This first episode of the September Inclusion series features Vivian Acquah. She is an inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate, founder of Viva la Vive and the Amplify DEI Summit, also the host of Let’s Humanize the Workplace podcast. Vivian advises managers on how to keep their team members engaged, energized, and safe in a sustainable manner, by making topics related to workplace wellness & diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) accessible to everyone. In today’s conversation, Vivian shares her mission to provide people with the right tools, at the right time, to embrace inclusive changes; but also to motivate people to think consciously and inspire them to take action. Listen to her story.
At the end of the show, the guests share a sneak preview into their favourite music or books by answering the same set of questions. Here are the links to Vivians’s answers. The album she often listens to is Black is King, including the song ‘Bigger’, by Beyoncé. The book she often reads is The Memo by Minda Harts. The song that particularly resonated with her at a specific time in her life is ’My Life’ by Mary J Blige. Her all-time favourite music is the playlist she created for ‘Amplify DEI’ on Deezer.
In case you wish to have more information on Vive la Vive, you can visit the website, where you will also find all the details of the Amplify DEI Summit 2021 happening on 27-29 September. We have a limited number of free tickets for this virtual event. If you want to attend the summit, send us an email at email@example.com or connect to our social handles and follow our posts throughout September: Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
Hello, and welcome to a new episode of Narratives of Purpose. My name is Claire Murigande and I am your host on this show and my goal is to amplify social impact by bringing you inspiring individual stories of ordinary people who are making extraordinary impact within their communities or around the world. So if you're looking for a programme that showcases unique stories of changemakers, stories of people who are contributing to make a difference in society, and at the same time you want to get inspired to take action, then this podcast is definitely for you. We are now at the beginning of September. And our new theme this month is inclusion. Now, because I will have several guests who speak about inclusion in the workplace, who speak about supporting families of children with special needs, and about empowering people with disabilities. This will be once again a weekly series throughout the month of September. So just like our August series, watch out for episode releases every week. Okay, let me introduce the guest of the day. Her name is Vivian Acquah. Vivian is the Inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. In addition to her consultancy services, such as public speaking and developing programmes to improve organisation workplace wellness, Vivian also hosts a podcast called "Let's humanise the workplace". On top of that, she is the founder of the AMPLIFY DEI Summit with over 60 international experts who provide valuable information around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And she likes to call it the Netflix version of DEI. These online events will take place from September 27 to 29th this year, and we have exclusive tickets for a lucky few to join in. I'll tell you how to get those at the end of the discussion. Please take a moment to rate and review our show on your preferred podcast listening app. But right now have a listen to Vivian's journey, and why she is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
Hello, and welcome to the podcast. Vivian. It's a great pleasure to have you today. How are you?
I'm doing well. And thank you for inviting me to your podcast, right. It's an honour to have a real heart to heart conversation with you.
It's my absolute pleasure. And thank you for taking the time. And I have to say it's quite special. And I'm glad that you accepted because this month I'm starting the inclusion series and you're basically my first guest you're kicking off this series, and I couldn't think of a better guest because today we'll be focusing on inclusion in the workplace. And for me, it was important to start focusing on the workspace because as most of the people know, this is where we spend the majority of our life. And also recently, I would say in the last year or two or so this has been quite a central conversation or a topic within corporations or any other structured organisation. So everybody's speaking about D AI diversity, equity and inclusion. So I hope that you'll be able to shed light on these few topics for us. But before we jump into any of that, would you mind introducing yourself and sharing a few words on your background.
So my name is Vivian Acquah and I'm also known as the Inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate. And what that means is that I'm committed to make topics related to workplace wellness, but also the AI accessible for everyone. And it's funny that my last name literally means water. And the majority of the time I'm being hired to put out fires that are related to the eye or related to workplace wellness. And what I'm hoping for is that companies invest more in preventing these fires from happening because there's so much joy but also more money, more revenue, more clients, more talents to find when you amplify diversity, equity and inclusion within your company.
As you say it's very funny that your name is called "Acquah" and your work is basically to stop fires. But before you go into inclusion in the workplace, I'll say as you mentioned, being an inclusive workplace advocate. You started your career in finance, and then you kind of also moved through IT. Tell me how that journey happened for you.
