Q and A with Dr. Carmela from Aruba, Netherlands Antilles, living in Jacksonville, Florida
“I was mostly ‘the only one’ across my career. The only Black woman. I’ve led in places women were not supposed to lead. I worked in places where I was in charge, and people walked past me to someone who was white; they were unable to wrap their heads around having to come to me. I’ve led in places where other leaders refused to sit next to me.”
Q: What are you passionate about?
A: I’m Dr. Carmela Nanton and I am currently passionate about two things: leadership (women’s leadership specifically), and diversity and inclusion. These passions crystallized in me over the years spent in the workplace and around the world. Founder and CEO of Carmel Connections Inc., an award-winning author, educator, and program designer, I have worked locally and traveled globally developing 2,500+ leaders and managers in leadership and cross-cultural competency, in 100 cities and across 14 countries. I have also curated and led leadership development intensives using the world as a classroom.
The award-winning books in the Hard-Wired to Lead women’s leadership series focus on power secrets, the code of silence, and reconstructing leadership culture. The series is framed in the domestic violence behaviors and empathy deficiencies that are prevalent in our society and mirrored in the workplace leadership culture, showing up as abusive undiscussable behaviors like underrepresentation, persistent wage gaps, being passed over, sexual harassment, sexism, and gender bias against women. Especially those who are ambitious and hard-wired to lead.
I also host the Talk4Leaders Podcast focusing on women’s leadership undiscussables and personal or professional challenges. My current focus is working on facilitating the Hard-wired To Lead – Smart Executive Women’s conference series, to help companies create inclusive cultures, and with women as executives and entrepreneurs as they make their personal powershifts to 1) accelerate their careers to go after that promotion, 2) reposition their knowledge and skills to expand to another career or company, or 3) reinvent or reimagine themselves or their purpose into company ownership and making a better life for themselves and family.
Q: What were your younger years like?
A: I was born in Aruba, and am the third of seven children, the second of two girls, so I learned I had to ‘fight’ my way through and speak up for myself if I was going to be heard. I had my first gender-based argument at around 11 years old, with an exchange student and have been advocating for women’s equality ever since. Our parents raised the girls to be independent and self-sufficient, and I’m grateful for that to this day. We did not know we were poor, but we had hand-me-downs and a lot of fun. My early education was in Dutch, I was passionate about music, played violin in HS and College orchestras, was a soloist, sang in choirs, including acapella, and was a choir and drama director. I loved the idea of traveling the world and did so vicariously by voraciously reading any books I could find, (I even was caught reading in class on occasion).
My spiritual side was developed early. I had my first opportunity to teach a class of peers as a teen and my eclectic religious upbringing resulted in my being twice ordained and licensed in two denominations. Teaching showed up in organizations as training and development of staff and professionals and educating leaders worldwide. Education was always critical and important in our family, and I took education and learning to heart adding valedictorian and other credentials to my experience. One of those was in biological science that evolved into transfusion medicine specialist, coordinated an FMA continuing medical education program for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and state re-licensure programs for allied health personnel. I received a community service award for developing the largest donor program county-wide. Masters in human resource/organization development and counseling psychology; board certification as executive leadership and business coach; and an earned doctorate in organizational leadership and adult education round out my educational preparation. I taught leadership, multicultural leadership, and management at the university level for more than a decade, ultimately receiving the legacy top black educator award, and two nominations for the Who’s Who of Teachers awards.
I played sports, still love sports, and am highly competitive, yet teamwork, skill diversity, and collaboration are vital if we want to win. Being the underdog and winning against the odds is also a pattern in my life. I led my first winning teams when I was a teenager -against the odds. I’ve led in companies and was fast-tracked with promotions to leadership positions -against the odds. I combine knowledge, business intelligence, and expertise to coach, train, and bring value to others.
Q: What is something valuable you’d like others to know?
