Speakers: Nichole Pitts (Host) and Shani Gonzales (Guest, MD of Warner Chappell UK & Head of International A&R)

 

Nichole Pitts

Welcome to The Ethintegrity Podcast, Shani. I’m so excited to have you here.

Shani Gonzales
I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Nichole
We are talking all things, music and DEI and ethics. I think the first time we met…
Shani
Mm-hmm
Nichole
which was
Shani
Gold restaurant in Notting Hill.
Nichole
Yes. Yes. I couldn’t remember the name of the restaurant, but you were talking about growing up in New York as the child of two West Indian parents, I think Jamaica and Trinidad?
Shani
Uhhuh
Nichole
And you were like when you would go to Jamaica or Trinidad for the summer and you were like, not everybody has two passports and I was like, what are you talking about?
Shani
Well, I think it was one, I think it was like, you know, my family I’m first generation American. So I grew up having a passport before I can remember and traveling. It was a big part of the culture or a big part of making sure that your children understood. Children being me at the time and probably still now, but like understood the culture and kept it going. I came from West Indian people who were living in America, but not always of America.

I know that that was important for both of my parents to pass on. So I remember going to college and being like, I think it was maybe the freshman year we wanted to go somewhere for Spring Break and everybody didn’t have a passport. I was so confused. I was like, wait, you don’t have what? Huh? Like, how did you go see your grandparents in the summertime?

Nichole
And they were like, we got in the car and drove south.
Shani
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And it was like growing up in New York. All of my friends were first-generation Americans. Children of crazy immigrant parents. And I say crazy in like the best way. So in the summers, everybody was going somewhere, Guyana you know, Jamaica, Trinidad, Grenada. We were just talking about Barbados, wherever. Yeah. So yeah, it felt very normal.
Nichole
I could see that. I mean, I was like, that seems so foreign to me just because I’m from the States and that’s where all of my family was. So for us, it was going down to Georgia to visit our grandparents.
Shani
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. For me, it was on a plane. Yeah. Like begging my parents, do I have to go?
Nichole
What was really interesting though, was when you were talking about the difference in visiting your family in Jamaica, versus the difference of when you were visiting your family in Trinidad.
Shani
Mm-hmm well, it’s funny cuz my mother. My mother came to America a bit earlier than my father. She immigrated from Jamaica with her parents, maybe when she was in high school.

So like teenage, maybe 16 or so. And her family, my grandparents were in America. They were very Jamaican, but they were in America. They were in New York. And my father came to America from Trinidad when he was in his twenties and all of his family with the exception of his sister that was in New York, was in Trinidad.

So my grandparents were there and my father was like, very, you know, I always say, if you’re familiar with Jamaicans and Trinidadians, they’re the two most problematic islands, cuz they both think they’re the best. So when you have one parent who’s Jamaican and one parent who’s Trinidadian, the two most dominant islands, in my opinion, they’re both so prideful on another level.

My father was always like, okay, you can’t be too Jamaican you’re with them all the time so we’re going to Trinidad. It’s funny because, for both places to be, there’s such a shared culture, I think in the Caribbean, but also very distinct differences. I would go to Trinidad and call fruit by a different name than what they called it in Trinidad.

I would call it the Jamaican name and that was a thing. I spoke very different languages to both parents, even though it was all English but just different. They were just so different. Yeah. And therefore divorce anyway, but you know, like it’s probably why. But, you know.