Yeah, so I started my career in finance as a financial consultant after finishing my studies for Business Economics. I became a consultant because I'm wanting to learn more about different companies, different cultures, and also being an introvert. I don't know if a company XYZ would be fitting to me and consultancy was for me a really good way to find out who I am and what I like, but also what kitchens am I comfortable in right? I do have to share a little warning with those who are listening. Now one day, I will be dropping some food elements. I love to talk about food, but also use that as a way for you to, you know, consume whatever it is that I have to share. After I think about 15 years of not 10 years later, I converted towardsIT, I became a bridge builder between IT and finance because I am a nerd. And I like to do stuff with IT as well. But unfortunately, in 2013, something happened to me, which I hope that no other woman would face, that no other pregnant woman will face that. And I will disclose that at the moment right now. So in 2013, I found out that I was pregnant and shared my pregnancy in a very early stage with my managers. I was working at a very small company, five managers. And I told them even before telling my family and friends at five weeks that I'm pregnant, what I was hoping for is understanding. Understanding why I'm dealing with morning sickness, understanding the fact that I am a new becoming Mum, I don't know where this journey may lead me. And I don't know what I should expect. But instead of that, it ended up in a journey of bullying, it ended up in a journey of dehumanisation. And at the time, when I was about six months pregnant, I received a warning from my doctor saying that the way that things are going right now, if you don't do something at the moment, right now you have a risky, high blood pressure. And that's not only risky for yourself, but also risky for your unborn child. And fast forward to four months ,luckily, my son was not impacted at all. But that moment really shocked me. And it also shocked me in a way that "what if my son when he becomes an adult, and when he goes into the workplace, what if he comes back to me or his dad about you know, I am not being valued, not being seen not being heard? And it's really impacting my self esteem?" What would I say to him? And if I would say something to him, and I definitely would, but what would I be saying to myself, because I cannot share this with my son and not practice what I preach. So I left that workplace and started thinking about what I can do to make that impact? And what also can I do to prevent the maternal wall bias that I dealt with? What can I do to prevent that, because I'm a black woman, FYI. And I've dealt with the different barriers, but what really hit me to the core was the fact that my son was indirectly involved in this and that made me move mountains to shift and create another job title, and that's where the journey started for me.
Wow, that's a very powerful story. And it's really amazing to see how you're able to go from that struggle and make it into a strength and make it something powerful for you and a means for you to even help others through your own story. Coming back to the title that you gave yourself, so to speak. So Inclusive Workplace Wellness Advocate. What do you mean exactly by inclusive workplace wellness and in your activity, so you're a freelancer? What is it that you do that sets you apart from any other consultant?
Yeah, so the reason why I call myself that is the workplace wellness is what I started with. And workplace wellness is basically a holistic version of tapping into the physical well being of people or the mental well being or the career well being environmental well being social well being. There are different aspects of human beings, there are six pillars and some people want to focus more on their mental well being to be the best at work. Some people want to focus on their career well being to be the best of work and when you have to when you provide that menu for people so that they can choose Use how they can become more resilient, more happy in the workplace, that's when you have the best workplace wellness or best human being or best employee. But given the fact that workplace wellness doesn't go without diversity, equity and inclusion, because being in a toxic workplaces has an impact on their physical well being, has an impact on their mental well being and has an impact on their career well being as well. And me, combining those two chapters that have an impact on productivity, that has an impact on the revenue that has an impact on recruiting, I am bringing the best of both worlds bringing in that knowledge on how companies can win instead of lose. And I also feel like you need to have these capacities to realise that this is needed when you are putting out fires within the workplace.
It's always difficult to know what people understand by DEI, and how different companies approach that. So my question really is, how do you approach that with your clients?
The first thing is do an intake or do an audit, because I need to find out what's under the hood, I can see a lot and I can assume a lot on top of the hood, or let's say when you look at the iceberg, you can only see what's on top of the iceberg. But I want to dig a little deeper, I want to see what's below that surface so that we can really help the company but also so that the company can become more inclusive, because if that means that the company hasn't set in any procedures to create that psychological safety, or hasn't set any procedures to create awareness within their company, so awareness is not a one off training. Awareness is a continuous training, see that as going to the gym and expecting, you know, just from one visit, visit that your weight loss is there or that you have good muscles, it's a continuous process. And that's what I do with my clients or what I do with the people that I work with, to remind them how they can win when they activate diversity, equity and inclusion within the company. And I bring in the workplace wellness aspect as well.
So do you have some examples of how your collaboration with a company has impacted their diversity and inclusion approach with their employees?
I can share some products that I've worked on, as people now are aware that it's not only there, it's not only HRs responsibility, but it's more or less a global responsibility or all the people within the company are more aware about what they can do. Because now it seems like we are pointing our fingers only towards the leaders and only towards certain departments, but people don't realise, and also I blame a little bit from the organisation level by not sharing that common goal, not sharing why inclusion is important, but not sharing also that everybody within the company is responsible to amplify inclusion within their workplace. And if people are not aware of that, you can hardly hold them accountable for that.
