One truth about tumultuous times like these is that it can be difficult to get a sense of perspective—the kind that allows you to take a bigger view than the day’s headlines and begin to find your voice, your strength, and your role in a changing world.
That’s why, this month, we are happy to share insights from an intimate conversation with Charmaine McClarie, an executive coach and communications expert who has helped many women and people of color find their voice, their strength, and their way to the C-suite.
McClarie shares her reflections on what we might learn from Covid, the awakening to racial injustice, and political turmoil. She also shares thoughts about what she calls our basic need—to be seen and heard—and why there may be a greater opportunity for that now than ever.
Excerpts from McClarie’s conversation with the Conferences for Women, which took place before Election Day, follow. They have been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
On Learning from Covid
- “One of the things I said when we went on lockdown was that my meditation and prayer is that the world would get quiet enough to hear whatever the lesson is in all of this.”
- Part of what has been revealed to me is that, as I always say, the universe provides me with ample opportunity to practice what I say I believe. So, if I say I believe in humanity, this time gives me ample opportunity to put that into practice.”
- “Two things come from this: One is I try to be grateful in every moment, even though that is really hard now. And two, I ask myself: How do I heighten my humanity in the midst of this? My work, helping people be seen and heard, has been a driving force, and I see the need for that now more than ever.”
On the Awakening to Racial Injustice
- “The American public, particularly white Americans, think there is this profile of the kind of black people who are stopped by the police: that they look or sound a certain way, or drive a certain kind of car.”
- “But I have been stopped by the police going down a highway and had to lie on the ground for 45 minutes with my arms behind my back, in a suit and silk blouse, while they searched the car and could find nothing.”
- “Another time I was coming home from dinner with my husband who was asleep with his seat pushed back. I was making a turn off the freeway, and the police stopped me. My window was jammed and they were yelling and shouting at me. I kept my hands on the dashboard. I know the drill. Then my husband woke up and pushed the button so his seat came forward. The cop saw him and said, ‘Oh, I am so sorry, sir.’ My husband is white.”
- “I have a client who is a white CEO. She asks me what can I do? I said: “Who are you going to put on your board? If everybody looks like you, there is a problem.”
- “Sometimes I hear people say this [confronting racial injustice] will help black people. No, this will help all of us.”
On Learning about Others in Divisive Times
- “We all have to check ourselves every day. I have to check myself every day. Where is my ism? How do I relate to otherness? Where am I projecting that?”
- “Life is uncomfortable and awkward. It also provides an opportunity to create connection and a sense of community. To me, power is grace—opening up to bring people in. This is the way to create community.”
- “Curiosity is at the core of this. You are going to keep somebody as ‘other’ if you are not curious about them.”
On the Need to Be Seen and Heard
- “The whole premise of my work has been to help people find their voice—because there is power in our voice and our story. When you know who you are, you can stand in a place of strength and you can do what is necessary to be heard. It is our most basic need.”
- My thing is: What is the narrative that I am perpetuating, that I am holding onto because it makes me feel good and doesn’t rock my world? Where is it that I am so fragile that I have to hold onto a story? That’s the place where you really need to work and explore.”
- “I believe particularly for women and people of color now, there is a window of opportunity. In the virtual world, it is easier than ever to fall through the cracks. But also, if you learn the skills, you can push the doors wide open.”