Nichole
It’s almost like code-switching in a way, as far as understanding that culture and then was getting into it. One of the things I’d seen recently there was this whole big discussion on Instagram with Amanda Seales. And she’s a first generation as well as she was talking to her mother about the Queen (Elizabeth) dying and she slipped into a Grenadian accent and people were like, well, what’s going on here? And some people are like, well, It’s this just you being performative, but other people, especially, children that are first generation from West Indian parents say that you slip into that because you communicate like that with your family.
Shani
Absolutely. There were so many times that I would be saying things that were not, we always laugh about this now, me and my cousins, my little brothers, like just the weirdo things that we said at home. And then it always took that moment of taking it back to school and then getting laughed at. It was when I went away to university and then I started realizing, oh, so you guys don’t all just call it a veranda? Like it’s like, you know, just crazy things that you would say, like, my grandmother used to have this thing about calling my mother “she”, so I couldn’t be speaking to my grandmother on the Jamaican side and go, “well, she said that I need to do.” And she’d say “Who is she? Damn rude.” I’m like, so I can’t use pronouns around you, Grandma. Like I don’t get it. And now my niece and I were talking and she said to me, and she’s my Goddaughter actually.

And she said something about “she” and I’m like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We don’t say she when you’re talking about your mother talking about your mother and she was just as confused as I was, but you find yourself, you find yourself repeating the sins that have been done to you. Obviously, I’m making a joke by saying sins, but you know, just the crazy things.

Nichole
So you just had to say your mom’s name?
Shani
Yeah, I would say. “Mom said that I’m not allowed to do”. It was just like considered rude as a kid to like, I don’t really know. Unfortunately, my grandmother’s passed away. That would one of the questions I would go. So why was that rude, grandma? Like, you know, I adored her though.

So if she told me to do something, I was gonna do it. Yeah. I meant if grandma told me to do something, then I was gonna, I can’t say she, if grandma told me to do something, then I was gonna do it. Grandma said yes, better.

Nichole
And now you’re passing that right on down.
Shani
Absolutely. Like I would have to explain to guys, don’t call my house and just say, hi, may I speak to Shani?

You have to be like, hello, good evening, Mr. Gonzalez how are you? Perhaps is Shani available for a chat? Like I know I’m being a bit facetious, but what teenage boy wants to like go into all of that with your family before you’re allowed to come to the phone? Cause if you said. “Hi is Shani home?” Shani don’t pay no bills in this house. Dad, but like, is that necessary like, ah, you know, as a teenager. Whatever but I look forward to having kids and doing the same exact stuff.

Nichole
I can just imagine. I’m looking forward to that for you.
Shani
I don’t wanna, I am going to be, I don’t wanna be a normal parent. I don’t. I wanna bring the smoke.
Nichole
Then I’m gonna have to be like TeeTee Nichole will help you.
Shani
Yes. I mean, listen, I had friends who were allowed to call adults by their first name. Everybody was an auntie or an uncle like you never called an adult by their first name. Absolutely not.
Nichole
In some ways, it seems very West Indian because in the south it’s gonna be Miss or Mister or something like that. But the auntie and uncle, I just noticed that it was more of my West Indian friends that would do that. And I said, okay, that must be a cultural thing.
Shani
It comes from like the most extreme kinds of respect, I guess. And I’m so used to doing it. Now, if I have a friend whose child calls me Shani, I’m like, oh, oh my. And I know it’s totally normal. I don’t have an issue, but it’s just, so different then how I was raised.
Nichole
Yeah. It hits you a little bit differently.
Shani
Yeah, absolutely.
Nichole
You know, I was watching Top Boy is where I learned some of the Jamaican slang we like wagwan. And I was like, what does that mean? Cause everybody was saying it to each other. And I said I’m really coming up on some culture.
Shani
Yeah. The UK will do that to you in a much different way than America will. I mean, I was saying like there’s a new prime minister here (in the UK).

And I was talking to somebody and I was like Liz Truss? And they were like, no, no, no. Her name is Liz Trust Me Daddy. And I was like, and I was saying that to my mother and my mother was like, is, is she, is she Jamaican? And I’m. No, she’s not Jamaican. And the person who said it is not Jamaican, it’s just like she couldn’t wrap her brain, like, it just sounds so.

Yeah, it’s just how the UK it’s a big melting pot in a much different, in a much more real way, I think than even growing up in New York.

