A woman has to know her worth to move forward in her career. How do we become more committed to ourselves so we can stand in our greatness? In this episode, Rosie Zilinkas sits down with Kelly Charles-Collins, a personal and professional development expert. Kelly talks about her transformative V Suite framework and how it helps women in their professional and personal lives. The V Suite consists of three key elements: Vision, empowering individuals to create their life’s vision; Visibility, encouraging women to speak up for themselves and others; and Value, fiercely demanding one’s professional worth. Kelly also shares two actionable tips: believing in oneself as the key to achieving anything and emphasizing self-love before loving others. Tune in and get inspired to be bold, brave, and proactive in your journey towards empowerment and success!
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Career Advancement, Workplace Transformation, And The V Suite Framework With Kelly Charles-Collins
Welcome back. Do you feel that you can bring your authentic self to work 100% of the time? Maybe 80%? Maybe 50%? Believe it or not, there are people that never feel that they can bring their authentic selves to work ever. I invited Kelly Charles-Collins to talk about what workplace culture is, why it’s important for someone to feel safe at work, and how that impacts their productivity. We’re also going to talk about the important things to look at for an organization that you’re considering joining as an employee. We’re also going to unpack what microcultures are within the organization.
From the halls of justice to the corporate corridors, Kelly Charles-Collins has dedicated her life to fostering respect, equity, and accountability in every sphere she touches. With over two decades of experience as an employment law trial attorney, she transformed her passion for justice into a mission of empowerment using her unique skillset to enlighten, engage, and inspire. Please take time to read my conversation with Kelly on workplace culture.
Kelly, thank you so much for being here. I’m going to start by asking you to define for us, what do you consider the workplace culture.
First of all, thank you so much for having me on the show. I’m very excited about this. When I think about culture, I think about the physical environment, but I also think about your emotional well-being inside of that environment. A lot of times we talk about culture and we’re thinking about what is the mission of the organization and what is their vision.
It’s also the people who are in the organization. What is their mission? What is their vision? How do they feel? Do they feel comfortable being there? Do they feel like they’re included? Do they feel like they belong there? In a real holistic view of looking at culture and not just looking at it from this almost sterile definition that people have like, “It’s workplace culture and it’s this rigid thing.”
It’s not rigid because, inside the culture, we also have microcultures. We have many microcultures within the organization, and that could be microcultures from people’s ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientation, but it also could be inside of departments. Within those departments, inside of the teams. Inside those teams, within the little clicks that are in there. Culture is an expansive thing that we need to start thinking of more broadly instead of like, “It’s this one box that we put everybody in.” Start to think going all the way down to almost the cellular level of what’s happening in the organization.
I like the way you defined it from macro down to micro because this show caters to women in the corporate world that are trying to continue to advance in their careers. A lot of times, especially in the olden days, corporations were like, “You’re an employee here. This is the only thing we’re going to see.” Now, employees are trying to be more themselves and bring their whole selves. I was at a diversity conference. One of the speakers there represented the LGBTQ community.
Where was the conference?
I was in New York. It was the Inclusion in Insurance Conference. The speaker that was there, said, one of the scariest questions that an individual in the LGBTQ community that hasn’t come out is, “How was your weekend?” It’s because you don’t know, “Do I say how my weekend was? Do I not say how my weekend was?” More and more, people want to be real with their coworkers and try to bring their whole selves into this workplace culture.
What are some of the challenges that you have encountered with bringing that workplace culture? As you said, there are so many different segments. From the corporate perspective, they’re trying to engage people with, for example, employee resource groups. There are a lot of employee resource groups. There are the young professionals, the Latinos, and the LGBT. What are some of the challenges that you have encountered when we’re talking about that workplace culture?
I’m a Black woman. Being Black in the workplace and being Black in America is a very challenging thing. I was watching a video of a young Black man at his graduation, and he was talking about what it’s like being a Black male or being a Black person in our educational society and the things that we have to go through. Just being able, easy thing, our hair. As a black woman, our hair is a bone of contention. Why? It grows out of my scalp. That’s the way it grows out of my scalp naturally, but I’m not supposed to wear my hair like that because there’s a conversation about whether that is professional or not.
