"I have always been in international schools, so at least 20 different nationalities that was normal for us, that everyone was different, everyone came with their own culture, their own customs,.... And everyone was not perceived or determined on the base of 'where are you from?' but rather on 'what do you contribute'. And then I moved to Belgium and I was automatically reduced from 'a person who can contribute something' to a skin colour. And that was all that I became. I was no longer all my experiences, or all I could contribute,.... I was only determined by a very small detail. That suddenly becomes all you are: you are your skin colour."
>>> In our third episode, Bart Wuyts talks with Shanice Wanjiku. Shanice is a social media strategist, facilitator and moderator and founder of Jumuiya Consulting. She is a multi-passionate person who is always looking for new skills and she puts community at the heart of what she stands for and what she pursues. It will be a conversation full of positivity, honesty and reflection. Because someone who has lived in 5 countries and been in as many different schools, who generates connection and community around herself as if it were a survival strategy, can certainly give a lot of insights about things that we here in Belgium may no longer see or take too much for granted.
You are, I understand from Artemis, someone who is multi-passionate. That always interests us - we think the same of ourselves. Tell us a bit about that: what are your passions?
I think I'm someone who from childhood on wanted to do lots of different things at the same time. And when I went to school I was always told that you have to specialise, you have to find your focus, you have to do one thing,.... But that was not something that - how do you say - suited me personally. And I feel I am now at a moment where I am actively exploring that: whether that is right for me or not. By 'multipassionate', I mean that I am a person who, when I find something interesting, and I see possibilities in it, I am going to explore that and see what I can do with it. I try to kind of split my life into 5-year periods: to see what I want to do in the next 5 years, and then I can ask myself again what I want to do in the next 5 years. And that gives me a lot of space to be able to explore different passions.
Wow. I recognise that. My son has a bit of the same thing but his span is not five years but about six months.
And which 5-year span are you in now? What is the current passion?
Now I'm in social media and marketing. I am also evolving in public speaking and that manifests itself in moderating events. That's really something for multipassionates because it enables you to learn a lot of new subjects in a short time, which I think is really super.
You can actually just come and sit in my chair and continue this podcast series!
Yes maybe next time....
And what I'm doing as well is facilitation. So that's what I'm working on at the moment. But, actually quite funny: when I was on my way here I got an email asking me to maybe get into another project which has to do with nutrition. When I was young, I always thought that nutrition was my passion - and I explored it quite thoroughly: I went into cooking professionally, I also went into marketing in the food sector. And I thought that was done: that my five years were up, but now a new project is coming up. So I might still do something else with that: a bit of a combination of everything I learned. I like that: that you get to a point where it seems your career is very fragmented, and then a new project comes in that is actually a combination of everything.
So then the pieces of the puzzle begin to make sense. But that will keep happening, I predict you. Because those 5 years you give yourself every time - whether it will really be 5 years you will see - are often not separate from each other either. At some point you do see that things start to integrate and then it becomes very beautiful.
I'm looking forward to that.
And tell a bit about what you did before that, in the past periods? Because you are still very young: there aren't that many five-year periods before that, I think.
My ambition was actually to do a lot of things during my studies as well. I spent a year - I don't know if you know the film YES MAN? - [no].... That's a film in which that-he actually says 'yes' to everything for a year. So then I did that for a year and really said yes to all the opportunities that came up. I went into journalism a bit as a result of that and I also started my own blog about food. I found that I really enjoy doing that. And it was actually quite a coincidence that I then also got to start cooking in a restaurant in Bredene. A very nice restaurant, they work with seaweed there. And so I started studying during the week and cooking at the weekend. So I've actually been doing my five-year pieces for quite a while. I did that until I graduated.
What did you study?
Communication studies. Also really something for generalists, and for those who are multipassionate because you can really do all sorts of things with it. The course material is adapted and updated all the time, so you learn based on what is happening in society now. I really liked that about my communication studies.
After graduating, I worked in an interior design shop for a while (they sold skirting boards and so on) and then I started doing marketing in a food company.
And did you yourself experience any barriers to getting a job after graduating?
Yes definitely. It's funny that you mentioned earlier that Blenders and Web work with VDAB... I remember... I had registered there and I thought it was a bit of a scary experience. Because I had been working for a long time and then I came there and was treated a bit like someone who was doing something wrong. I was called all the time saying that I had to come and otherwise I would be fined. I almost felt like some kind of criminal or something. And during those sessions they then explained how to find a job via LinkedIn. But those were just things I had already learned in my education, so that wasn't necessarily very relevant to me. You do feel a certain pressure of having to have a conversation there every so often and explain why it's not working out for you (the search for a job). While at the same time you are diving into something completely new: you are trying to find a job in a market you really don't know. And I really didn't have a network to fall back on then either. So that was really quite an intense period. I also think that if you asked my parents now, they would acknowledge that they saw how stressed I was.
