In this latest LEAN IN Equity & Sustainability instalment, we speak with Melanie Jacob, a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Consultant based in France.
Where did you grow up, and what did you want to be when you were a little girl?
I grew up on the beautiful Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.
Anyone who knows me will find this quite funny, but I actually wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger.
However, while in secondary school, I quickly realised that it took more than deep respect for animals to become a vet.
Let’s just say that the natural science route was definitely not for me!
Can you describe what you do today in a few words?
I am a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEI&B) consultant. Simply put, I guide companies and businesses of all sizes along their inclusion journey, whether co-creating impactful DEI&B strategies or delivering thought-provoking workshops, presentations and keynote speeches.
Just like life, the only predictable thing about my work is that it is always unpredictable. That’s what makes it so exciting!
Why did you choose this discipline?
I’ve been so fortunate to live and work in a number of places, namely, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Martinique, Lyon and now, Paris.
As grateful as I am for all of these experiences, I must admit that each one exposed me to tough realities about the world that we live in, such as sexism, colourism, texturism, featurism, xenophobia and racism.
Dealing with these various forms of discrimination really pushed me to ask myself what I could do, no matter how small, to make life just a little bit better for future generations.
Thankfully, that question was answered one day on a bus ride after work in 2019 when I stumbled upon a Forbes article – written by Janice Gassam Asare, PhD and featuring Kerel Cooper – in which Cooper talks about his work in DEI.
Reading that article ignited a fire so deep down within my soul that I knew that this was the work that I was meant to do.
Do you have a passion or a purpose in life?
I believe that my number one purpose in life is to help others.
My mom always reminds me of how I would go out of my way as a child to make other kids, who were clearly being ostracised, feel like they had a friend in me.
Needless to say, there’s just something about helping others which fuels me.
What is your most challenging experience as a woman in your sector?
The most challenging experience as a woman in this sector is getting clients to understand that to truly be inclusive, they need to embrace the framework of intersectionality, as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw.
What would it be if you had one piece of advice for young girls today?
My advice to young girls would be the same advice that my mom gave to my sisters and me: “No matter the career that you choose, always make sure that you are not only passionate about it but that you are the best at it.”
By “the best”, I don’t mean that you should put a lot of pressure on yourself to strive for perfection. Perfection doesn’t exist!
What I mean is that you should always remain curious and open to learning about advancements in your field because the moment you choose to call yourself “an expert” is the moment in which you stop growing.
And lastly, what would you wish for our planet today if you had a magic wand?
I wish to live on a planet where all human beings are respectful of not only each other but also wildlife!
It breaks my heart, especially as a DEI&B consultant, to see how much society makes us believe that it is normal to be mean, dismissive and rude towards each other.