Think about that. When I get up in the morning and I have to think about, “Do I get to wear my natural hair or do I have to now go put chemicals in my hair that somewhere down the road could cause me health issues? Somebody thinks it’s unprofessional when there are people who don’t have to worry about that.”
Non-Black women don’t have to get up in the morning and be like, “I can’t wear my real hair. I have to put on a wig. I have to put on a weave. I have to relax my hair.” There are things like that in terms of being able when you say show up authentically, do we mean that? We have organizations that are like, “We want you to bring your whole self to work.” Are you sure about that one? Is it what you believe to be professional and appropriate in terms of bringing my whole self to work?
I’m working with a lawyer right now, and she’s a speaker. We’re working on her talk, and she’s talking about mental health. One of the things that she talks about is this whole idea of being in these spaces and trying to be normal. What does that mean for somebody who’s having mental health challenges? What does that mean to be normal? How hard are you fighting every single day to “normalize” your behavior so that you’re not ostracized inside of this culture or look like somebody that’s out of the norm of what is “culturally acceptable?”
You have to go down to the microcultures and the individual level when we’re talking about culture because people say that we all experience life differently, but what we experience in life is individually. Think about if you have a sibling. There are siblings who were raised in the same household by the same people with the same experiences and their lives or the way that they experience that life is different. Why? At an individual level, that person’s also experiencing that thing, but our individuality has us experience it differently.
When we start to talk about bringing our whole selves to work, culture, and all of that, sometimes, we just have to mind our business. Sometimes we have to be more open and not think. Part of what’s happening now too, if you hear it in discourse is, “I don’t want you to do this. I don’t like that you do this. I don’t like this. Therefore, you can’t.” Why do you get to tell me what I can and cannot do?
A lot of it is about minding our own business and thinking about, now if that person is transgender or if this person decides that because of their religion, they need to wear a hijab, does that impact you? Does that impact your life? It’s getting to thinking about people as human beings, and then, minding our business about some of this stuff. If you are curious, then ask questions out of curiosity as opposed to trying to demean or diminish somebody.
One of the things that I want to acknowledge is I always say, “Live and let live.” As you say, it doesn’t matter to me what other people do or don’t do, what their religion is, or whatever. I’m by no means ever trying to change anybody or even convince someone else of my beliefs because they’re my beliefs. I always say, “This is what I believe. You can believe whatever you want. Let’s agree to disagree, live, and keep moving.
I will never understand those people that want to change others so that they think like themselves. Why? Is it power? Is it control? It’s a little bit of both. It’s very perplexing to me. You said it’s none of your business. I’ve heard a couple of people say, “It’s none of your business what anybody else thinks about you either. I try not to concern myself about people if they like me or if they don’t like me. Everybody wants to be liked, but at some point, you can’t worry about it. You can’t be so preoccupied that someone doesn’t like you.”
Especially at work, you’re there to do your job. We want you to be as authentic as you feel comfortable. You said, “People grow up differently in the same household.” I’m 1 of 5. There’s a span of 15 years between my oldest sister, I’m number 3, and my youngest sister. Exact same parents, exact same values, but by the time the 3rd and the 4th came around, my parents were tired. The parents that my old two older sisters got were different. By the time I came around, they started to relax, and then 4 and 5, they were like, “Whatever.”
We’re all so different. We have very different perspectives. I’m 100% Mexican. We lived in Mexico City for about ten years when I was a kid. When I moved to the States, it was, “Do I act Mexican? Do I not? Do I speak Spanish? Do I not?” The other day, someone said to me, “You pass as White.” I was a little shocked because I never even thought of myself as passing. It’s so interesting when you have a background that’s not normal, as you say, White in America. There are different perspectives and different challenges that you have to go through. When it comes to employee engagement and talking about corporations trying to retain employees and keep them to be engaged, how do that workplace culture and employee engagement go together?
If people don’t feel safe, they don’t feel included. They don’t feel like they belong. They don’t feel that they can say something and it’s going to be addressed, or say something, it’s going to be valued, then they’re going to shut down. That’s common sense. That’s how we operate in life. If you’re in a space and you’re talking and trying to give your opinion or share an idea, and every time you share an idea, it gets shut down. There’s a meeting and you’re never the one invited to the meeting. There’s a stretch assignment and you never get the assignment. You keep applying for jobs and you never get them. At some point, you’re going to shut down.
