Mentoring
Jun 15, 2022

Black History Month Mentor Spotlights: Alexis & Aicha

February is Black History Month. It’s a time of celebrating Black achievement throughout history and today, but also serves as a reminder to fight the systemic racism and inequality that Black people around the world still face today. To honor this observance, we reached out to Alexis Curtis-Harris and Aicha Diarra - both Femme Palette mentors and inspirational women - to ask them about their career, their motivation to become mentors, advice they wished they had received at the start of their career, as well as their favorite Black role model.


Alexis Curtis-Harris, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at Penna

What do you do?

I am the Diversity & Inclusion Lead for an employer marketing, communications and recruitment company called Penna. Lucky enough to combine both my passion and my career, I work to further inclusion and belonging across organisations and to challenge the inequalities that still exist within communities and the workplace. As a culture champion I take an intersectional perspective on equality and social change. I believe we reveal a more nuanced picture of deep and specific inequalities and challenges when we recognise that our identities and social status are shaped by multiple factors. My aim is to raise cultural competence and encourage organisations and individuals to recognise and respect diversity through both their words and their actions.


Why did you decide to mentor others? 

Put simply, I decided to become a mentor as I wanted to support and encourage others like me and share the experiences I have had throughout my 14 year career. My goal is to one day become a role model for other young Black women, showing that our backgrounds and history don’t need to define us, and by letting go of societal expectation and opinions we can see the power in ourselves and our voices.  

I have been very lucky throughout my career to have been encouraged and influenced by many strong women, and I believe having these ladies in my life is what’s given me the confidence to keep on pushing and fighting for my own development and progression. 

However, there has always been a lack of Black representation in my career, and as a Black woman it's important for me to show up for others, and perhaps one day be that Black role model to them that I never had. For too long, Black voices were not represented, valued, or heard, and this ongoing damaging narrative can have huge negative impacts on young people or those who are starting their careers and in the process of developing their own identity. As someone who struggled with my identity whilst growing up and who put undue pressure on myself to fit a mould that wasn’t made for me, I understand first-hand the impact.  In the workplace, representation is vital in enabling everyone to build their own perspectives and feel able to mould their own future.  

The blessing of being Black is the united culture and collective identity and I want to support others whom I share this with. Yes, it’s important for me to be a mentor, but to be a Black mentor and therefore support in elevating that needed level of representation is where my purpose lies.

The blessing of being Black is the united culture and collective identity and I want to support others whom I share this with. Yes, it’s important for me to be a mentor, but to be a Black mentor and therefore support in elevating that needed level of representation is where my purpose lies.



What's something you wish you knew at the start of your career?

I wish I had known that it's ok to be unapologetically Alexis. What I mean by this is that early in my career I put a lot of pressure on myself to ‘fit in’ with those around me, even though this was unhealthy and it forced me to change myself. As I have developed both personally and professionally, I've learned to exist loudly and boldly, and to stand up and show up in a way that is authentic to me. I still work hard, I still challenge myself, and I still do a good job. But now, my value is held in how I see myself, and not those around me.


Who is your favorite Black role model you wish more people knew about? 

I love the Irish-Nigerian author Emma Dabiri, whose books include ‘Dont touch my hair’ and ‘What white people can do next’. She is an inspirational Black woman who has been pivotal in deepening conversations across the UK around race and belonging. For me, when I read ‘Don’t touch my hair’, and heard of her own experiences with discrimination and the stigmitisation of her afro hair, it opened my eyes to my own trauma, and helped me overcome this by understanding I wasn't alone in my experiences. It pushed me to love myself and my hair and to embrace the culture of creativity and expression with it.


Aicha Diarra, Global Support Lead at Codat

What do you do?

I am the Global Support Lead at Codat and I manage a great team of very driven, customer-focused support engineers in the UK and in the US. 


Why did you decide to mentor others? 

I really like the idea of helping people. I know that there are a lot of online resources, forums and friends, but I wanted to bring a more personable voice and real life experience to someone in need. Too often, reading experiences online seems like reading a piece of fiction, where things just happen to magically work themselves out and a lot of the step-by-step is skipped (for brevity’s sake or to smoothen up the kinks along the way). I wanted to mentor others to help them navigate exactly these issues that are too often omitted.


What's something you wish you knew at the start of your career? 

There would be two things really. Opportunities come and go - not receiving an offer for your dream role or company is fine. There are plenty of ways that you can get there - candidly look at what went wrong or can be improved to that when the next opportunity comes (and it will!), you are better equipped to make the move that failed you the previous time. I would also add ‘don’t be afraid’, especially when it comes to taking this next great opportunity that almost sounds too good to be true. It’s okay to outgrow your current role and look for an opportunity that matches your ambitions and paves the way to who you aspire to become. 

Opportunities come and go - not receiving an offer for your dream role or company is fine. There are plenty of ways that you can get there - candidly look at what went wrong or can be improved to that when the next opportunity comes (and it will!), you are better equipped to make the move that failed you the previous time.


Who is your favorite Black role model you wish more people knew about? 

This is a very tough question to be honest. That being said, I built a strong appreciation for Maya Angelou’s work: shortly after I moved to London, Maya Angelou passed, and like it often is the case, I discovered her work then. I wish more people would know about her life and her work, especially as so many of her quotes have started to be used more and more frequently mainstream.


Thank you, Alexis and Aicha, for sharing your answers, and for mentoring with us! At Femme Palette, we’re on a mission to hire more diverse mentors from around the globe. If you’d like to become a mentor, please join us!


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