Nichole
Yeah. What do you think is the difference between New York and the UK?
Shani
Oh, I think, you know, the American culture is all about immigrants. Listen, things have changed and it’s gotten really problematic in America and I fully acknowledge that and am disgusted by it. But the American tradition had previously been a lot about immigration and coming to America and being American. It would be really insensitive, incorrect, and not something that most people would say, maybe that a person who immigrated from China who maybe had children that were born in America, you would call them American.

Whereas in the UK, I’ve learned in my short time here is if you are Nigerian three generations back, you will always be Nigerian. You will never quite be English or British. I don’t, I’m probably, I’m speaking totally off of experience.

But I’ll meet people who will say to me, I’m Jamaican and I’ll go, okay. But then I realize they’ve never been to Jamaica. They’re not totally aware of the culture. But their grandparents were Jamaican and therefore they still are, whereas in America it’s been diluted enough that you’re now American. Do you understand?

Nichole
Yeah, because you don’t have that tie back to where you can say, this is where I’m from. Exactly. I think that’s exactly the ancestry DNA results are so popular. So you can be like, I’m 36% Nigerian. Yeah. Nigerian, you know, we’re so diluted. And that was a question I got a lot in my time abroad was where are you from?

And I’d say “I’m American.” And they’re like, but no, where exactly? Like which country? Are you Nigerian? Are you Ghanaian? And I was like, I’m American. And then I’d have to explain miscegenation.

Shani
Exactly. Cause I was like is this a conversation for broad daylight? Let’s be honest.
Nichole
I can’t go back to my great, great grandparent and say these people were from this particular tribe in this country. I always love to hear the stories as far as people that do have that connection with their Homeland mm-hmm cause I feel like that’s something I know I feel like I miss is that I would love to be able to tie it back to some of those traditions and being able to say, oh, well this word means this thing or this is where my roots are from versus well, 36% Nigerian and 15% English, 5% Scottish. You know?
Shani
Yeah, no, I feel incredibly lucky. Like I tease both of my parents a lot, know, I feel incredibly lucky to have had that experience. I am American and I was born in America, but I feel like I have this insane amount of pride for my Trini side and for the Jamaican side.

I also feel it’s a weird thing cuz I’m also like, oh if I have kids, they’ll be second generation. Ugh. It’s something that I hope that if I have kids one day that they’ll get to share in that. And for a long time growing up in New York, I never even considered the idea that I could have a husband who wasn’t West Indian too.

It was so natural to my surroundings and to where I came from that I just. My life was that you know, it was this weird blend of America in certain pockets, but like hardo bread when I walked in the house. So all my other friends had like wonder bread that was sliced. I think that’s cool, but you’ve never had hardo bread toasted with some butter on it and some tea? It will change your life. That was the cool things about being in the houseand having a different culture point than others. And actually, it’s interesting, cuz I do find in the UK, whether that thing that you’re talking about having a country to tie it back to whether you’ve been to Nigeria or to Jamaica or to wherever your people come from, there is an insane amount of culture and pride mm-hmm for these countries that some know better than others and I think that’s really cool.

Nichole
Yeah. And a solidarity there too.
Shani
Yeah, the solidarity is really cool. Yeah.
Nichole
Yeah. Do you feel that having that strong tie to your West Indian culture also was one of the first ways in which you grew into this love affair with music?
Shani
Absolutely. My father and his friends used to get to, uh, he had this one friend. Uncle Mitra is his best friend, and they used to get together every week and play all the new records and us kids would be around.

And, the way they would analyze every song. And there was always rum that went with it, but, you know, the way they would analyze every song and go through it all and re-listen to songs and have these big debates about music and absolutely was my first, you know, music was such a huge, huge part of growing up. Huge.

And it was never American music. I always have this joke. I was away at school. I went to Temple and we were with friends and I heard a song and I was like, who is that? And they’re like Luther Vandross. And I’m like, oh, he covered a Beres Hammond song. This song was originally sung by a Jamaican singer and Jamaicans, if you know, anything are known for like their covers of US songs.