There should be no mystery inside corporations about why there is disengagement. It could be the leadership. It could be the executive leadership. It could be the management level. Sometimes the executive team wants everything to be good, but then who do you have running every day? When we talk about the microcultures, who you have running every day is impacting the way that people are showing up in the organization.
There are so many things that impact employee engagement. You have people who are in your organization that they’re living paycheck to paycheck. They can’t afford to pay for medication. When they woke up, they had to decide whether they were going to put gas in the car to come to work, be able to put food on the table, be able to pay for their child’s music classes, or be able to put them into a dance class or something.
There are so many things that when we talk about culture, it’s not just what’s happening in the organization. It’s what people bring with them every day to work, what’s happening outside. When you have the pressure and the pressure cooker of an organization where now, “I have all of this happening out here. Now I come in here and you make me feel like I’m nobody, or there’s so much pressure.” Sometimes, especially when you talk about Black people and Black women in particular, there’s this pressure for us to be over excellent. I don’t even know if that’s a word, but to be excellent beyond. Also, to exercise such restraint because we have labels of being the angry Black woman, etc.
When we think about all of those things, there should be no shock that people are not even not engaged, they’re actively disengaged. When you think about Millennials and Gen Z, they’re disengaged because they want to do things the way we’ve always done things. I’m a Gen X-er, so we’re in the middle. We get lost. People don’t think about us too much. They want to work differently. They want to operate in this world differently. They have the unique ability to create economies that we didn’t have.
They’re very much into social responsibility and all those things. If you don’t allow them to be who they are, they will disengage and they’ll go talk about you on TikTok. You wonder like, “Why is my reputation like this? What’s happening? Why can’t we keep people? Why can’t we get people?” Go look on TikTok. Go look on Glassdoor. Go look at all these places to see what people are saying. It is not what’s happening in the organization, but what happens there also filters out into the family and the society at large. What’s happening out there filters in. It’s a hodgepodge of things that cause that.
We’re going to go through your V Suite Framework. As far as courageous conversations, and if you want to be more authentic, let’s talk about the Black woman in the corporate world. How can the Black woman in the corporate world be more authentic through those courageous conversations to try to be more engaged? You know that if you’re disengaged, you’re not going to be recognized and you’re not going to be up for that promotion. The thing that I want is, how do we get the Black woman to be engaged? What do they do?
The first thing to recognize is that most often it’s not our responsibility. We are being required as Black women to fix what we didn’t break. When you’re saying, “How do we get you to engage? How do we get you to have these courageous conversations?” The reason we don’t engage in these conversations is that when we do, we’re penalized for it. When we do, we’re called the angry Black woman. When we do, we are met with White woman tears. You want to put a responsibility on us for something that is not ours.
Secondly, though, this is for everybody who wants to have these conversations, is to understand why do you want to have this conversation. If you’re saying, “We should have this conversation about this difficult issue or this toxic situation.” Why do I want to have that conversation? What am I trying to get across? What am I trying to clear up? What am I trying to solve? How do I want this to end? How do I want it to be resolved? When you say, “How do we get you to be more authentic?” We try to be authentic, but that’s the problem. We’re not allowed to be authentic.
Therefore, it’s going to shut you down and you’re not going to want to engage in these conversations. When we’re asked now to then do it, it’s like this is a dog and pony show. You have me doing things that I know that if I’m authentic, and if I say some of the things, like if I talk about White women’s tears, or if I said the reason we don’t talk is because we have retribution for speaking up. If I feel that that’s what’s going to happen to me, I’m not going to speak because again, we have to think about safety. Our brains are fight, flight, and freeze. We’re always looking and our mind is going to try to protect us.
A lot of women are the breadwinners of their families. They may be the only ones. They may be single. They don’t want to lose their job. As Black women, we know that we have a better chance of being labeled, and then when you were doing well, all of a sudden, your performance reviews look like this. Now you’re slowly being moved out the door.
When you think about courageous conversations and you think about responsibility, it’s everyone’s responsibility to have these conversations. If you notice that there are Black, Brown, Asian, Latina, I don’t care who it is, who have somehow disengaged, then especially as managers and leaders in the organization, it’s your responsibility to go figure out how to have a conversation with that person and to understand why that person is disengaged. Not just to have the conversation to say, “I talked to them. Whatever. I did it.” To be genuinely interested in resolving the issue so that that person who may have been engaged before, who’s now actively disengaged comes back to being engaged.
