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The Wonder Woman Disrupter Next Door: Catching Up With Tanya Odom

It's been a year since 'Disrupters' hit the book shelves. Tanya Odom speaks up about her past year of adventure, reinforcing the idea of how this Wonder Woman can do just about anything.

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Tanya Odom, global consultant and coach has spent a lifetime honing her "powers" as a leading a voice for human rights, diversity, equity and mindfulness. While some may point to the usual characteristics that set Odom apart -- her grit, smarts, humility, authenticity and that certain something that is hard to put a name to -- most likely it's her vulnerability that may just be her biggest disruptive, Wonder-Woman-like super power. After a year since Disrupters introduced readers to Tanya, we sit down for a conversation to discuss her path of disruption and self-care.

Robin Marchant | Getty Images

What have you been up to since Disrupters hit the shelves?

These past few years have been particularly difficult for managers who are faced with leading during uncertainty. While I continued to facilitate conversations globally, including with several U.N. entities focused on connecting people and starting dialogues highlighting the current social-political climate that can often be divisive and stressful to talk about. I also welcomed new clients, relationships and projects this year. The work enabled me to work in a more consistent frequency with teams, small groups and committees, including a lot more work with diversity and inclusion within the tech sector.

The topics I work on are heavy; they can weigh on you. What happens outside of work becomes just as important as inside of work. Like most, I live an integrated life. This year has been particularly difficult. My father passed away in mid-February. I have learned a lot about grief, healing and vulnerability. I have much more empathy for people who are caring for others, or dealing with illness, or “carrying a load” that is not always visible.

To keep myself grounded and healthy so that I can continue to help move conversations forward, I also had to take care of myself. I participated in an online conference called Mindful Leadership, had several play dates with my niece and nephew, was intentional about being present for friends dealing with serious illnesses. I ended the year on the last day of 2018 in a salt cave, focused on relaxation and well-being.

Related: The Wonder Woman Disrupter Next Door: Catching Up with Industrial Psychologist and HR Technology Enthusiast Dr. Gabby Burlacu

The loss of your father is so very sad. And, unfortunately, something that our fellow disrupter, Brenda Reid, and I have experienced since Disrupters was written and hit the shelves. Grief is so hard to work through -- and between your work and your loss, that’s some heavy stuff. How have you worked through these heady topics in an integrated life approach?

As the social and political climate continues to change and create stress for many, the ability to create spaces for learning becomes even more important. This is part of my work that I am involved with. Mindfulness, compassion and self-awareness are part of this work for me and my clients. Sharing my awareness about loss, grief, and healing proved to be more helpful then I could have imagined.

We are all human. We all experience fear, sorrow, pain and loss. As a disrupter who works on these very human topics in both the public and private sectors around the globe, how are you working with other disrupters doing similar work to make a broader impact?

I am part of a larger community of diversity, equity and inclusion consultants and coaches. Ideally, I think we collectively challenge the status quo to ensure access, equity, fairness and opportunities for all individuals. This might mean asking the hard questions, or challenging leadership, writing a post/blog that share different perspectives, or intentionally organization/creating a space, workshop, dialogue, or conference that focuses on the important issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

My disruption is about disrupting systems and historical legacies that have valued, seen, heard and empowered some people more than others. We know that the work is not always easy, but we continue, because we know it is important. My work is not in only in one industry or one country. Like a scientist, or puzzle wiz, I weave together what I learn from different projects, organizations and places. 

Related: How This HR Technology Executive Became a Champion for Disadvantaged Teens Through Her Disruptive Actions

That is exactly what disrupters do and they also know that not every context will fit every weaved-together solution we create. How has leading this kind of disruption informed how you enable your clients to use their own power for the individual and collective good?

As you outlined in the chapter about me, I was not thinking about being a “disrupter,” when I professionally started doing this work. If there is something that someone can take from my journey/my work it might be that there are ways to use who you are, what you know, and what you do well. For me, it grew out of a unique and diverse background, curiosity and then leveraging the opportunities, mentors, and experiences that allowed me to see a “profession” in my passion.

I would say that one area that I am working in right now that feels in need of additional disruption, is that of wellbeing in the workplace. Awareness of its importance, tools to support wellbeing, and modeling of environments that have a sincere commitment to understanding and implementing additional programs, resources, etc.

People are continuing to divide based on bias-based values, personal impacts of socio-economic policies, and the like. As you look ahead, what steps are you going to take to continue to work toward a more inclusive world.

To continue to work on inclusive environments for all, I also must work on my own self-care. This includes continuing to speak, facilitate and present about topics that I believe our important to our shared community, sharpening my skills in workshops and retreats, and writing more. In fact, I was asked to write a children’s book, so I want to make sure that this starts happening soon.

In terms of self- care, I will bring forward into 2019 what I was reminded of in 2018: The importance of quiet time. A wise person once told me that we are first to break out of our own boundaries. This year, I am committed to work on that, to create and observe more solid boundaries. This includes more non-scheduled free time, more time to think, process and even do nothing!

Related: Catching up With Supply Chain Expert and Disrupter Lisa Morales-Hellebo

Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold has been a bestseller for Entrepreneur Press since the day it launched in January 2018.  In 2019, I will catch up with many of the disrupters from the book to find out what’s happened since we last caught up and how they are continuing to redefine what success looks like and how it can be achieved.

Rather than telling women that they need to lean in more in order to achieve someone else’s definition of success, the women profiled in Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold help us see why women do not need to be fixed and why men do not need to be blamed and shamed in order to achieve gender equity in the workplace. Rather, true success for both genders requires a deep understanding of the embedded biases inherent in a system designed for one population to have all the power and all the glory. So much so that in order for someone to succeed, someone must fail. Disrupters know this is a flawed and dangerous status quo, one that stunts innovation and leaves trillions of dollars on the table every year.

Patti Fletcher

Written By

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Patti Fletcher, Ph.D., is the author of Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women Who Break the Mold (Entrepreneur Press 2018), gender equity advocate and expert authority on how to create a culture of inclusion to drive real business results. Fletcher is recognized as a futurist; a student of the inclusive talent economy and future of leadership; an innovation-through-inclusion expert; and a writer, advisor and speaker on topics related to driving progress through people. She has been featured in Time magazine, Al-Jazeera, Forbes, Newsweek, Xconomy and The Muse and advises corporate executives and board members from lean startups to Fortune 100s. Connect with Fletcher on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to vist the Workhuman blog for further insights.