I found my first job through an interim agency. They also helped me with my CV and so on.
So that was pretty intense.
And then you started working in 2 different companies right away?
Initially in 1 company.
But then shortly afterwards started doing something around nutrition I hear you say?
Yes, two years after that.
In my first job I had two positions and then after that, yes it was always my dream to work in food, so when I got the opportunity - again through an interim agency- I took it. That was really such a saving grace, those interim agencies, for me. Because I also really tried to send things out myself but it wasn't a success.
We are very much looking into those barriers that are there for people for whom the labour market is still somewhat distant. Have you noticed in your circle of acquaintances or in your surroundings that there are a lot of thresholds for people to find a good job?
The first thing that comes up in me: the people I know with a migration background, that it often comes down to the fact that you have to prove yourself so much more to be in the same place as other people. Also my example: I had actually already built up a CV by the time I graduated, with the idea of needing that to just kind of 'access' it. And so even though I had actually already built up a CV, it was still not enough. I still needed the gravitasof an interim agency who then encouraged employers to 'really look at her profile because she does have a lot of things to offer.' And those are stories I also hear in my environment.
So basically the interim office helped you - and maybe others too - a lot to convince employers to 'look into it anyway, even though you might initially disregard it'? And that's actually at that point just based on your name, or....
Yes I would quite like to have a conversation with the people who have seen my CV back then. But yes indeed I think it's really based on my name. Because there are other things in there too but maybe they didn't look at that.
Our first podcast conversation - you may have heard it - was with one of the management members of Accent, and they recently decided: if we are going to offer people to employers, from now on we are going to leave out the name, age and gender. To make sure there is no bias on that already. What do you think about that?
I am in favour!
Did you already know about this approach?
No I didn't know it before, that's really something new to me. But I'm really in favour of that. As you also said in our conversation beforehand: there are biases along both sides and if you remove all those things then you are left with just the bare facts. I think that's fantastic.
What else could be done? We have already indicated that one barrier we regularly encounter is the fact that people with migration background who are looking for a job often do not have the right network to get in touch with the right jobs for them. The same is true along the employer side, but if we look at the potential employee for now: what else could be done in that area?
I think I personally noticed the biggest shift in my career when I started building my network and I also notice that most jobs that come in now, come through my network. That is really something that is underestimated and personally I think that is really one of the most important things you can cultivate if your career is important to you (because I also understand that is not the most important thing for everyone).
And then what has worked most for me: I love building one on one relationships, and sometimes I just sent people on LinkedIn a message saying 'I find you really inspiring, would you like to go for a coffee sometime?' That has really done so much for me and that's really how I've gotten so far too. I am also always surprised that people really do want to help you. And I think I'm really like that myself, I would respond to that as well.
So you reach out to people you don't know, but who you think or who you've heard is an inspiring person, and you just ask if they'd like to go for a coffee sometime? And then it turns out that people do? Great!
Yes and if you really have a very specific question they do as well. I think a lot more people are open to sharing than we think. And that's maybe also because of the feeling you get when you think there's an 'us versus them'.... But if you step out of that for a moment: one on one people really do want to help you. I'm convinced of that.
That's a good tip!
Are there any more of such golden tips that have helped you? How did you end up strengthening your network?
I think I approach networking in a certain way. I want to network because I genuinely find people interesting. If I come to you to network I want to learn from you or I want to learn your story. I won’t ask 'give me money' or 'give me a job'. A lot of people on LinkedIn take the approach that they first send a message and the second message is already a sales pitch. And I don't think that works. It's really about people. That's something I learned from my dad and I'm also convinced that business is about people and the connection you have.
The negative side is that people stay in their networks because those are also all people they know and like and want to help. That's why you have to take care of building your own network, or find ways to get into existing networks. I'm still searching hard for this myself.
Yes, I can imagine. I'm a bit older now and by now I have a network. But as a young person entering the job market, it is not always easy to get into such a network. And certainly if you have some restrictions: a skin colour or a headscarf or a physical disability or whatever (none of these should be restrictions, but unfortunately they are for many today). Yes then that is an important thing to do: to reach out.
And I also just remembered: it's something Artemis suggested to me, but I am a member of The Shift as one of their Challengers. Those kinds of programmes are really valuable too, it's huge how big that makes your network. And you also get to know a lot of people working on the same topics. And in the beginning I sent her a message saying 'oy, should I register? [self-limiting belief] - yes indeed. And I was then selected and yes those are really very valuable networks.