That’s fabulous for the manager to genuinely want to engage. I know a few people that are male, White, and they’re managers. I know them on a personal level and they can’t have a conversation. I always wonder, not just White males, but anybody that can’t lead, that can’t have the conversation, that can’t have that courageous conversation. I always think we as people need to provide good solid training for any manager, but specifically for the middle managers that have those direct reports. If you are not able to have a conversation with your direct report, then there’s something wrong there.
It’s so funny. One of the things that I learned is, when George Floyd was murdered, companies all over were calling me and having me do listening sessions so that we could have these conversations. What I learned in those conversations was that it’s not that people don’t want to have conversations. They don’t know how to have conversations. They don’t have the skills. That’s why I created my framework, the “PER”fect Framework to show people. That’s what I train organizations on.
I’ve created a card deck called The Convo Catalyst Card Deck and expanding my training to be an interactive workshop where we will go through the framework and the process of having these conversations. Organizations can buy the card deck and it has 52 scenarios. They can go through it. It could be a team builder. It could be an icebreaker. to be able to practice because practice makes perfect.
Part of it, what I learned was, people are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, not knowing where to start, and destroying a relationship if they have this conversation. Two things I always talk about, and I mentioned them before, but when you’re preparing to have the conversation, understand why you want to have the conversation and what you want to get out of it.
I always talk about those as the book ends. That’s the P part of it, the Preparation. I tell my clients all the time, if they don’t know anything else or don’t remember anything else Kelly tells you, if you remember those two things, that will direct the tone and tenor of the conversation because you can always be thinking, “This is not why I wanted to have this conversation. If I keep going like this or if this keeps going like this, it’s not going to have the outcome that I intended.” Even those two things, but also, being very prepared to have the conversation.
To your point about new managers or emerging managers, but even some senior level managers, not having the ability to have the conversation because they’re not prepared to have the conversation. They haven’t done their research. Something comes to them. They may be under pressure. We know that they may be under pressure so they have to have this conversation. Understanding that once they do have the conversation, it’s a dialogue.
I’m not here to debate you. I’m a lawyer. I love to debate, but in management and these spaces, it’s more about mentoring, coaching, and trying to come to an understanding if that’s what you want to do. If you truly, as a manager, invested in making your people better, then you should want to have this conversation where you’re both understanding. You should want to come to that conversation with information.
To me, it’s disrespectful to come into a conversation like performance reviews or some type of, “I need to talk to you about something.” When you start to say, “I heard that you did this. Your sales are bad. You didn’t complete this assignment.” The person’s like, “Show me. What do you have?” That’s disrespectful. That’s going to go nowhere fast.
Part of it is about being respectful, being prepared to have the conversation, understanding why, checking yourself around your biases, and all of that kind of stuff. The whole framework is there and then reflecting on it after you’ve had the conversation, “What could be better? What could be changed? What do I need to do? What do I need to follow up on?” You’re right, and it’s so funny that you say that because I, in 2022, was like, “This is what I want to focus on. I want to focus on how to have these conversations because I believe conversations change things.”
It’s funny because at that same diversity conference that I was at, there was a gentleman, Chris Desantis, and he talked about the four generations that are in the workforce. He’s talking about the Baby Boomers and the Gen X-ers like us saying or labeling the Millennials as entitled. What he talked about was, we are parents, Baby Boomers and ourselves. Especially us because the Baby Boomers were like, “You are to be seen and not heard. If I say you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it without any questions asked.” The Gen X-ers became parents. We wanted to do it differently. We wanted to ask questions, have a dialogue with our kids, and have them be curious, and ask questions. These children are now coming into the workforce as Millennials and Gen Z-ers.
They are parents too.
We as Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers now are surprised that they’re asking all these questions. He’s like, “Why are we surprised? We raised these kids.” It was enlightening for me because I used to be one of those like, “These kids are entitled. They’re asking so many questions.” He’s like, “They want to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing and why it matters. If it doesn’t matter to them, then they’re going to go somewhere else.” I was like, “That is enlightening because we expect them to think the way we thought.” I see that in my kids.
