Dr. Helen Ofosu
“There are certain people who, pre-pandemic, were super-productive and making amazing contributions at work. But because they weren’t bragging, buttering up the boss, or charismatic, they were overlooked. But now, when everyone’s at home, it’s easier to track who is contributing – who is sending in work product. So, all the “doers” are kind of getting their chance to shine.”
Dr. Helen Ofosu is writing a book. The working title is The Resilient Career, and will impart lessons she has learned over a 20 year career in Work and Business (Industrial/Organizational) Psychology. It will be a resource for people dealing with underemployment, harassment, workplace scapegoating, or being a newcomer to Canada trying to adapt to a new culture in the workplace. A lot of the book will be about employees’ identities, and how those tie into career progression, as well as some insights around the “glass cliff” phenomenon (i.e., women and racialized people being more likely than men to achieve leadership roles in an organization in times of crisis, when the chance of failure is much greater).
It may seem like writing a book during the COVID-19 lockdown is something a person with a lot of time on their hands would decide to do. That does not seem to be the case for Dr. Ofosu, who is an HR Consultant, Executive Coach, and Career Coach who runs I/O Advisory Services in Ottawa. Much like the employees she sees getting more recognition for the work they do during the pandemic, Dr. Ofosu is getting more recognition as well. The bulk of her clients were once in Ottawa, but now that Zoom is the de facto way to connect she is working with companies all over Canada, and sometimes the US and Saudi Arabia.
An additional reason for that branching out is the newfound focus companies are placing on systemic discrimination, anti-racist workplaces and restructuring their policies around equity, diversity, and inclusion. That happens to be Dr. Ofosu’s specialty – what she refers to as a ‘passion project’ turned full-fledged business line. This process is taking something of a different turn now as well, with the pandemic forcing this kind of coaching to be done at a distance. At the moment, this is mainly taking the form of mentorship and sponsorship programs for employees.
“My favourite model is one that I’ve been experimenting with and tweaking – it’s blending mentorship with allyship. At the same time that we train mentors to be more effective working with racialized people with whom they may not have a lot of experience, we’re also going to train a second group of people called ‘allies.’ These are people who may be senior and well-intentioned in the organization, but who don’t have the time to dedicate to either a one-on-one protégé or a small group of protégés. But they can still benefit from some training around systemic discrimination and what it means to be a good ally and mentor. They can then be out there in their organization as resources and influencers on more of an ad hoc basis.”
The mentors and the allies both receive the same kind of training – but while the allies tend to have giant workloads and full calendars and therefore less time to dedicate to this sort of thing, the mentors commit to six month or year-long programs where they check in with Dr. Ofosu regularly.
Mentors are ideally people in leadership positions in the organization. They are people with good ‘soft skills’ (e.g., communication, empathy, judgement, strategic thinking, etc.) and a genuine interest in supporting the career development of more junior employees. This way they will be more effective at imparting the lessons learned to the rest of their teams.
It was shortly after the death of George Floyd that a group in Toronto reached out to Dr. Ofosu, and it’s with this group that she has been developing the mentorship program as it stands today to support communication, marketing, and PR professionals in Canada. Now the federal government has caught wind, and she’s working with them to get this program launched there as well.
That likely means more work, which might also mean less time working on her book. But Dr. Ofosu will find the time, while still taking the occasional break. One of the perks of living in Ottawa is all that free time outdoors taking long walks and shoveling snow, where she puts on her headphones and listens to R&B, gospel, and hiphop music. Then she’ll come back in refreshed, ready to work on that book (with support from her American editor) and to get busy supporting leaders and dismantling structural racism at organizations across Canada.