I have the impression that there runs entrepreneurial blood in you. So you are also setting up some things for yourself in the meantime? Tell me.
Yes I have started my own consulting firm: Jumuiya Consulting. Jumuiya is a word in Swahili that means community. And that is what I want to start from: building community in everything I do. And that manifests itself in social media marketing, event moderation and facilitation. Because those are actually three different ways you build a network: on a smaller or larger scale, and that's where I always want to start from. Because community that's just what we need: we can't go on alone.
Absolutely. And since when did you start doing that?
At the end of last year.
'Tis still very recent.
But you are already getting plenty of questions and you are working on it.
Yes I do that half-time now, I also work half-time at Curieus, as a social media strategist. So I combine those. And the questions that come in for my consulting are mainly from my network, so I notice how important that is.
Great. So if I were to ask you what social impact you are aiming for, I would actually hear you say that it is to build communities, because they are so essential? Not just in order to find work but much broader than that too of course?
Yes right. If I am not mistaken, we are currently the loneliest generation, in the sense that people feel completely alone. Even though everyone is constantly online, they constantly feel alone. And I just find that very sad. And that has to change because we are not made to be alone and feel isolated. And sometimes just sending a message to someone can also do a lot. And that's something I do myself: reaching out and making people feel seen or heard.
Where does your drive come from? Do you know? That drive to want to shape communities?
I've lived in 5 different countries, my parents are expats, and so I've also been to 5 different schools, and then you learn very quickly how to make friends - that's also kind of a way to survive I think. And it's a very valuable skill to take with you. And what I always notice throughout all my travels and all my interaction with various cultures is that everyone struggles with the same thing or has the same basis: everyone wants to connect. Everyone wants to come together and that is not something that is only in Belgium or only in Kenya. And so I think: if that need is kind of the same everywhere, why not work on that? For me, that's a kind of universal value and that's why I want to work on that. It's like love, that's also universal.
Is that also what led you to your studies in communication?
I hadn't thought of it in that way, but yes.
And you say you've lived in 5 different places, 5 different countries. But I do get the impression that your mother tongue is Dutch?
No English, I was born in Kenya.
How come you speak Dutch so well?
When I was young, I went to school here. And then you learn the language very quickly.
And then you lived in other places. That's interesting of course, I don't have that experience, I've only ever lived in Belgium: so how do you look at a country like Belgium? And especially if we then focus on the labour market for a moment? Compared to what you may have experienced elsewhere as well? Or maybe you were too young to experience much about that?
One of the most interesting differences I noticed when I had moved here to Belgium was the following. I always went to international schools, so at least 20 different nationalities that was normal for us, that everyone was different, everyone came with their own culture, their own customs,.... And everyone was not perceived or determined on the base of 'where are you from?' but rather on 'what do you contribute'. And then I moved to Belgium and I was automatically reduced from 'a person who can contribute something' to a skin colour. And that was all that I became. I was no longer all my experiences, or all I could contribute,.... I was only determined by a very small detail. That suddenly becomes all you are: you are your skin colour."
That was a very special shift I underwent.
Confronting too, right?
Very confronting, yes definitely.
And you still experience that regularly? Or do you see right through that? Can you get that off your chest?
I think that has to do with my background, and it's not that I don't mind when that happens, but I just know very well who I am and what I can contribute. And I'm also not someone who - even though that's very valuable. You have one of those people who – with an activist mindset - want to get into a business that is very antithemselves as a person. I'm not like that. I'm more of 'I want to work with you if you want to work with me'. If you think you don't want to work with me because of my skin colour, yeah I'm just not even going to get into that. I am someone who seeks connections with people who are on the same level. And I know that it is a privilegethat I can do that, because I have built up a network and because I have studied. Those are all things that help me in that. I do now find myself in a position where that I can do that.
Let's stay with the issue of labour market barriers: are there things you would recommend to employers? Knowing that the labour market is tight, that there is a fight for talent going on. But still, somehow that leaves a barrier. What should they do differently?
I think a first important step is to see that it doesn't work. And also: not expecting that what you did before is going to work in a new situation. So it is also about taking a step back and looking at 'who am I' and also daring to look at your own blind spots. And then organisations like LEVL and Blendersare there to help with that. I think that is a very important first step, but also a difficult one because you almost have to admit that you are doing something wrong and I think many people don't like to do that.
Yes they must realise.. Someone has to hold a mirror up to them.
And that happens by letting in various voices.
Many employers will be like 'those people are welcome here, but I can't find them'.
