Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World—where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better.

Lama Alsafi (00:22): My name is Lama Alsafi and I'm the host of this podcast. This month, we'll be bringing you four special episodes as part of our March4Women podcast series. Throughout the month of March, we'll be talking to four incredible women working in different sectors and with different areas of expertise to learn more about women's leadership here in Canada and around the world, as always you'll hear about how you can become more involved by learning from advocating for, and supporting women to lead today. We're talking about women's financial and corporate leadership, and we have a very special guest Cindy Karugia financial advisor at the Royal Bank of Canada. Cindy is a strong advocate for gender equality, multiculturalism and inclusive leadership. Cindy also lends your time and expertise to nonprofit organizations like G(irls)20, and we're thrilled to have her as a CARE Canada board member. Welcome Cindy. We're so excited to have you on the podcast. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today.

Cindy Karugia (01:18): Thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi (01:19): Cindy, financial inclusion is so critical to women's empowerment and to enabling people, to provide for their families, to grow their business and invest in their children's futures. Can you tell us a bit how you came to be involved in advocating and working for financial inclusion?

Cindy Karugia (01:35): I'm really lucky and privileged to work for an institution that always empowers us to be our community's bank and getting involved with the community. My educational background is in criminology, and so I was lucky enough to have exposure to different non-for-profit organizations that exist within my community. And one that has always stayed near and dear to my heart is a woman's domestic violence shelter. So the first year what we did is we were able to go down there and actually do a presentation on financial wellness to the different people that were staying at that home. And it really inspired me to just be looking at these different events that we do with a different lens and let's look at who is not in the room. And also it was really sad when I was reflecting, and also equally as empowering, when I was reflecting of how there was motivation and determination to really, on their journey towards healing, to really take back their power.

Cindy Karugia (02:32): And one of the biggest things that affects everyone is finances. And it really gets to determine a lot of us, and there's a lot of privilege that comes with it. And just something as simple as understanding of what to do once you acquire debt, budgeting, different types of budgeting, why do we do it? And just different things such as that, it was really an awesome sharing circle just to hear about them speaking about even some in their past how they used to champion it, they're really motivated to get back into it. Or for an example, how financial abuse was one of the abuses that they did face and how this has really helped them get started. All in all long story short, that's really what inspired me. And it really triggered me to just start making sure that we're not just going to what we traditionally done, but we're also thinking outside the box and we're making sure that we're reaching everyone without our own biases behind it.

Lama Alsafi (03:29): Cindy, we know that women in particular, both here in Canada and globally face unique challenges when it comes to power over finances and access to opportunities, you just mentioned financial abuse, for example. Can you talk about some of these challenges and how they can be addressed?

Cindy Karugia (03:44): So we do know that there is a lot of power that comes into, especially finances. Finances affect women differently. Going forward also too into COVID-19 contexts, we're seeing statistics of women being furtherly marginalized and leaving the workforce. [Un]fortunately with things like daycare shutting down, lack of caregivers. We're seeing this affect everyone, and I can agree with that, but it's affecting women more. And if we add in the different lenses of intersectionality and we're looking at it also too, from a race lens too, we are seeing a lot of women being excluded from participating in the economy and that's not okay, and more needs to be done and called upon institutions and governments and corporate to respond in a meaningful way. And it still allows them once we are past this either to reenter their workforce or for organizations to really challenge how their HR practices are and be flexible with work hours potentially. Yeah, I can go on and on and on about this.

Lama Alsafi (04:49): Cindy, can you talk a little bit please about what financial literacy means and how your work touches upon making financial literacy accessible and affordable?

Cindy Karugia (05:00): Financial literacy, unfortunately is something that's complex and it really shouldn't be. And I'm really glad I'm within a Canadian context and in some provinces are starting to introduce it into curriculums because if it was up to me, this is something that should be start to be taught within grade school. For me, that work means demystifying and simplifying finances to Canadian people, and people that I work with. For me, it's something as simple as if I'm opening up a bank account or applying for the credit card for somebody who's a newcomer to Canada, simply taking the time to explain to them Canadian banking or forming partnerships with local high schools and going and running up presentations and explaining something as simple as what is debit, what is credit. Something I often hear is credit is bad. Well, no credit is a tool. And if you're taught how to use the tool properly, then you could use it to your advantage, but how are they, how are we ever going to set this up for people for success if we don't start teaching them at a young age and making it accessible? And also going back to my previous example, I try to provide advice events, even partnering up with the local sexual violence support centers within my community, or reaching out to alternative education centers. It really does make a difference and it always makes me so happy how, you know, they're so hungry to learn, and I often hear the same one, Why did no one ever teach me this? And it's really about making that conscious effort and bringing different folks into the room who are left out and helping them navigate through these new uncharted territories.

Lama Alsafi (06:36): Your passion and expertise also lies in inclusive leadership. Cindy, what does a truly inclusive corporate leadership team look like and what are the benefits to having one?

Cindy Karugia (06:46): That's a good question. For me, I think an inclusive leadership team is one that is made up of the landscape that looks like where you're from. I do think also inclusive leadership is more than just reflective. It does help having visibility within it, having a diverse leadership team, whether it's based off of race, gender, and even the invisible things that we might see—people who've overcome many challenges to get to where they are, and they have that story that can really resonate with every people and help them feel truly reflected and seen and heard within a company. And also, you know, recognizing that, you know, when someone speaks, when someone speaks their truth about something that is scary or they're trying to advance in a certain area within their career, you know, helping support them. I know often there's this big push for networking, networking, networking, but something that I would love to see more and more within corporate spaces is sponsorship.

