Inspirational Woman: Aisha Suleiman | Founder, The Inclusive Culture

Aisha SuleimanI’m an award-winning diversity and inclusion leader, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker.

I help organizations achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals through effective employee networks, e.g., employee resource groups (ERGs) and diversity councils. 

As one of the pioneering founders of Amazon UK’s Black Employee Network (BEN), I know first-hand the importance of ERGs and the value they can bring to organizations. Unfortunately, many organizations are not aware of the power of these networks, which is why I created my program – How to start an employee network.

Earlier this year, I launched True White Allies – a film project that shares the stories of White anti-racists from as early as the 1700s to inspire increased allyship and action in the workplace.

I’m also a board member of the Rugby Football League’s Inclusion Board. I advise the RFL on delivering its Inclusion, Equality, and Anti-Discrimination plan.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In the beginning, I didn’t plan my career as it wasn’t something that I learned at University. But I realized it was important when I was in a job that I didn’t like. Then I had to ask myself, “Okay, what do I want to do?” I got a mentor who made me realize the importance of designing the career and ultimately the life you want instead of just being a passenger. I also invested in a career coach who taught me how to plan my career. Now I tell anyone who will listen to try career coaching at least once.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I’ve faced the usual challenges of being a Black woman: racist, sexist comments, and microaggressions. But one of my biggest challenges was when I experienced burnout. I’d been feeling down for quite some time, but I thought I could “shake it off”. I was working long hours, and one day I woke up and just couldn’t do it anymore. I took a few weeks off work and focused on my mental health. I realized that I needed to set boundaries and take responsibility for my feelings. Burnout isn’t something that just happens. Usually, it happens due to a series of choices made over time. That experience made me committed to looking after my well-being.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

If you asked me this in 2021, I would have said starting my own company – The Inclusive Culture. But now it’s launching my film project – True White Allies.

Being anti-racist is nothing new. There are plenty of examples of White people being anti-racist throughout history, some much further back in history than you might think. I’ve highlighted individuals from the US and UK, including Elizabeth Heyrick, Benjamin Lay, and Lydia Child. People who stood up against racism, despite knowing that they would be considered radical and ostracized from society.

While many people today consider themselves allies to their Black and Brown friends or colleagues, they don’t put themselves on the line the way these historical White anti-racists did in their drive for change.

I see these eight individuals I showcase in True White Allies as powerful role models who represent what it truly means to be an ally. Through their stories, I want to communicate what it truly means to be an ally.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My favorite quote is, “Fortune favors the bold.” Inherently, I’m someone who finds a way. I believe that if I have the will, skill, and community to support me, I can achieve anything I want. The community part is crucial – when you ask for help, you unlock incredible possibilities.  

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone, or are you someone’s mentee?

My biggest tip on mentoring is that it doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. I’ve mentored a few people and have been a mentee. I have mentors for different topics. Let’s say you want to improve your fashion style at work and there’s someone whose style you admire. Rather than saying, ‘Can you mentor me on improving my style?’, invite them out to lunch or coffee. Then ask them questions here and there about their style. You can also find mentors on podcasts. That’s why I love them. Whatever topic you want to learn about, there’s probably a podcast for it, and you can learn from different people.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I’d love to be able to wave a magic wand and have all men realize that gender inequality affects them negatively too, and they need to do something about it. As of 2021, only 18 women were CEOs at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies in the UK. We’re still living in a world where half of the population cannot achieve their full potential. Imagine how much better the world would be if women could reach their full potential?

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

You’re not weird or strange for questioning what you’ve been told about how you’re supposed to behave. Keep asking questions, and don’t be limited by other people’s worldviews. Nobody ever changed the world by saying, “That’s just the way things are.”

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I’d like to work on creating more films! I’d like to change the world through storytelling and I think films offer the opportunity to make a significant impact.

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