That's a very good point, actually, like you say most of the time, the responsibility falls on the leaders or on the managers. But it's actually everybody's responsibility. And as you said, it's it's not a one off. It's something that you do everyday that you train, right. So it's basically if I understand correctly, it's basically setting in or implementing a new practice in the way people behave at work, right?
In a way behave, but also in a way you're setting the standards. As in, "this is what we tolerate. This is what we are in for." And I applaud the companies that are embracing an anti racism approach or anti discrimination approach because that's what companies need, right now. That's what organisations need, but also we need clarity, we need clarity as in how to deal with certain standards, how to deal with discrimination, how to do Where do people go, instead of people sharing their challenges in the workplace? Do you have a trusted person where they can share it, or if they share the consequences? Because when people disclose, what they have been through or they are being bullied by somebody most of the time the victims, or out of the company are seen as a whistleblower. I have seen that, an example that I know from a huge company was from Google. And it was by Timnath Gabriel, a highly respected AI woman who Google hired a few years ago. But she chose to disclose what was happening there within Google. And she stood up for that, given the fact that the way she was kicked out of the company, I'm saying kicked out because there was some confusion about did she leave? Or did they fire her, and they fired her during her holiday, and it came out as a huge thing at the end of last year. And we need to learn from that we need to do better, because we're dealing with people and you're hurting people, maybe unintentionally, or intentionally, but you're hurting people when you're not treating them like people.
It was spoken about in the press a lot as well and surprised a lot of people because, you know, you think Google is, I don't want to discredit Google at all, it's just one story that I know of, perhaps some other companies do the same, I don't know. But it came as a surprise, at least for me, I have to say that something like that could happen.
It can happen everywhere. It can happen at small companies, it can happen at the companies, maybe I've worked for this year, and not working for any more right now. Just by having a one time coach coming into your company, and you're not doing the work within the organisation, that doesn't automatically mean that everything is okay. You have to keep on working towards that goal. And you have to remind people that we, Google, or whatever company that you are, we are practising inclusive practices, we need to be reminded of people like that, and you always have bad raisins everywhere, no matter the company, even a company that is being awarded for being inclusive, the most inclusive company, there are always bad raisins in a company.
So in your experience, when you finish working with a company with an organisation? Do you follow up with them on a regular basis to see how they are practising those inclusive practices? In other words, how do you assess the success of your collaboration with a company?
So what I'll do is after a period of time, of course, I will check in and ask them a few necessary questions about what they have done so far? And what are they planning? Because I want some more transparency towards the future as well. And I always share with my clients "Don't share the win before the win, or share a win during the win," we want to see people walk the talk, not share, "we have committed that within five years, we are going to have a diverse board." What steps are you taking today? To make that happen? It's good that you have that commitment within five years. But I want to know what are you doing today? What are you doing in a year? Or what are you doing in two years, and start sharing that message from within?
That's an interesting way to see it, to say not make it as a goal, but the process to get there and be more specific on how you're reaching that goal. And I can imagine that that also helps the rest of the organisation or the employees to really see that they're also part of the change, right? Because they see what's happening. And they can also contribute to that.
And you're preventing other people from colouring in your colour book. The reason why I say that is if you are sharing your commitments and not sharing any transparency, that means that you are providing a colouring book for everybody to use whatever colour they want to use. Maybe the colours are beautiful, maybe the colours are ugly, but then you're leaving the context towards them. And now you know, you're sharing some of your colours you're sharing "Okay, are we using red for this for instance, or I'll be using green for instance for colouring this piece of work" so that people know that they can expect you to follow up on your commitments.
You mentioned earlier you spoke about anti discrimination. So I'd like to know from your experience with different collaborations you've had. What is the main topic I would say if there's one? Or do you see this differently depending on the organisation you're working with? So are we speaking about gender equality, are we speaking about anti-racism, what is on the top of the agenda that the organisation wants to tackle first?
The fires that they are dealing with are people leaving so high turnover or not getting in the talent that they wanted from the diverse pool as well, but also the fires that they have within their company. And that can be on different occasions as well. But I have to be honest when it comes to people of colour or when it comes to women's gender, or when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion in general, that's why they hire me. And you also have to see that discrimination, it's not only for race, there is age discrimination, right? There is also a sexual orientation discrimination, right? So we have to, we have to be mindful of putting people into corners without realising that people with special abilities, saying special abilities are also not seen and valued and heard, the hurdles that they have to go through to be acknowledged as a normal person. I'm just like, come on, where are we in 2021, and we still don't have the tools and toolkits in place for them to be able to do their jobs in a safe space?
