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I’m packaged a little differently than my peers.


I’m honored to be joined by my dear friend, Cherie Matthews. Cherie, who is a Vice President of Talent Strategy and Development at Capital Group, has graciously consented to speak with us on the importance of preparation, tact, and focusing on characteristics that make us unique human beings.

Throughout this article, we’ll also reflect on the value of our racial heritage through the eyes of Cherie, who views her ethnicity as an asset—rather than an impediment---to her role as a corporate executive.  

Finally, we touch upon a selection of similarly pertinent topics, what does it mean to be authentic at work- how to show up at work “as our whole self,”  and how to embody positive self-assertive leadership, along with a host of enriching and informative observations.

Harpreet: The first interview question is one that many of our readers might ask—particularly if they belong to a racial or cultural minority: Can you recall any professional challenge you've faced as a leader, and as a woman of color in particular? 

Cherie: As women leaders of color, we must view our identities as positive. We offer so much breadth and depth to an organization because of our unique life experiences. The challenges we’ve faced throughout our lives prepare us for the world. They’re the essential tools for growth and resilience in this corporate environment. 


Leaders who are women and people of color come to the table with a certain degree of grit that shows up as our ability to bounce back regardless of the cards. “Grit” is one of those concepts that's truly understood by people who have faced deep personal challenges in their lives


Harpreet: I find many women in executive positions struggle with maintaining self-confidence, especially when similar role models are difficult to find. Generally speaking, what message would you share with women leaders and women of color who may be stuck in a cycle of self-doubt?

Cherie: You might want to step back and account for all of the positive things in your life. It is difficult to complain or feel too negative when you operate from a space of gratitude. To me, these exercises are extremely grounding. The power of this positivity expels the nervous energy.



Harpreet: After listening to what you’ve said, it’s clear you’ve found that positive thinking leads to positive results. Can you think of something from the past that you would have done differently, not knowing what you know today?

Cherie: Maybe I'll just speak a little bit about my upbringing because I feel like that’s coming into play here. I am the daughter of an Indonesian mom and an African American dad. Ours is a truly multicultural family. I also grew up in a neighborhood where I was surrounded by people from all walks of life, religions, cultures, and races living nearby. My schools were equally diverse. Then I went to Berkeley for my undergraduate program, where students learned to leverage teams despite their cultural differences. Then I married a Black man and had a Black son. All this was comfortable for me because of how I was brought up.

But then I think about racial injustices, especially in the United States during 2020. Many of the conversations I expected to have with my son at a later age were fast-forwarded. I never thought I’d have to explain to my then nine-year-old child what it's like to be a Black man in this country. And, in fairness, I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell that story with the nuance it truly deserves.

I remember, one day we were headed to my mom's house when he was six-years-old. We passed a street where we saw about ten police cars and our first reaction was, like, “Whoa. How cool!  Look at all of those police cars!” 

Well. After we made a left turn, all ten of those police cars were suddenly behind us. They pulled us over. Multiple police officers got out of their cars. And they had their hands on their guns. My young son was in the backseat. And this was literally thirty seconds after thinking casually, “How cool!” and suddenly not cool at all! At that point, the situation had turned into, “Oh, my God. I'm afraid for my life!”

The police came over and told us a child had been abducted and our car and driver matched the physical descriptions.  I don't think they saw me and my son in the car. 

The point is that if it were my husband driving the car alone, that story might have had a very different ending. It could have been a life-altering experience. And that was just an example of how, as a parent in 2020, I had to disseminate this experience with racial inequality which was heartbreaking and felt like I was instantly stripping my child of his innocence. I wouldn’t have done it differently… I might have just been more prepared to have this conversation proactively and sooner… maybe.


Harpreet: In light of the many complexities you juggle regularly and your many responsibilities, what does “being unapologetically Cherie” mean to you personally or professionally? How are you embodying it?

Cherie: Being unapologetically myself is really about embracing my talents and accepting my challenges and areas for growth. And I guess I would just end by saying that I'm unapologetic about my belief in the power of possibility.

I’m inspired by the book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne and the concept that expressing gratitude and cultivating a strong belief system play a fundamental role in attracting abundance and success. Recognizing and appreciating what you already have opens the door to more blessings. That's really what fuels me and helps me tackle my full plate.


Harpreet: Jumping to the next question, I would love to hear what authenticity means to you and how you demonstrate that in your daily life, especially on the professional level.

Cherie: I find many people come up with definitions of authenticity based on what they’ve learned in books and conversations, or what they see at work. But I’m not sure we spend enough time looking inward to reflect on our true identities (who we are and how we show up) and the impact of our actions. 

True authenticity is about leading from the heart - caring. It’s important to navigate the world with a sense of deeper purpose. It’s about continuously refining your approach while staying true to who you are at the core.


Harpreet: From your experience, how would you define authentic leadership in general? What have you seen in the field?

Cherie: Living with authenticity means you have deep self-awareness—that you understand the good, the bad, and the ugly. You make a conscious decision about who you want to continue to be and what you know to be successful. You’ve sat down to contemplate what propels you to thrive, and what can get in your way.  

Sometimes, on reflection and based on feedback, you realize that some of your ways are not the best ways. Therefore, you need to pivot a little bit for maximum impact.

