a businessperson. I only recently said to myself that ‘I am a really good businessperson and why should I shy away from holding this belief and talking about it?’”
The reason, concludes Ritu, is that “A lot of women, especially women of color, have been socialized to think we are not entrepreneurial and we should favor stability and security over exploring an entrepreneurial path.”
Ritu’s entrepreneurial style has also solidified her belief in the value of equity, diversity and inclusion. She explains how, “My company has been successful because - rather than ‘duplicate and amend’ the standard approach - I apply authentic, independent thought to how I do things, and that leads to market innovation. And that’s the benefit of diversity in business: When we create environments where different people can share opinions and do things differently, that’s when innovation and creativity are born.”
Applying ‘Allyship’ to open the gates:
Since much evidence shows that equity, diversity and inclusion continue to be elusive in many organizations, Ritu has become a champion for ‘Allyship’ to help level the playing field.
She defines Allyship as the act of using your voice and your actions to identify and address the biases and barriers that are experienced by people from cultural communities that experience marginalization.
But why - a devil’s advocate might ask – shouldn’t these individuals fight the battle themselves?
Ritu responds that: “The reality is that those of us who have experienced heightened discrimination, prejudice and bias often lack the power to create systemic change. We are working at it every day - to succeed by leveraging our skills, abilities and resources - but we don’t hold the keys to the gate. We are fighting to break down the gate, but the better question is “why won’t the gatekeepers open the gates for us?”
In her work on allyship, Ritu describes four ‘Must Dos’ to become an ally:
1. Identify and interrupt your own biases: Until you understand your underlying biases, it is difficult to be an effective ally.
2. Understand the concept of equity: You must learn about the historical legacies and current realities of discrimination that are faced by others. In doing so, you will come to see that not everyone starts at the same place, and we must interrupt inequities that are embedded in the system.
3. Speak up & speak out: You must use your voice in myriad ways as an ally, including calling out biases that you observe others engaging in, name systemic oppression in our workplace, and drawing attention to the excellence of our diverse team members.
4. Listen more & practice mindful listening: You must make room for others to speak – which means talking less yourself. Practice active listening by giving your full attention, using body language that shows you care, and ask clarifying questions. This is how you can build safe, trusting relationships.
Leaders must do heavy lifting first:
Ritu’s list of Must Dos is a terrific guide to help each of us make an impact on the ground floor, but she also notes that leaders are critical in creating organizational change. They must first model allyship, engage in allyship training, sponsor and mentor across cultural differences, and be more authentic in how they lead. Ritu explains that, “Team members will continue to feel like they can’t be their authentic selves at work until they see their leaders sharing who they are and normalizing these types of discussions.”
Ritu acknowledges that building a diverse and inclusive work culture takes time, dedication and discipline, but it is worth the effort for the individual and the organization: “Practicing inclusion has transformed my life in so many positive ways. It’s a gift.”
For more inspiring stories from women leaders in financial services visit home.kpmg/mindthegap.
More about Ritu Bhasin
Based in Toronto, Canada, Ritu is the Founder and President of bhasin consulting inc. (bci), which provides talent management services to empower individuals and help organizations around the globe build diverse and inclusive workplaces. As author of The Authenticity Principle, an Amazon best seller, and a popular speaker, Ritu has spent the last 10 years advising major employers and coaching individuals to leverage their strengths to achieve professional and personal success. Prior to founding bci, Ritu spent a decade in the corporate legal profession, first as a litigation lawyer and as the director of legal talent with a preeminent Canadian law firm. She earned an LL.B. at the University of Western Ontario an Executive MBA at the University of Toronto – Rotman School of Management.