I have 2 young 20-somethings. Our thought processes are completely different. I wouldn’t do it, and then I have to remind myself, “They are not me. They are doing their own thing. I tell them what I think, and then they decide.” It’s so completely different. Who knows what’s going to happen with the Gen As? The Gen Alphas that are going to be coming in.
Help us. Even in those conversations, as you say, when you’re thinking about managing across generations, because we still even have some places, five generations, we still have some traditionalists who are in our organizations. When you’re managing across generations, you have to be so mindful of that. “Something I may say to a Gen X-er if I say the same thing to a Millennial, I have one.” My son is a Millennial. If I say something to him the way that it was said to me or my thought process, they’re like, “You all are aliens and I don’t know what you’re thinking about.”
We were raised right to go to school, do this, get your job, and then be there and do the things. They’re not raised in that situation. They’re raised to know that they can go, be, do whenever, however, why ever. They are “why” people. They want to understand why. For us, we’re like, “Do as you’re told.” We do as we’re told. There are rules. We follow the rules. They want to know why is that the rule because for them, that rule might not make sense and it doesn’t fit into the way that they think and see the world because their world is so much bigger than the world that we were growing up in. You have to be able to be culturally competent to manage all of that.
It’s funny too because my parents were very much like, “Do what I tell you to do.” When my kids were little and they didn’t want to eat what I made and my mom’s like, “I don’t know why you give them a choice.” I’m like, “I want them to eat what they want.” It’s so funny. I know that you have this V Suite Framework. I want to shift the conversation a little bit because I know that’s a powerful framework. I know that there are four components to it, Vision, Voice, Visibility, and Value. I’d like to spend the rest of our time talking about that because the V Framework is so powerful for any woman that is trying to do things a little bit differently so that they can continue to see different ways to advance. Let’s go through your V Suite Framework.
I say it’s the V Suite where women own their vision, their voice, their visibility, and their value. It’s so important because we have been programmed. Society has programmed us from the times we were little girls and even now in our workplaces around who we should be, what we should say, how we should show up, and what we should wear. Wait your turn. Don’t speak too loud. We’ve had all of these things put upon us and because of that, we have become complicit in our erasure, the erasing of our value.
There should be no mystery around why we have this whole thing about there being a sticky floor where we can’t get out of low and mid-management. There’s a glass ceiling because we can’t get past a certain thing. We have bought into so much of what is there and there’s a fear of being able to break out and be free. For me, the V Suite is that freedom. It’s that place where you say, “I am more committed to my freedom. I’m more committed to standing in my greatness and my value than I am to being complicit in my erasure.”
When I think about the four components, when you think about vision, think about what is the vision for your life. Not the vision that everyone created for you, not the vision that we as Gen X-ers when our parents were like, “Go out into the world and this is what you need to do.” Many of us are living in a vision that was created for us instead of living in the vision that we truly desire for ourselves. We sit and are with ourselves and we’re like, “I wish my life looked like this.”
Start to create that vision of that with all five senses. Think about what life looks like. It’s life as an individual, it’s life in whatever partnerships, it’s life as a parent, it’s life as an employee or a business owner, whatever that is. Create that vision. I always say, write it down and make it plain because it has to be something that you are so committed to and that you’re aligned with.
Your voice, we know we are being silenced. They’re always trying to take away our voice. Sometimes, leveraging your voice does mean being silent. There are times when there is real power in being silent, but there are also many more times when we have to be vocal. It doesn’t mean that you have to be loud. It doesn’t mean that you have to be harsh. We need to know that as women, we need to speak up and speak out. It’s not just for ourselves, we need to do that for others.
Oftentimes, we don’t speak up for other women because we fair that there’s backlash and retribution and we don’t want to be on the other side of that. I talk about it in my TEDx when I talked about the bystander effect and I said, “In our silence lies complicity.” When we are silent when those things are happening, we go to the bathroom, and be like, “I’m so sorry that happened,” but in the space where it’s happening, we don’t stand up, that’s a real problem.
Part of being out there, gaining your freedom, and stepping into your greatness is leveraging your voice, and then being visible, whatever that means for you. It’s funny. I’m a speaker, but I’m a quiet person and I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I know I should be on social media, but I don’t want to be on social media. I don’t want to tell you my business. I want to work. I want to do what I do to impact the world, but we do have to be visible. Me being visible is what caused me to end up losing my job as a lawyer, my last job, because I started building my brand and my boss didn’t like it and questioned me about it.