But it was so prevalent in my house. It wasn’t until like I got to university that I realized. Oh shit. These aren’t their songs. Oh no. My friends were like, no, that’s Luther Vandross’s song. Are you crazy? And I’m like, oh, have you heard the Beres Hammond version? It’s really good.

It was, it was interesting. And I had many people along the way from when I was about 18 and 19 up that started teaching me more about old school RnB and like Gamble & Huff and what they meant with, the sound of Philadelphia and getting to go back and hear the OJs and early Jackson 5 songs that I didn’t know, like it’s funny to think about now, but there are still moments. I have one of my close friends, Ryan Press, who’s at Warner Chappell also. And his father is in The Temptations.

Nichole
Oh really?
Shani
And it’s like a constant. Yeah, it’s funny. And when he plays me Temptations music and just all the stuff that he, “you don’t know what this is, do you?” And I’m like, “yes, I do. Now, what is it?” Like, um, go on, tell me, cause it’s still in education, you know, it’s West Indian people and I would go to Trinidad or you’ll be in, in Jamaica. Back then they listen to pop music.

It wasn’t really rap or RnB in that way. It was like kind of more pop music I remember hearing. Mm-hmm so yeah, it took a while and I’m still learning constantly learning. You know when there’s a sample sometimes in like rap songs, you’ll hear samples used, even in dance music across the board really. I can never identify a sample. I’m like, um, uh, what is that? And people will be like, how do you not know that song? Cause in my house, we were listening to Dennis Brown and Sparrow and Bob Marley and David Rudder, and not this, we weren’t listening to this. I can assure you.

Nichole
So, when did you decide that you wanted to get into A&R just from loving music?
Shani
I never wanted to get A&R. A&R was like the biggest mistake that worked out really, because I started with telling you, God takes care of children and fools.

When you have West Indian parents. One of the things that happens is that your parents are so honest with you to a point where you’re just like, “Really though?” And so, I was super fascinated with music and kinda getting to that age where I was discovering things on my own. Like the first thing that I remember being super young and my mother bought me like a Salt-n-Pepa.

Um, do you remember Salt-n-Pepa? She bought me like the cassette tape and I remember her and my dad having this conversation that it was way too mature for me, but I was obsessed with them. And my best friend, Shauna, that we grew up together was also obsessed. And we went through different people that we were obsessed with and in our obsession, we were always looking things up and wanting to know who did this and who was this person.

Somewhere in there. Maybe I thought I was gonna be an artist, but I am tone-deaf. I can’t hold a single note. My mother would tell me that all the time I wanted to take piano lessons. The teacher didn’t think I even had enough rhythm to stay on beat. Like I remember my mother going, like, I dunno if this is like your path.

Like I dunno. And, I have an older cousin, her name is Roni and she worked at Vibe Magazine. Mm-hmm and I remember her coming back one day, she had like an internship and she came back and just started telling me, you know, you could work in music business. Oh, what’s that? Um, I was probably 11 or 12, maybe 12.

And she started telling me about A&R people and publicity people and just all these cool people that she was meeting at Vibe. And I was always more fascinated by the people behind the scenes than the actual artists unless it was like Jodeci, cuz I wanted to marry Devonte. So fun fact.

Nichole
No, we would’ve been sister-wives.
Shani
I think that worked out for the best though. Being honest. Yeah, I think so. But um, unless he’s still out there and I don’t know anyway, um, I think that she would always tell me like these different stories and I was so fascinated and eventually was very resolved that that was what I wanted to do, but I never wanted to do A&R, I thought it was for men. Mm-hmm and that it wasn’t my thing.

And I wanted to do maybe publicity and marketing, cuz I loved to write. Thought maybe I was gonna be an author, you know, when you’re just like thinking about a lot of things, I was like, I’ll be an author, but then I’ll also do publicity in marketing. That felt like a good plan when you’re 15 or 16.

And it just turns out that my first job, proper job in this business was at Warner Chappell being an assistant to a guy named Chris Hicks, who was an A&R person. And I took the job thinking, at least I’m in. I’ll get out of that. I don’t wanna do that, but at least I’m in, and then I’ll be able to like network while I’m in Warner Music Group.

