Learn, unlearn and relearn as change is the permanent factor
By Emily Scott
Born and raised in Ghent, Khady Gaye is passionate about people, she is highly engaged in D&I activities for the Business Resource Groups, uImpact and Equal, focusing on empowering women and fostering inclusive workplace for LGBT Community. She held various positions in different companies and is currently acting as Manager HR International –Benelux France at United Airlines. While based in Belgium, she is a globe-trotter. Advocating for inclusion is vital to her. She gets her energy in connecting with people.
Your journey is inspiring to women all around the world. How do you remember the beginning?
From my childhood, I quickly learned how to show interest in people, to interact with them, and how to deal with “the otherness” effect. Born in a city that was not very multicultural at that time, I learned to be open-minded, develop that curiosity for others, be inclusive and not to allow excluding or be excluded. While I was always trying to fit within the group or environment I grew up – one thing I knew is that getting my educational degree would be key to my hopefully successful journey.I wanted to become an independent, respected woman. I also wanted my father to be proud of me, as he was a self-made man and didn’t get the chance or even allowed to go to school. Being a first-generation immigrant and the eldest of 5, I was a natural achiever and role model for my brothers and sisters. At least I tend to believe I was.
What are the challenges you have faced throughout your journey?
What others consider as my difference, being black or ‘the colored’, has become my strength. After an incident that occurred when I was 8-9 years old at school, the only option for me was to stay strong and I decided I would never wear the sorry hat. The teacher would not only unfairly blame me for anything happening in the class, I would also be punished in a way you would not even imagine still happening in the 20th century. Each time, I would just encourage myself to not cry in front of my classmates, pretending it did not hurt. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent is a quote I use a lot. The questions -“where are you coming from, where did you learn the language, how can you speak without any accent?”- those are the questions I had to respond to and still get from time to time.
Your work experience shifted from local to international in the HR arena. How would you describe such transition?
This shift was a positive catalyst to be exposed to different people and cultures. I got the opportunity to travel in various countries, even in countries you would not necessarily expect a black woman leader. I learned several languages, and this has always been an asset throughout my career. I have always considered myself as a cosmopolite globetrotter. Building meaningful relationships and connecting with people. Every interaction is a learning opportunity for me to become a better person at a professional and personal level.
How do you balance work and life?
I’m just like every woman, giving the best in everything I do. My father was a hard-worker that never had one single day of absence at work. I don’t have a balance and I would be rather unhappy to reduce my current scheme. Every time I get the question, how do you manage travel, work, family? I’m asking myself if they would ask the same question to a man. Family is my priority number one and they know they can count on me 24h/7. It’s just a matter of how you organise the logistics, and I have the full support of my family in everything I do. Nowadays with the technology, I can easily follow how my kids are performing at school daily. I don’t believe in balance, I would rather talk about work-life integration. Am I a full-time mum? Probably not. I’m just like every woman.
Why do you believe that the world needs more women leaders in HR field?
I don’t know if we need more women in the HR field as women are relatively well represented in this field. What I do think, is that we need more balanced leaders at all levels. I strongly advocate that everyone should be his/her true self at workplace regardless of background, gender, ethnicity or age. A diverse workforce where dignity and respect are non-negotiable. Having said that, I’m also realising that I’m considered as an inspiration for many and even for the next generation that is still struggling with invisible discrimination. I have visibility and have the responsibility to continue opening the path for many others.
You are a successful public speaker as well. What is the key to success when communicating with the public?
One of my core values is authenticity and empathy. When I share an example, a situation or an experience I talk with my heart, with passion. You should be ready to show your vulnerability. Everyone has a story but if you share your story with the intention to impact, influence your audience that’s how you make the difference.
What advice would you give to women who want to have a great career like yourself?
Be in the driver’s seat of your career; you need to earn your seat every day. Title does not mean anything if you don’t know why and how to do your job. Learn, unlearn and relearn, as change is the permanent factor. Nobody can motivate you other than yourself. Share your failures, and never give up. Listen to your inner voice and empower yourself. Make sure to network and have mentors informally or formally. Be the leader you want to become! Dare to get out of your comfort zone, knock on doors if you are seeking an opportunity. If the door doesn’t open, build the door to be opened. Say yes and figure afterwards how to deal with it. And don’t make any compromise on your core values.
What are you goals and plans for the future?
My plan is to impact my work environment, my organisation and the society. To ensure our next generation can work in a great place where inclusion and diversity are the cultural norm. Live in a better world. I want to continue progress as an international speaker and I want to give back to the community by volunteering in charity activities.