Coming back again, to the series that I'm having. It's something I'd like to focus on, like people with special abilities, because I think this has been around for a long, long time where people just can't have the same access or the same ease in doing their work as someone else who might not have a disability, for instance. And it continues to be you know, on top of any other type of discrimination. And I also want to come back to something where you also have your own show.
Yeah, Let's Humanise The Workplace.
Tell me about your experience on that because you're also addressing these different topics that we're speaking about, and you have different guests. How is that in terms of speaking about diversity through this other medium,
It started out with me facing a situation at the job that I was working at the time and I use the different levels. So addressing it with HR, addressing it with the managers, addressing with the people in power, who have some influence, but I noticed that my voice did not matter. Whatever I did, I noticed that nothing was changing and nothing was happening. So I decided to speak up by using a platform. Instead of calling the platform "I'm being dehumanised". I decided to choose a positive outcome as "Let's Humanise The Workplace" where I'm talking to leaders, where I'm talking to different experts across the whole globe already, where we can have a conversation about what it means to have a humanised workplace. What do you mean? What is it for you to have inclusion? What does inclusion mean for you, because you might value connectivity, you might value empowerment in the workplace, but then your colleague, your co-worker, has different values and finds other things important. And it's important for us to realise that everybody has a voice and everybody has different needs. And when we ignore that, that's when the disengagement happens.
And how long have you been running the show now?
I've done it since October 2019. And so far, I've done 101 episodes. And that's beside what I'm doing with amplifying DEI. But let's say I have a lot of mileage when it comes to talking.
And which impact have you seen through this show that you've been able to have?
That's not an easy question to answer, because a lot of people are watching, and they sometimes disclose, you know, I've been following you for quite a while and this is what I did within the workplace. The impact that it had on me personally is seeing that the challenges that I have here in the Netherlands, it wasn't only me, it wasn't only in the Netherlands, it was happening all over the world and also what happened last year when George Floyd died, you could see that everybody all over the world was standing up or speaking up and saying no, is no, we are stopping this. We don't tolerate this. And that's when the realisation also came to me that we have a global problem. It's not only a problem in the Netherlands or in Europe, or in the United States, we have a global challenge. And that's why the show is there.
And I believe it's going to continue for another long time.
Oh, definitely, definitely. But I'm pausing it a little bit because of the activities for Amplify DEI but I'll definitely be back.
So in terms of challenges, because you've been working as a freelancer for a few years now. As you just mentioned, you have a show on top of everything else that you do. Can you share perhaps some challenges that you had to face and how you overcame them?
Where do you want to start? Okay, I'll keep it safe as I have a lot of unlearning to do. And when it comes to unlearning, know that even though I am very outgoing in this conversation, I am an introvert. So I converted myself to become an ambivert. Because the message that I have to share and the story that I have to share, it's bigger than me. And I will even quote the Beyonce song because that song really describes what I am saying, here's the song. And I'll only read the first verse. "If you feel insignificant, you better think again, better wake up, because you're part of something way bigger. You're part of something way bigger, not just the speck in the universe, not just some words in a Bible verse, you are delivering work, you're part of something way bigger, bigger than you, bigger than we bigger than the picture they framed us to see. But now we see it in a no secret. No" And that is what keeps me going. That is what keeps me striving. But also, I feel like my son shook me, the birth of my son shook me, he revamped me, I call it the Vivian 2.0. Because of him, I have risen like a phoenix, because of him, I am literally bungee jumping out of my comfort zone. Because why? I want him to have that inclusive workplace that I've been longing for. I want him to be that leader who creates that inclusive workplace that I've been longing for. And so many others of us are longing for that place where they are valued, where we're seen, where they're heard, and where they matter. That's my reason.
Well, that's beautiful. And it's really powerful. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I truly believe that you are really setting an example for your son, and you should be proud of that. And I think he's gonna have that throughout his life. And that's something very important for him. Now, let's look at it in the future. So you've been working in this space for a while now. And you've had a lot of interactions with organisations with companies, but also the leaders from around the world with your show? How do you see the whole diversity, equity and inclusion topics, especially in the workplace, evolving in the new future, let's say in the next 5 to 10 years, what is your vision for that?
I see the companies that are doing their best through micro actions, creating that inclusive workplace, I see them winning, I see them not finding it hard to find talent, I also see them not finding it hard to tap into different areas or finding new audiences as well. And I see them levelling up. That's what I see. What I also see is companies struggling because they are not finding the talent, or they are not taking DEI seriously. And that's a problem. It's a huge problem, because the demographics are changing not only in the US, but also in the EU, where it's not only the majority, now the majority now will change the the levels of the majority now will change and the fact that you are not catering to them, or the fact that you are excluding them now will become something memorable for in the future. And you'll see that back in your revenue in the teams in the companies. And also you see that back in the deals that you might be losing.