Mm-hmm and that obviously went wrong. Somehow I’m still here. I never got that moment to network. So maybe I’ll try tomorrow. But he was amazing in so many ways. Like that was his first real job. I don’t think that he had an idea of what an assistant should be doing. It was me and him and just the two of us.

He gave me an insane amount of latitude to figure it out. And he was tough, but he was a teacher when he needed to be. And then like super tough and like, no, no, no, I’m not here to babysit. Go figure it out. And I respect that so much. And I’m so grateful because I was tons of moments as a woman, like, oh my God, I’m afraid to walk into the studio.

What am I gonna do? Figure it out, and come back to me when it’s done. And I think that’s obviously exactly the kind of tone and spirit that you have to have doing A&R and he toughened me up. For better or for worse. I’m tough now, sort of.

Nichole
Well, do you think that you needed that because it is such a male-dominated role?
Shani
Hundred percent, hundred percent. West Indian parents, you shelter your girls, you kinda let your boys have a lot more freedom. I was super sheltered. I had two parents who mademy life very comfortable and amazing. And the music business is the opposite of that. It’s all about being uncomfortable. It’s all about finding confidence in yourself when other people may not have it in you and having the wherewithal and the passion to go and forge new roads and find artists that other people think are maybe terrible but you believe in.

And so Chris was very resolved in I think teaching me those things, and it was tough. There were moments where I would like wanna bitch and whine and he would go, no, no, no, I’m not listening to this. The famous line he would always say to me is, “Are you more afraid of them or of me? Are you afraid of some people you don’t know or are you afraid of coming back and telling me what you didn’t do?” Like, oh, that’s a good point. I’ll be back. I don’t want you cursing me out and I don’t care if they do so I’ll be back, but it was exactly what I needed. Mm-hmm and he and I worked together at Warner Chappell and I mean, obviously as his assistant for a long time, but he always gave me enough. I felt like we worked together and I mean that in with the most amount of respect. And then he took me with him when he went to go work for LA Reid at Def Jam and Def Jam was the next level of learning. It’s like, you go through different grades.

If that moment was junior high school, Def Jam was like high school, all the cool kids, all of the like how do I get in and fit in here? LA Reid is a legend and insane at what he has accomplished. And, you know, when you’re between Chris Hicks, who did all the things he did and LA Reid.

And then at the time, DJ Khaled and Lenny S and Kawan Prather like all these insaneBoowas there. We had the most insane A&R team. And I was the girl trying to figure it out, excuse me, while I clumsily sit over here and try to figure it out. And it was hard, but it was incredible.

Absolutely incredible. If you can survive Def Jam, you can do anything. All of those people are now off doing amazing, amazing things. Obviously, DJ Khaled is DJ Khaled and Boo is running shit over at Columbia Records. And KP is in this festival DJ that’s also working with Pharrell and doing all these cool things.

And Lenny S has probably a million followers on Instagram and takes these incredible pictures. And is this huge part of culture and manages DJ Khaled. Everybody’s doing so much cool stuff. It was like the best of class when I was there, at least in my opinion.

Nichole
Did you have any other females that were working in A&R?
Shani
Um, Karen Kwak was a very supportive and also tough person. She was running A&R for LAand doing so much more. Karen did a bit of everything. She was like a boss bitch. And she still is. But at that time, Karen was probably the first significant woman that came into my life from like a work, you know, working for, I didn’t technically I was working for Chris, but she was very dominant.

Mm-hmm in a great way and also tough. You looked at Karen. She was teaching you by sitting down and showing you something or teaching you by just being a trailblazer and setting an example. She was tough. I don’t mean a bitch. Although sometimes that is required of the job.

Right? But I just think that’s an unfair label for women but tough in the sense she could hold her own and she never played that woman card first. She did her shit and she was able to compete, not with the women, but with everybody, which is to me the ultimate salute. I always say, I never wanna be the best woman in the room. I just wanna be the best. And Karen is really an example of that. She was incredible at what she did. And she was a boss.