A: I was mostly ‘the only one’ across my career. The only Black woman. I’ve led in places women were not supposed to lead. I worked in places where I was in charge, and people walked past me to someone who was white; they were unable to wrap their heads around having to come to me. I’ve led in places where other leaders refused to sit next to me. Then there were the places where people sought me out to find out if I was ‘real,’ because they didn’t think they would ever see a woman of color hold the positions I held. I traveled to places where they had never seen a Black woman in person and where some tried to rub the brown off my skin. The leadership positions were held in healthcare, for-profit, not-for-profit, government, education, the church, and on Boards. Here’s some of what I learned over time that I want you to also learn from reading my story:
- My voice was given to me at birth, it authenticated my life’s existence. In communication, it is my expression of personal power and leadership impact as I use it for strategic advocacy, sparingly, with wisdom.
- Diversity is inherent in everything and should be celebrated through our bodies, our interests, our perspectives, our gift mix, in people and in the environment. Diversity must be leveraged as a business imperative if companies truly want the competitive edge, the profits, the best decisions, and global leadership advantage.
- Women can and do lead anywhere they are given opportunity, and companies do better when their C-Suite includes women.
- Introverts make great leaders; they don’t just talk -they think and do.
- After working in life-and-death situations with zero tolerance for errors (because they literally could kill) I learned that quality wins out over quantity and speed every time. Speed is important -don’t get me wrong’ but not to the point where corners are cut, and steps are skipped.
- I had to be a lifelong learner, so I try to learn something new every day.
- Know your circle and be strategic about your network connections. There are those whose eyes light up when you enter a room, who want to help you. There will also be others who will refuse and even overtly thwart your advancement. Connect with those who are doing what you want to do or who can help you grow to your highest potential. Everyone needs a coach and a mentor; I am one of them and I have them.
- Always stay true to your values, know when to say “No,” take care of yourself so you can add value from your overflow, and remain in alignment and in integrity in your purpose and practice.
- We are all gifted in something. Don’t let others put down your accomplishments or cause you to hide your achievements just because they don’t have them or to make them feel better. Follow your dreams -they don’t go away.
Q: What does feminism mean to you?
A: I stood at the same debate desk as Benazir Bhutto at Oxford Roundtable, UK, heart racing, as I argued for women’s leadership and the burden of proof. They said I was a feminist. To me, feminism means being able to be authentically me in a world that does not intentionally misrecognize me based on their systems and categories of where they think I belong and what they think I can do. Rather, it means being accepted and granted equal opportunity without having to break through the discriminatory glass-, concrete-, money- and gender-biased ceilings women who are ambitious and hardwired to lead have had to deal with for decades. Simply put it means removing the invisible but impenetrable limiting barriers that block self-determination and full unimpeded actualization of my healthcare rights, personal power, leadership potential, and possibilities. As. I. Am.
It took me a while to figure out that it’s not about hiding who we are as women so that we can fit into the prescriptive spaces society (and men) create for us, but playing full out using the gifts that are unique to me as a woman. It means shining my light without the ever-present, ever-oppressive ‘burden of proof’ that hangs over the heads of accomplished women even though the evidence of her competence is clear. Feminism to me means creating an inclusive world that does not require us to be twice as good, twice as educated in the ‘masculine’ skills while the competence bar of opportunity is continually raised, and the goalposts constantly moved to keep them unattainable for us. The power of ‘feminine’ or soft skills is increasingly vital to business success in a global society. We still don’t get it that when women thrive, everyone thrives. Feminism to me means being equal, and self-determining, recognized as competent leaders, broadly experienced, deeply knowledgeable, yet fully feminine and phenomenal all at the same time with our society and world celebrating and fully accepting of who and all that I am.
MORE ABOUT DR. CARMELA: I have been married for 34 years, have three children (a son and twin daughters), and grandchildren. I enjoy nature, iced macchiatos-straight, vanilla ice cream, traveling, and music.
Thank you for reading!
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