Ramat Tejani, Founder of confidence and mindset coaching platform The Inspiration Box and Inclusion & Diversity Programme Lead at Amazon, understands mindset, mental health, and workplace equity. We speak to her ahead of the Women in IT UK Summit 2021 to discuss authenticity, supporting without speaking for minority groups, and the power of mentorship.
Tejani’s first-ever job as a careers adviser for single parents was an unusual one, “there’s an irony in that because I had just finished university. So what careers advice could I give?” It turns out that the role was more about building confidence in individuals, something Tejani has naturally always done.
Unfortunately for Tejani, in 2013, she experienced three job redundancies within the space of 18 months. After being told that she “didn’t look like” someone that had been made redundant, she created The Inspiration Box to “understand what people are doing and how they got to where they have got to.”
Today the business offers a mix of products and services such as confidence and mindset coaching, including helping entrepreneurs and professionals overcome their personal barriers to career progression.
The benefits of an authentic mindset
When coaching individuals, Tejani prioritises authenticity training, “I used to say that it was about being the best version of yourself, and I do believe in best versions, but I now believe in being the truest version of yourself. Because trying to always be the best feels a little weighty, kind of like the pressure of hustle culture.”
She agrees that the ‘be the best’ mindset can lead to burnout, “I think we often feel that we need to keep going and if we don’t, then someone else will. There’s a quote that says most things will work if you just switch them off and take the power cord out for a bit, including you.” She adds that showing up authentically is good for minorities too, and in Tejani’s opinion, beats the existential exhaustion of having to ‘code switch’ in different environments, “I personally don’t have the energy for that,” she says.
Tejani makes a good point about being authentic about mental health too, “there will be days when I’m full of energy and others when I’m not so happy go lucky or full of energy.” Her point raises another important workplace issue, namely ‘toxic positivity’, a practice where people suppress all negative emotions, which can lead to overwhelm and emotional implosion further down the line.
Creating a better work culture
Tejani has a lot to say about workplace culture, and like many thought leaders, understands that creating a better one won’t happen overnight but requires a “collective effort.”
She says its success is underpinned by the willingness of leadership to engage with the lower rungs of a business. This includes leaders asking staff questions, valuing their opinions, and turning their thoughts and feelings into actions, which “ends up with the results and the impact.”
She adds that a “collection of people at the bottom” might make a difference but that most of the time, you need a highly influential individual in the business to take things forward.
Being influential means having privilege, which Tejani says should be used to support underrepresented groups, “as a Black woman from East London who grew up in a low-income background, I still have privilege in some rooms because I am able-bodied and heterosexual,” she says. “So, in those spaces, I need to either lend my voice or lend my volume to those that are the minority and make sure that there’s equal footing in whose voices are being heard.”
She also says that speaking up for people without speaking for them can be achieved by simply asking questions, “it’s as simple as asking what do you think, what was your experience? It’s about providing space to ask questions and allowing for that sense of belonging. Because if you’re trying to take over that person’s opinion without asking, then you’re as bad as everyone else in the room.”
Mentorship for self-development and female inclusion
Through her coaching career, Tejani can be called a mentor, but she learned the value of mentorship back at university when paired with the white, male, and much older vice-chancellor.
During the reverse mentorship programme where Tejani acted as the mentor, she told him about her background in East London and gave him an insight into the student workings of the university that his position meant he was far removed from. In return, he shared his experience as a senior leader and took her to largely white male spaces that she hadn’t known existed: “When it comes to mentorship, whether it’s senior down to a younger person or reverse, I think there’s so much that each person can take away.”
She says the mentorship experience can be “fluid” regardless of whether it’s traditional or reverse, but there need to be aims set at the beginning for it to be a useful experience: “I think it’s important to set from the very beginning what it is you want to get out of the experience. Because if you don’t, it can drag on for no particular reason. There needs to be a structure in regards to knowing what the aim is that you’re both there to accomplish.”
In her coaching role, Tejani mentors “mid to senior-level” professionals that are one step down from the executive level. She says that many of them, including several women, are at a pivotal moment in their careers but that confidence issues, like impostor syndrome, are holding them back.
With burnout, mental health issues, and fixed mindsets common challenges, she agrees that in an ideal world, corporations should be obliged to offer therapy services in the same way that they have to pay into employee pension pots.
While she is sure that corporations would argue about cost, she would retort that the savings recouped in better productivity, less employee turnover, and fewer absences caused by mental health issues are reasons enough to consider it. She also says that promoting employees to train to become mental health first aiders could boost empathy and improve team communication.
“I recently had a client who was going for a role, and she was like, I can’t do it,” she says. “I thought it was really interesting that she thought she couldn’t as she got the interview. We helped her prepare for the interview, and she secured the role then there was a whole other avalanche of feelings.
“When she received the offer, it was more than she was counting on, and she was like, they’ve got it wrong. I said, let’s talk about this; why have they got it wrong? Why don’t you deserve 30% more than what you’re currently on? It took us two sessions to go through the mindset shift for her to be in a place where she’s at now like, they should give me even more.”
Tejani says this common mindset for women in business is down to society where we are “set up to believe that we should always be thankful for the bare minimum.” She adds that lack of knowledge about salaries is also a barrier: “One of my favourite quotes is when you don’t have the knowledge, you can’t work with that knowledge, and you can’t use that to your advantage. So this lady had no idea that people were being paid this much in this space and that people were being paid even more, but it wasn’t within her purview, so she thought it wasn’t possible.”
For Tejani, defeating impostor syndrome, which is so common for women as an underrepresented and less well-paid group in business, is more of an emotional, than a practical challenge, “we all have it, that thought of I don’t know if I’m good enough,” she says.
“But my argument is if there’s someone that thinks you are good enough when someone is giving you the opportunity, the door’s open a crack. So why wouldn’t you push it open a little further and take a step in? Often, what you have to potentially gain is so much richer than what you have to lose.”