Building Our Own Table: Lea Jovy-Ford
Meet the founder and CEO of Diverse Leaders Group
Hello friends, I’m delighted to introduce you - or reintroduce you - to my friend and colleague Lea Jovy-Ford. We’ve known each other for eons in online terms (that’s to say 14+ years) and have worked together more than once. She’s someone who’s just as committed to anti-racism as I am and has lots of ideas for carrying this work forward. One project that’s coming to fruition is Diverse Leaders Group, something I’m very excited about. Please meet Lea.
Lea, tell me briefly about your background prior to founding Diverse Leaders Group.
I quit the corporate rat race - as a management consultant at Accenture - after my mum died in 2003 (2 weeks to ‘recover’ was NOT enough). Since then I’ve run a variety of my own businesses. Among the numerous ideas (at one point, I had 200+ domain names registered), the most notable, impactful and ‘successful’ have been:
Coining the term ‘location independent’ and leading a world-renowned blog/business, with the original online community of digital nomads, for over a decade while living and working in places like Panama, Grenada, Buenos Aires, Dubai, Thailand, South Africa, Turkey and more.
Founding an online tech school for women and leading an event to help 1,000 women get a WordPress website set up and running in one day, with sponsorship from leading names in the industry.
Setting up an EdTech company in the middle of the pandemic, as a co-founder and COO, which we grew from a valuation of $2.5m to $10m+ within 12 months, raised $1/2m in 8 weeks and which was founded firmly on the values of diversity, equity, belonging and anti-racism.
Sadly, I resigned from that last company in June 2022, due to racism from a board member and my co-founder/CEO.
Give me the elevator pitch for Diverse Leaders Group?
Developing leaders of the future, now, to achieve equality for all.
And in more detail?
After my experience at my former company, the need for leaders who really and truly ‘get it’ was obvious. If I, as a co-founder and COO, can feel so fundamentally unsafe in a company I created - that was explicitly committed to diversity of all kinds and anti-racism - there’s something significantly wrong with ‘leadership’ as most of us know it and with how many white leaders are doing it.
The path to anti-racism - to equality - needs leaders who understand deeply why it benefits everyone, including those currently holding the most power, and who can influence people around them to walk that path with them. This is why Diverse Leaders Group exists - to identify, develop and support leaders who can lead the way to equality for everyone.
What inequity are you trying to address with Diverse Leaders Group?
All of them. We’re working hard to get everyone to the same starting line by providing the support specific communities need - we’re starting with anti-racism and will also be focusing on discrimination against neurodivergent people, Disabled people and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
These are some of the most marginalised and deliberately disadvantaged communities for whom the systems and people within them are actively working against their equal treatment.
Why is this needed now?
Obviously, it’s been needed for centuries. I think I’d defer to this quote which is in our pitch deck about the business case for DEI:
“Why should anyone need an economic rationale for affirming the agency and dignity of any group of human beings? We should make the necessary investment because doing so honors our own and others’ humanity and gives our lives meaning. If company profits come at the price of our humanity, they are costing us too much.” – Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas, Harvard Business Review, December 2020
What do you hope to achieve?
Equality for all.
Though this may not happen in my lifetime, in the meantime, I’d be happy knowing that we are building and supporting a global community of leaders who are pulling in the same direction from a deep understanding of the challenges faced and how to overcome them, and who can leave this legacy - of leading the way to equality - for younger leaders to follow on the path.
Given my experience and one of the goals (decolonising education) at my former company, I’d like to take a swing at education to help identify and nurture these young leaders of the future. We need leaders - of all kinds, of all ages - who can LEAD the way to equality.
Why have you started with Anti-Racist Leaders?
Along with patriarchy, which has just as deep-seated, systemic and historical roots, I believe racism is the most difficult and damaging (and frankly cruel) form of discrimination that exists.
Why is anti-racism important to you, both personally and professionally?
As a Brown person living in the UK, I experience the impacts of racism every single day. I see my kids experiencing it too. It impacts the way I and they walk through the world, and are seen by the world, personally and professionally.
We recently moved from a small market town to a bigger city because I wanted my kids to experience being able to walk into the town/city centre and not be the only Brown faces they saw every day. With a white wife and two white step kids, we see the difference in the way the children are treated, the judgments and assumptions that are made and the impact this has on them all…the white fragility, the angry Black/Brown trope…it plays out in front of us every day in our blended family.
None of us chose these roles and yet it is clear that stepping out of them is our work to do.
What’s your vision for the future?
My ultimate vision is one in which societies and communities recognise that concepts such as race, gender, ability, sexuality etc. are nothing more than social constructs - identifying labels - to which people have attached far more meaning than actually exists.
It sounds trite to say “we’re all humans, after all” - AND it’s the truth. It is however deeply naïve to say that, when some of those humans are protected, elevated and given power over others for no other reason than the colour of their skin…AND they have no real intention of changing that.
How can people support the work?
We have an IndieGoGo campaign running to generate the funds needed to pay our small founding team for the next 3-4 months and cover the gap before we can ramp up sales to be self-sustaining. If you’d like a cookie for your support, you can also buy one here ;)
We also offer direct, pretty personal support via the Anti-Racist Leaders Association - something you (Sharon) co-host and lead with me! This is a powerful combination of personal and professional development for anti-racism work and is ideal for leaders (and by this we mean ANYONE wanting to lead the way to anti-racism, for themselves and/or others).
Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like to add?
Yes. One of the things I think many (white) people don’t get about anti-racism is how and why they too benefit. I can think of many reasons, but the biggest and most fundamental is: Freedom.
In the work of anti-racism, it’s very clear there ARE two sides - the perpetrators (white people) and the victims (Black, Brown and Indigenous people). NONE of us chose these roles - we are ALL victims of the actions/roles of our ancestors.
Just like good couples therapy recommends, instead of standing on opposite sides of an argument and fighting each other, shall we stand on the same side, united against ‘the problem’, and fight it together?
Thanks, Lea. Folks, feel free to check out the links above to learn more about and support Diverse Leaders Group and the Anti-Racism Leaders Association. You can also follow Lea on LinkedIn for insightful reads on what it takes to build an anti-racist business.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Background image courtesy of Getty Images - Colors Hunter - Chasseur de Couleurs