In my case, I’m packaged a little differently than my peers and I love that. I think it’s great that I bring big hair to work and bright, colorful nails, and I don't necessarily dress in a traditional style. That said, I bring an extremely rigorous work ethic, along with a deep sense of passion and professionalism. 

As women of color, sometimes we have to calculate the risks of diverging from the standards or the cultural norms. We achieve a true sense of identity when we realize that we don't have to be what they expect us to be on the surface. 

Authenticity is reconciling in your mind those two facets of who you are versus how others expect you to be. It's truly about being intentional and allowing others to be the same.

As for me, I’m willing to use hip language now and then (thanks to my pre-teen) when I feel like it's appropriate. Sometimes I laugh so loud that people can hear me from three offices down the hall. I am generally unapologetic about what I think and intentional about how I convey it. These are a few of the infectious qualities that bring people to me and inspire people to similarly be themselves—even if they’re entirely different than who I am, or anyone else is on the team. Being vulnerable elicits a sense of trust you can feel from a mile away. It’s trusting and approachable.

Authenticity is being unafraid to sometimes let your shortcomings show. Because at the same time, you show a deep commitment to being your best.


Harpreet: I see a lot of self-love and self-belief in how you approach not caring what others think while being aware of your impact at the same time. 

Cherie: That's exactly right. I'll share one or two more points on this topic: I enjoy reading leadership articles and blogs on “authenticity” and I started to wonder do we need to be the same person to everyone, all the time, as a lot of us seem to think.

I mean, wherever we go, we always exhibit common character traits. But then some of our behaviors flex depending on the audience. And adjusting our social approaches now and then doesn’t make us any less authentic. 

Here’s an example of what I mean: I work for a company of extremely nice people. They’re so nice that it can be difficult to get constructive feedback. There have been many instances when I didn’t realize I was getting feedback because it was so nice or rather indirect.

Working there, I quickly recognized I had to be intentional with my directness. So, gradually, I started to see that directness could be a safe approach in that environment if I expressed my positive intentions ahead of time—by emphasizing that I care about the listener’s feelings. And this social buffer is so well appreciated now that folks say, “I knew I could come to you, and you would give me your honest perspective.” 


Harpreet: And, as you rightly said, when a person is authentic and operates out of a place of compassion and empathy, others are willing to take their directness. They must understand you have no agenda, and that you mean well for them. 

Circling back to the original topic, though, could you give us an example of how you’d approach a different audience while remaining true to your core self?

Cherie: If you asked my son about my top qualities during the ride home from school today, I’m pretty sure you’d hear some degree of consistency with what my husband would say as well—and what my sister would say, or my team, or my boss. You’d hear a lot about how I’m focused, get things done, super organized, very planful, and that I like to have fun.

You might also hear about some of my slightly different aspects. Like, when I’m leading my team, I'm relatively hands-off. I believe in their skills and their talents. We discuss the vision and the desired result. We agree on deadlines, and it isn't until deadlines are missed that I get more involved with the sausage making, and my intensity increases. So that's my style at work. But when it comes to home, my son might tell you something different…. I make a lot more sausage.


Harpreet: The last question I wanted to ask comes from working with senior women leaders especially women of color. Although every company encourages women to bring their full selves to work, a lot of women don’t know how to express their true selves in that environment. What advice would you give to them?

Cherie: I’d encourage women of color to step into any work scenario to understand the culture first. They should try to understand which behaviors resonate with people and which don’t. They should ask themselves, “Do I work in an extremely conservative and extremely professional atmosphere? Or is it a bit more informal and laid back? How do my tendencies align and where do I need to be more intentional?” 


Harpreet: On a parting note,  I just remembered my conversation with an amazing woman leader and she mentioned that “When I'm in a business meeting or a room, I'm aware that I’m perceived as a Black person first, and then a Black woman.”  So I wanted to ask, in what order do race and gender turn up for you?

Cherie: This is tough because my parents raised me to believe that I belong anywhere and everywhere. I genuinely believe that at my core. So, while I recognize that I’m the only Black woman Director in HR, I tend to enter a room with the mindset of, “I’m here because I bring talent. I'm here to share my talent. And I’m also here to learn.” I don’t automatically enter the room with my racial or gender identity.

I don't choose to put negative or anxious energy into feeling like an “only.” I reserve my energy for things that I can adjust, amplify, and elevate. For example, if I’m presenting to a highly analytical group of leaders, I know to bring compelling data to drive my point. I would bring more practical ideas and examples to a group that works in an operational capacity.

I feel that being a woman of color adds a little bit more depth and texture to my point of view.  So, I'm not sure that I'm the best person to advise in this area, other than what I tell my son, which is, “You weren't born to blend in. You were born to stand out.” 

At some point, we all have to embrace the fact that we’re exceptional and recognize that our exceptionality is a good thing. 



Now that you’ve finished the article, I invite you to reflect on the following three questions:

  1. Am I ready to be accepted at work for who I am, or do I sometimes enter a situation looking for excuses and derailers of my success?  

  2. What emotional baggage might be preventing me from truly being myself in all aspects of my life?

  3. What upsides or benefits could I find from having survived negative experiences in my past? (Can I learn lessons from these episodes of my life? Am I more dynamic and courageous because of them?)


Harpreet Ghumman
Award Winning Consultant & Executive Coach


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