Nichole
Who are your biggest advocates for you in your career?
Shani
I have so many, I feel like it takes a village to raise a career. I have so many, I was really lucky either. Listen, I’ll say it five more times. God takes care of children and fools. So I haven’t decided which one I am.

I’m probably a bit of both, but I had loads of people that were not afraid to call me out when I was doing stuff wrong. Who were not afraid to champion me and tell me when I was doing stuff right. Who yelled at me, who hugged me, who told me to stop with your fucking tears and get it together. I had a lot of people. I’m super grateful because a lot of people showed me a lot of grace and gave me a lot of time and still do. I’m not here alone.

I’m here with a whole village of people that are rooting for me and checking me even today, like right before this call, somebody called a friend of mine. It’s like a big brother called to tell me who I hadn’t called back and why I was embarrassing him. And I appreciated that. So too many advocates to name.

Nichole
Well, the one thing that I really love just as far as your journey is that you’ve had both mentors and sponsors. Like with Chris and the mentoring and being at Def Jam and really understanding and learning about A&R but also having those sponsors. Even in your current role with Guy telling you that you really should take this role. What I love about sponsors are those are the ones that get you into the door, they create those opportunities. So I’d love for you to share that story.
Shani
Oh my God. I remember the day that Guy called me and said we were looking for an MD in the UK. If anybody knows me, I’m going to insert my opinion. And I was inserting my opinions. And one day he just called me and said to me, “I don’t understand why you haven’t just thrown your own name in the ring.” And I’m like “in the ring for what?” And he is like “for the job.” And I was flabbergasted. I said to myself, Oh, my God, like he’s finally lost it. COVID has made him lose it. It was, we were about a month into COVID and it was around that month. Things started getting tricky. I don’t know if you remember, cuz initially, we thought we may be in the house for two weeks. I think around that month period, maybe by like the first week or two of April, everybody was starting to realize, wait a minute, we might be here for a while.

So we were all getting into that slow resignation of sad, but we feel crazy. Like what is going on in the world. And I thought we lost Guy to that crazy. Yeah. What is he talking about? He sounds insane. And he sat on the phone and went into a speech about telling me that there was two kinds of people in life.

And he described what a leader was and told me that I should do it and I needed to consider it. And I came off the phone with him, like, yeah, he’s cracked. I don’t know what he’s talking about. There’s no way I can do that role. And to his credit. I mean, he saw something that I definitely didn’t see at the time.

And I went through many moments of doubt, many moments, probably still some that happen now, but, you know, I had a lot of doubt. I was like are you okay? I think I definitely asked him that one or two times, but he saw something and he was a major, major champion. And while I was going, well, I can’t do it for this reason.

I can’t do it for that reason. He kept telling me how ridiculous I sounded and how those were exactly the reasons why I had to do it. And those were exactly the reasons why he picked me. I kept highlighting, I can’t do this because that person does this and I’m different. And I think about the, and I just can’t and like, I’m not mature enough.

And don’t, you know, that I still do this and I can’t do that. And he is like, that’s exactly the reason why I think you should do it. And he promised that I would have his full support. Two and a half years after that initial conversation he has made good on everything he promised. He’s been an insane supporter who yells at me when I need to be yelled at. I like that. It feels honest, right? And he’s super supportive and angry with me when I need somebody to be angry with me. I am incredibly grateful to him because I think it’s a really hard thing to be a leader, but also be able to be friendly enough. I don’t wanna be disrespectful and say he feels like my friend, but it’s easy to talk to him and easy to go and say, I have no idea what’s happening right now. What would you do? And he shows me grace, that’s my word, loads of grace, and gives advice and helps me troubleshoot when I need to.