They started doing things to diminish me, to silence me, and to make me feel less than. They were trying to take away the power, but they didn’t realize I had already stepped into the V Suite. I was doing the things that I know that I needed to do. In the end, they said, “We’re letting you go because we can’t afford to pay you. You’re wonderful.” That was the downfall. I could see it happening. We have to understand that sometimes that visibility is going to threaten and we have to know that you are not the problem. You’re not intimidating as they say. They’re intimidated.
What other people think about you is not your business. You can’t let other people’s shortcomings keep you from your destiny and what you want to do. Be visible. It doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere all the time. It means optimizing your presence. Be in the places that you need to be. If you need to be seen at a meeting, then you need to be there. If you’re at the meeting and you have to raise your hand and ask a question. When I’m out, if I’m at a conference or anywhere, I’m going to ask a question because I need you to know that I’m there. I’m a business person and I’m a speaker. I need people who are in that room to say, “We could hire her to be a keynote speaker or to be a trainer.”
Be intentional and strategic. If you’re like me, who is an ambivert, be intentional and strategic about your visibility, and then, hold on, guard, and fiercely demand your value. I always say value and not worth. The reason that I say that is because when we attach our worth to money and somebody says, “I’m not going to pay you that,” or ” for this job, no.” All of a sudden, that has something to do with us. It’s not your worth. It has nothing to do with that. No one can ever pay your worth, but there’s an exchange of value. Whether you’re an employee in an organization or you’re a business owner, there’s an exchange of value through a product, through a service, through the hard work that you do every single day. There’s value in that.
You need to get clear about who you are and look at the things that you have accomplished in life. Forget about imposter syndrome. I don’t believe in it. I don’t think it exists. it’s something that is used to hold women back against societal programming. Think about who you are in this world. We’re high achievers. We accomplish. We move on. We forget that we’ve done these things. It’s so important for you to do that reflecting, to do that personal inventory, you’ll be so shocked.
One of my coaches had me do this years ago. She’s like, “I don’t care from way back when. Just write down.” I wrote down all these things and I was like, “You’re bad,” because you forget. Once you start to do that, operate in that space, and claim your value. You’re vocal. You’re using your voice. You have a vision for what your life looks like. You’re visible. You can feel more powerful and comfortable in commanding and demanding your value.
I love the V Suite Framework because you have all of the pieces together. I like the way you put the vision because you used all of those five senses to truly embody what is it that you want to do. A lot of people, specifically women, are put into these little boxes. It’s like, “What do you love to do that when you’re doing it, the hours melt away?” If you can monetize that, you will be like happy and fulfilled in your job regardless.
Even inside the vision also, focus on who you want to be. Often, we are so focused on doing. What do we want to do in life? No. Who do I want to be doing that? Even in the vision, who are you in that space? When it comes to raising or using my voice, when it comes to demanding your value, when it comes to being visible, then who I want to be, I can see, “I’m not going to do that because if I do that, that’s out of alignment with who I want to be in the world.” I wanted to add that in.
We already talked about voice. Visibility is also important. It’s funny because so many speakers are introverts who are out there. I’m a little bit in the middle because I’m comfortable being by myself, but I’m also comfortable out being out in social situations and stuff. How you want to be visible, that is important to you, the way that it’s important to you. As you said, social media is not necessarily an end-all-be-all for everybody. I am on social media, but I try to be very strategic about where I want to spend my time.
You said you don’t use the word worth. I have a program that I talk about knowing your worth, but I always preface it with, “The word worth means many things to many people.” I want to preface it with, “You are priceless. We’re not talking about your money value. You are worth so much.” I then talk about professional business value. I make sure that we have that same distinction. I like the way you put that as well.
I love that. I love professional business value.
I love your V Suite. That’s fantastic. Can people get any kind of V Suite download from your website?
It’s not on my website. I should put it on there now that you say that. There is a document that I created and I do it as a keynote. I have been thinking about doing this as a program for women. I’ve developed it. I haven’t put it out there in the world. I thought about it because there are things that we can do in each step to help people get out there and start to pull it together and be in community with other women who can cheer them on. I don’t know, maybe it’ll come out.