Cindy Karugia (07:45): There is networking and meeting people and knowing all these great people and having extra friends on your LinkedIn. But, you know, it would be really cool to see successful networking where two people meet and, you know, there's that mutual reciprocal exchange of where everyone is both growing and learning. But also, you know, that person with maybe a higher up position taking the time to invest in a person, taking a chance on that person, believing in that person. And that doesn't happen until we have successful networking. And you know, it's recognizing too who's in your pipeline for talent and checking yourself when you are going through the hiring process if you're a hiring manager. Is there any biases that you could be applying through this process? And also, you know, looking within your company and also reframing often what's called quote unquote, you know, callout culture and cancel culture whenever someone within your organization brings something up, and reframing it for something as calling in accountability and as an opportunity as an organization, you know, to do better, to serve better. I often look to Maya Angelou's words of, you know, "Once you know, better," and I'm definitely paraphrasing this, "Once you know, better just simply do better." And really that's all that's needed to build more inclusive, safer places within corporate.

Lama Alsafi (09:08): Despite the movement, Cindy, to bring greater diversity to corporate leadership in Canada, we know that there's still so much work that needs to be done to create truly inclusive workspaces. Can you tell us, please, what are some of the barriers that Black women and women of colour as you see it are facing at the office? What are the obstacles to advancement into more senior leadership roles?

Cindy Karugia (09:28): That's a phenomenal question. The first thing I think organizations can do, you know, is mandatory unconscious bias training. And it really allows folks, so when they speak out and they ask the organization saying, you know, you've brought me into this space, great. Now let's make this a safer place so I can thrive equally where, you know, there's this dual consciousness of being a Black woman. You're always trying to balance little microaggressions, such as, you know, some days I enjoy people asking questions about my hair. This is a commonly talked about topic, but there's some days I just don't want to. And, you know, it's taking the time to understand and reading body languages and recognizing that, you know, Black women are often brought into the spaces and tokenized after, and really educating yourself on what you tokenization is. Did you actually bring them into the space of, you know, to do the work or did you bring them so on an external basis you look better?

Cindy Karugia (10:23): I think another one too is, you know, allowing for feedback through HR practices, both anonymously, or in-person. Getting the perspective of different people going through that process can make a greater change because you're now hearing and seeing and building a system that's truly reflective of all personalities. And another one too, is, you know, adding consent to your HR processes. There's times where, you know, I've spoken to several other Black women through different channels that I've met with, you know, and sometimes you speak up about something and sometimes they go above and beyond and doing something in a sense of thinking they're helping, but, you know, really, they just wanted a place to just go report it and, you know, leave it at that and allowing them to decide, you know, how far it goes. Another one too, is training your leadership team to listen and understand to serve a more diverse group. Because yes, it's new to a lot of different spaces and as they keep advancing, but, you know, how to really hear and understand them. Also for organizations to check their mental health coverages and allowing their employees to seek adequate services, I think is a good option because you know, there's a lot of, it takes an emotional toll, especially when you are starting to diversify an area which has been unchartered territory, and there's a lot to navigate in and out of, and it's phenomenal we live in a day and age where that's okay to talk about, on an external basis now. But, you know, having the financial support also is great. And I think also another last one, most importantly, is taking them seriously and really making sure that we are reflecting on conversations and you know, not gaslighting them. Because that's something that, you know, we often face because usually when we speak up and the first time we're to, "oh no, you're over—that's not what happened. This is what happened." No, no, no, that's my truth. I'm telling you my truth. Now your job as a leader is to go find out the other person's truth, come together, and somewhere in the middle, that's where the real truth is. And really helping and coming from that, you know, community standpoint and just normalizing a lot of conversations like privilege, you know, how can I get better, allowing people to talk about it.

Cindy Karugia (12:45): You know, for the longest time I've seen my Blackness as, you know, as soon as I bring it up everyone freezes. Because, you know, they're so scared to say the wrong thing, but how can you grow and get better if you don't try? And it's not something that, you know—silence won't get us to the place where we want to be as a society. Having these uncomfortable conversations until we become comfortable, that's where change is going to come, because there's a lot of power in community. It can't just be all on, you know, Black women or people, women of colour to change things, even though historically that's how it's been. Or me having to, you know, police and navigate myself within what area I'm in and, you know, constantly checking myself to fit into this box. And I know other Black women too often face this.

Lama Alsafi (13:33): And lastly, Cindy, what can our listeners do to support women's advancement in corporate leadership?

Cindy Karugia (13:39): I think it's recognizing that, you know, we've made a lot of strong headway and I think within the last year, within a COVID context, everything has been exacerbated. One thing that I can say, and I think for myself, if investing your time in the next generation is something important—which it should be really because we are going to be the future—you know, make sure to see how much more can you do. Are you mentoring a young person? And if not, can you? And add in perspective from that, try and get representation between, you know, Black, Indigenous, non-binary folks and you know, who have strong, vocal, passionate personalities. Not to say that if they don't represent them, but you know, really accepting them for who they are and not trying to change them to be a cookie cutter person, but really uplifting them and adding support and, you know, investing your time, money and resources to really make sure that what we have started and this momentum that we have has a strong lasting structural institutional change and impact. And other than that, thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi (14:43): Thank you so much for joining us. It was a really great discussion and we thank you for lending your time to be here today. And thank you to all of our listeners tuning in today. Please stay tuned for the rest of our March4Women podcast series as we listen, learn from and amplify the voices of women leaders in Canada and around the world. As always, you can stay up to date on the latest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, iTunes and on care.ca/podcast.