Yeah, that's a really fair point to focus on the demographics. And if the majority also changes in the balance you will need to approach things slightly differently in order to be successful, to be sustainable, to be trusted. Right. And the earlier you start the better basically that's your message, right?
Yeah. But also what I wanted to add on to is a quote by Maya Angelou, which is "I've learned that people will forget what you said. People forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." And this is exactly the inclusion part why inclusion is so important. How you made them feel will be shared at family gatherings, will be shared at client gatherings. It will be shared at networking events. It will even be shared on social media nowadays, right? And you know what, Google is your best friend because people can Google and read the reviews and this will be hurting your brand as well.
That's an absolutely important point. In the end, as I like to say it, it's all about experience, right? The way you felt in a certain situation. Whatever that was, will define the way you also continue working with others or being with other people so that your experience matters and the way you influence someone else's experience is also very, very important. Towards the end of my show, what I like to do is the sneak preview section, which is very much about knowing what type of music you listen to, or what type of books you read. So I have three short questions for you. Are you ready? Number one, what music do you very often listen to at the moment? Or if you're not a music person? What book are you reading right now?
Can I do both? I will say you heard Bigger by Beyonce. So definitely Black is King. Her album is my motivation for what I'm doing. And it's empowering me to my core. When it comes to a book, I've read it before but Minda Harts, The Memo, it's for women, how a woman of colour can claim or take their seats that's on repeat.
Oh, interesting. Number two, do you have a song, an album or a band that was special for you at a specific time in your life? If not a piece of music? Do you have a book that was special for you at a specific time in your life?
So Mary J. Blige, her song, "My Life", it's a song that I feel like she wrote for me, but it's about her. But it's also a song that uplifts me when I'm going through challenges, in the workplace and as in personal life. It's a song about how I can revitalise myself or replenish myself or be mindful of what I'm doing with myself.
Third, and last question, do you have a piece of music or a book that you would absolutely recommend for our listeners?
A piece of music, I would say, look up the Playlist for Amplify DEI because I've collated a playlist of different songs that empower people when they are going to change, and definitely the change is going to come is a song I have to put on replay, or Whitney Houston "Step by Step," this work is done step by step, day by day, brick by brick.
So I hope you don't mind sharing that playlist with us so I can fit in the show notes. Great. Thank you so much. Vivian, it has been really a great pleasure for me to speak with you. As I said, I feel like we could speak for another few hours or days. Before we close, I'd like to leave you the last word, what would you like to share with our listeners?
One final thing that I would like to mention is I want to challenge you to amplify diversity, equity and inclusion within your own comfort zone. And with Claire's permission, I am allowed to give away 10 tickets for you to join the Amplify DEI Summit, which is starting on the 27th to the 29th of September. It's going to be an impactful summit with at least 70 international speakers. And I'm inviting you to come as you join on this journey. If you're just starting or somewhere in the middle or somewhere at the end. You'll be inspired by people with personal experiences, personal stories, all because they want to amplify diversity, equity and inclusion and the main theme is leadership.
Absolutely great. Thank you so much for your generosity, and we will have these tickets ready for our followers or listeners through our social media channels. So stay tuned. Thank you so much. Again, it's been a great pleasure, and I really look forward to staying in touch with you.
Thank you Claire for having me and it flew by the time flew by.
That was episode 18. A Conversation with Vivian Acquah. By focusing on workplace wellness, Vivian is most definitely contributing to make the world a better place, ensuring her son will not go through what she has endured at the time he enters the workforce. As Vivian mentioned, we are giving away 10 All Access passes to the AMPLIFY DEI virtual summit that will run from 27th to 29th of September. If you want to be part of this event, simply connect with us and send us an email with your name and contact details to narratives firstname.lastname@example.org You will find the address in the show notes. The first five lucky winners will have all to the entire summit talks and presentations, and additional five passes will be made available through our social handles. So stay tuned through Facebook at Narratives of Purpose, Instagram, at narrativesofpurpose_podcast, and LinkedIn at Narratives of Purpose Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in today and listening to this new episode. I truly appreciate you taking the time. If you like our show, do share it within your network and leave us a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Make sure you also sign up for our newsletter, so you can stay informed about all our activities. And don't forget to follow the show on social media. Check us out on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Join me again next week. For the second episode of our inclusion team. I will be speaking with an amazing woman who is on a mission to empower families of children with special needs. Until then take care of yourself, stay well and stay inspired.