For me, it’s the awareness. When we talk about the V Suite Framework, making people aware that they have this power within them. A lot of times, it’s like, “I didn’t know I could do that.” If I can impact one person, that’s fantastic. I’m going to shift a little bit. I would like to know a little bit more about your story. You’re a lawyer turned professional speaker. You have a TEDx. How did you decide, even as you were a lawyer, that you wanted to do a little bit of something different for Kelly to impact the world? Tell me a little bit about that.
2023 is my 28th year of practicing law, but I retired after 24 years. While I practiced law, one of the things that I always told myself was, “Being a lawyer is what I did for a living, not who I was as a person.” While I was practicing, I was always doing something else. I was a teacher. I taught police academy, corrections academy, law school, and college. I taught all kinds of things. I was a mediator. I was an arbitrator. I was always doing different things. I always spoke and trained. Towards the end of my career, around 2017, I started to get an itch and I was like, “I’m tired.” I was a trial attorney all of those years. Though I loved trials, I was like, “I want to do something different.” The world was changing as we know it.
Around the end of 2017, when it was time to do your New Year’s resolutions, I wrote, “I wanted to be a professional speaker. I wanted to do a TEDx. I wanted to write a book. I wanted to lose weight.” Those were the things that I wrote there. I started doing the research to figure out, “How could I get these things accomplished?” I have not figured out the weight thing yet, even though I know what to do, that’s something that I keep putting off. The book, becoming a professional speaker, and doing the TEDx, I did all of those things in an eleven-month span while practicing law full-time.
I was sitting in a deposition one day. I was looking at the witness, I was listening to him, and I was thinking to myself, “There has got to be more than this.” That week, I had done ten depositions or something already. I was like, “There’s got to be more than this.” I remember having a conversation one day. There was something that happened and there was a Black woman who had been dragged through a lawful house and we were having a conversation about it. I wanted to make it right. This was something. We need to say something about this. I was told that we couldn’t because of how it would affect the bottom line.
That was interesting to me. I was like, “Okay.” I started to think, I was like, “That could be me.” Being the mother of a son who was a victim of police brutality, that for me was like, “We’re not going to stand up for people.” As an employment lawyer, I saw so much and I realized that so much of what was happening in organizations is not because people are inherently evil or that they wanted to harm people. Some of it is a lack of knowledge. I wanted to figure out how I could leverage all of what I had done and learned to create a larger impact in the world, and not be restricted by the rules of the different bars that I’m a member of and also somebody else paying my bills.
I started to go on this journey and try to figure out what I needed to do. I did those things. I wrote the book. I became a professional speaker. I did my TEDx. I then started planning my exit. They were also planning my exit. We’re like, “Who’s going to do it first?” I had a conversation with the HR person one day and I was like, “We both know I’m going to leave. It’s who’s going to do it first. You or me.” They ended up doing it first and that was okay because their timing was better than mine.
Sometimes we get nervous and the day that I got let go was October 22nd of 2019 in my office. I uttered to myself, “My freedom papers.” That day I knew that I was getting my freedom papers. My job ended at the end of the year, but had it not, I would be doing what I was doing, like playing footsie because I was comfortable. I had this paycheck. I had this good job, as they say. You play footsie. One foot in, one foot out. I’ll do something that I want to leave, but let me not do it now.
Had they not done that and had I not listened to the universe and said, “You said this is what you want to do. You created this vision for yourself. Now are you going to step into this?” Had I not done that when George Floyd was murdered and the whole DEI space became this thing, I would’ve not had the opportunities that I had in that space because I would’ve been working. I would’ve been trying cases. I wouldn’t have been able to go and do the things and have the conversations that I wanted to have.
Though it was scary, though it wasn’t on my timing, it was the right time. That’s why I said so important about who do you want to be in the world. I know necessarily how I was going to do all of it. Professionally speaking, I knew who I wanted to be in the world, and what my purpose is, which is the light for others to stand in their greatness. Being that person meant that I had to decide to go forward with what I said I wanted to.
That’s how I got here. I started a women’s community called Ladies Who Leverage, which we had during the pandemic. We brought all these women together. Now I work with particularly women. We’ve had two men, but particularly women who are subject matter experts to help them leverage their voice and get paid for it. Stop having to speak for free and use it to build their businesses.