Nichole
Yeah. I love that. And the fact that he believed in you more than you believed in yourself at the time.
Shani
I mean.
Nichole
And continues to push you. So really is such a great example of a sponsor.
Shani
He is an incredible, incredible sponsor. Yeah. So I hope he doesn’t hear this it’s gonna go right to his head.
Nichole
Hey Guy!
Shani
Right to his head.
Nichole
So what do you feel are some of the biggest challenges you’ve been facing in your role as not only the MD of Warner Chappell but also as International Head of A&R at Warner?
Shani
I mean, well, the first major challenge was COVID, right? I think that was a major challenge. I also think when you’re a woman and you are then a woman of color that plays a huge role into things. Moving to the UK, there were moments where I think even Black people were confused by my role and that’s likely because they’d never really seen it done by a Black woman.

Right, I think of it as a pro and a con. I think when you grow up Black when you grow up any when you know anybody of color and the children of immigrants, you’re always told, “do better, work harder, be faster, be quicker, be the smartest in the room.”

So you already have lived your life with that mentality. It extends into work where you understand it. The UK is a lot different than the US. I got to grow up and have Black doctors and Black teachers and parents who gave me a very intentional childhood where they understood as a Black child in America, how to instill that confidence with Black excellence around you. I don’t think that previously that has been happening in the UK. I think it’s starting to change now and starting to happen, but we’re in that moment of the change. I think it’s a bit behind America in that sense.

So that’s a challenge. There are not nice things that come with being the first. But then there are some amazing things that do come with it. And some of it is being able to have a seat at the table where you can share your insight and share your experiences and be a part of change in real-time.

For me, I get to run the UK office and do some things that I would wanna see at a company that I worked at before I had this position. And that’s awesome. I think I’ve learned to go like, Yeah, I’m different from my counterparts, but I’m gonna lean into that versus being scared of that. I have, I hope a very different rapport than other people with my team.

I’m probably too honest at moments., you know. I will tell everyone, I’m terrified to be up here. I hate public speaking, but I like to tell the truth for better or for worse. And I just have learned to not try to show up as anyone else just be myself, because people respect that far more than you being, who you think they wanna see.

So I just try to be myself to counteract all the challenges and always show up that way. And I don’t know, cross my fingers and know that God takes care of children and fools.

Nichole
So what was the first thing that you did when you came into your role and you said, okay, well, they’re having a completely different experience with me because I am a woman of color here in this role, the first one that they’ve had.

And you knew that it was gonna be a little bit of a shock to the system. How did you go about trying to change the culture there? So it would be more, um, I don’t wanna say accepting, but to where it wasn’t such a culture shock for them having you having there?

Shani
I started the role October of 2020. I moved here January ‘21. And we were in a lockdown. I don’t know how to answer that question. Really. I think that the first thing that you do when you are moving to another country to do a role that you’ve never done is you meet people and you listen. And that’s what I tried to do.

That was one of the only things I could do. I couldn’t meet the team in person. We were in a lockdown. I was able to do some limited meetings, but not a lot, obviously. I listened, I tried to listen and I tried to learn. That was the only thing that I really could do. I met with a lot of people and I just, I was terrified, oh my God, I was terrified, but I just kept reminding myself.

I had to show up as myself at all times. So the only culture that I was trying to bring was one of extreme openness and being candid with each other because that’s the only way I think you can be great is when you can be really open and direct. And I just tried to create an environment where people knew that they could be just as open and direct with me as I was being with them. But I try to listen a lot and I still do try to listen a lot. I think when you start getting to certain places as a leader, it’s far less about what you do and the, I don’t know if legacy is the right word, but you know, you’re judged not just on your own merit, but on merits of your team.

So a lot of it is managing that to make sure that they have all the resources and all of the things that they need to be happy and well adjusted mm-hmm that they can knock it out the park. So I listen, I try to, I hope I listen. That’s the culture that I wanna have.

I think the UK is incredibly, I can never say this word. The UK can be incredibly hierarchical. Yeah. Hierarchical. Let’s go with that. Um, but it’s probably much more so than in the US. I think. It’s not what I came from. So I think that it was always, for me, it’s like, yeah, yeah,