But then again, what is the other option? Just keep on doing as you are doing and attract fewer and fewer people. You want your business to continue, right? At least hat's what I am assuming.
Absolutely. But so, you say people should not put the problem outside of themselves. "I'm open to it but they don't come" so apparently it's 'them' where the problem is. So you say "maybe you should take a look in the mirror then and see what you may not be doing right yourself? And that's where it starts.
I think so. And that's valid for both sides, employers and employees alike. But I think everything starts with self-knowledge. And daring to question yourself, daring to question everything. And that is not easy but it is necessary.
And then if you look one step further, is there something that you say 'I see employers easily sinning against that today, then maybe they should look at that', or....
If I just look at LinkedIn for example: you should make it as easy as possible to sign up for a job opportunity - albeit I would have to speak to someone from HR - maybe there is a reason why you first have to enter your CV and then edit all sorts of things and then attach a cover letter,... Those are thresholds that can cause someone not to apply. You lose that momentum. If you make it as easy and accessible as possible, I think that will change things. Maybe there's some logic behind this according to HR, but I've never understood that.
I assume that a cultural factor plays a role in this as well: that we are so used to it in Flanders. Traditionally, you were supposed to apply with a letter - preferably handwritten by yourself, your motivation letter and your CV, which you then sent by post. And today we are actually still working within that same image, albeit no longer handwritten and no longer sent by post. In fact, we all still expecting a well-argued cover letter and CV. And you say, 'dear employer, we are 10 years down the road or 20 years down the road, LinkedIn doesn't work like that anymore.' And people are looking for a job via LinkedIn for a great deal. Or more and more people anyway. That has become the universal platform? Or are you saying that because you are a social media strategist and so at home in those channels that you might also have an atypical profile? Or do you see all your peers engaged in the same way today?
I remember I was having something to eat somewhere in Brussels and someone came by who was doing deliveries - Deliveroo - and he came and sat next to me and we got into a conversation and he told me he couldn't find another job. So I then advised him to go to an interim agency. And that was already a world opened up for him. He looked at the website but when he saw that he needed a CV, he already started stressing because he didn't have a printer at home. And he didn't have a computer at home either. So that's someone who wants to work, who is really looking for work, but it’s already such a barrier for him to just get there. And those are things we don't even think about.
Indeed. Because that first contact, that job application via LinkedIn, you could still do all that via your smartphone. You don't need a computer, a printer, knowledge of programmes like Word and so on. At the same time, for the second time you now give as a tip to sign up with a temp agency - they have helped you and actually that is already a kind of low-threshold channel for many people to get into the job market.
So are there any other things you would like to pass on to people taking their first steps into the job market today? And who experience limitations?
These are things that apply to many people, but even if you have completed your studies and got your master's degree, keep looking for further training, keep investing in it. Even if it may not seem immediately relevant at first sight. I did a course on coding, for example. This way, you keep on learning and these are things that will also help you. Often such things are also online, you can follow them from home. Do that. Find as many things as you can that interest you. I think that's one of the privileges of not having to be in a formal school anymore: now you can just learn what you feel like.
And of course: network.
Great. I look again at Artemis: what burning question do you still have?
Maybe a question concerning that community thing. I myself am quite an introvert, and for me it's not so obvious to say that I belong to that one community or that 'that's my community'. I do have 'my people' because I know them - but I think that's too limited to be a community. Or is that already a community too? What is a community?
That's a really good question. I think everyone is part of different kinds of communities. I have a community where I can go for certain things,.... And it's also kind of important to build a very diverse set of communities. I think it's going to be a bit too limiting if you expect that 1 community is going to be able to do everything for you. And you're really allowed to be part of all kinds of different types of communities: all parts of yourself are allowed to find a home in them.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Try to get to know yourself as much as possible. Both professionally, mentally and relationally. An employee is something holistic and all things affect each other. Mental health is a part of that and that is something we should also include more in our workplaces. That is really something very important.
And what have you undertaken or what might you be doing to get to know yourself better?
A lot of things. I go to a therapist, I do mindfulness workshops which I also try to bring in everything, that helps me. I read a lot of books by e.g. Eckhart Tolle, that's really one of my greatest [I'm a fan of his!] and Michael Singer too, those are also really good books. Those are things you can do yourself, that also really helps with those self-limiting beliefs.
I am amazed by your wisdom.
It was very pleasant meeting you.
>>> You were listening to Let's Talk, the podcast where we feed the dialogue on inclusion in the labour market, highlight impactful initiatives and let lesser heard voices have their say. Were you captivated, did this conversation make you think, would you like to be one of our next guests yourself? Let us know, follow us on social media and be sure to subscribe to this podcast series!