I love that you want people to step into their greatness because everybody can step into their greatness. We’re afraid to pursue it because like you, you were 1 foot in, 1 foot out, and then the universe gave you what you wanted. That’s huge. I wholeheartedly believe when you put something out into the universe, it’s going to come.
It will call you to account.
At its time, not your time. I’m terrible at sayings, but it’s like, “If you want to laugh, tell God your plan, then it’s going to be something boldly different.” Kelly, this has been an awesome conversation. I love your V Suite. I love that you help people step into their greatness. I’m going to ask you one last thing. Are there maybe two tips that you want to leave our audience with?
1) To believe and stop asking other people to believe. Oftentimes, we’re like, “Do you believe in me?” They can’t believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. First is to believe in yourself and to know. I believe this about women that we are powerful at our core. Believe that about yourself and believe that you could do anything that you want to do in this world.
I’ll leave you with this. My aunt, who’s unfortunately deceased, told me this when I graduated from college. I didn’t know at the time what she meant. She said, “You cannot love anyone until you love yourself. You have to love yourself more than you love other people.” I am a giver. A lot of us are givers. We’re always giving. We’re always doing for other people. We love them more than we love ourselves, but that emptying of the vessel is not good for us. 1) Believe that you are the badass that you are. Believe that and stand in that. 2) Love you more than you love other people so that you’re not giving away everything, and then you get resentful on the other end because you’re not feeling that you’re getting anything in return.
Those are fantastic. The first one, I started doing many years ago, because I am a fact-finder. I do my research. I have 3 sisters and I have 2 or 3 best friends. When I had a problem, I would call each of them like, “I have this problem. What do you think?” Over the last decade or so, I’m like, “I don’t need to do that anymore. What do I think?” That was a huge turning point for me because now I know that I don’t have to go out and get all these opinions. I value and I believe in myself. I’m already doing your tip number one.
We don’t need to crowdsource.
This has been an awesome conversation, so I’m going to leave you with any final words that you want to say to our audience.
Be you and do you.
Thank you so much, Kelly, for your time. I very much appreciate it.
I appreciate it. Thank you for having me.
A few of the key takeaways that I got from my conversation with Kelly are pretty keen. First of all, it is so important for people to be to feel safe at work. Without feeling safe at work, they’re simply not going to be able to produce at their maximum capacity. The second thing is that Kelly taught us her V Suite Framework. Her V Suite framework is phenomenal. She says that this framework gives you freedom. It makes you more committed to yourself and you can stand in your own greatness.
To recap her V Suite Framework is fast. 1) Vision. Create a vision for your life the way you want it to be, not the way someone else tells you it should be. 2) As women, we need to speak up and speak out, not only for ourselves but also for others. For me, it’s speaking out for you and for those women coming up behind me so that they can advance in their careers. 3) Visibility. Be visible, whether it’s on social media as a thought leader, or going to talk to different leaders in the organization so that they can know who you are and you can communicate your aspirations to them.
4) Value. Kelly says, fiercely demand your value. She specifically said that she doesn’t use the word worth. I use the word worth, but I do have a caveat saying that when we say worth, we’re not talking about a dollar amount in your life because we’re all human beings, so our life is priceless. There is a professional value that you need to establish, and that’s what Kelly’s talking about. Demand your value and understand what your professional value is. Again, with this V Framework, you can attain the freedom for the life that you want.
Kelly left us with two tips. Tip 1) Believe in yourself because when you believe in yourself, you can do anything you want in this world. Tip 2) You cannot love anyone until you love yourself. That is very true. Work on yourself first, and then seek to fall in love or love someone else. As a reminder, if you have not taken my free quiz, go ahead and take it. The quiz is going to help you figure out how you may be sabotaging your own career advancement. With that, remember to be brave, be bold, and take action.
- Kelly Charles-Collins
- Ladies Who Leverage
About Kelly Charles-Collins
From the halls of justice to corporate corridors, Kelly has dedicated her life to fostering respect, equity, and accountability in every sphere she touches. With over two decades of experience as an employment law trial attorney, she’stransformed her passion for justice into a mission of empowerment, using her unique skill set to enlighten, engage, and inspire.