We sat down with diversity, equity and inclusion specialist Yassine Senghor, an attendee of our Who Am I? LBTQ leadership programme and now We Create Space team member, to hear about her retreat experience and how she's used our teachings to drive change in her own life.
Who are you?
I am Yaz, an Equality/Equity Diversity and Inculsion specialist, writer, mentor, speaker, facilitator, podcaster and occasional model (that's the short version). I am the Director of Confronting Change EDI Strategies, a consultancy that supports organizations and community spaces to consider their inclusive practice through an intersectional lens. While much of my work centres around consultancy, it has actually led to some really exciting places that I couldn't have predicted, like working with young people and focusing more on supporting marginalised people as well as allies and supporters.
How did you find yourself doing what you're doing?
In 2016 I did a Masters in Gender and Sexuality Studies, as the treatment and rights of women and people with marginalized identities has always been something vitally important to me, both personally and in terms of how I want to effect change in the world. I then had a short lived but really impactful run in Brighton where I managed the Marlborough Pub and Theatre, which was a hub for the queer community there. This allowed me to focus on how I could utilize my background in hospitality and people management to create space for the community that was so close to my heart, and specifically for the most marginalized within that community.
After that, I was lured back to London to work at Stonewall, the largest LGBT organization in Europe. This is where I was able to combine my understanding of people and my passion for justice together in the world of Equalities (Equity), Diversity & Inclusion. My role there was supporting workplaces to consider their EDI practices and improve their LGBTQ+ Inclusion and how they valued their staff as individuals.
I always encouraged an intersectional lens in my work with a focus on race and gender issues as well as creating inclusive spaces that held room for all marginalized people. In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and the BLM protests, I found myself in a dark place where a lot of my work and efforts felt futile. I had to pull myself out of that and reflect on my beliefs and re-evaluate how I wanted to contribute to making change in the world. This led me to launch my consultancy, Confronting Change EDI Strategies, which allows me to work with clients who are as passionate about justice and change as I am, from an action driven place of empathy and authenticity.
What have you learnt throughout your journey?
I'm half Gambian and half Liberian, and I've been living in London for about 13 years now, but before that I hopped around the world a bit. I raise that because being an immigrant is an element of my intersectional experience that I am only recently starting to grapple with in terms of how it has impacted my experience of the world, alongside being a black, dark skinned, queer, masculine presenting, gender non-conforming, fat woman with mental health issues. These are all things I am deeply proud of now, but I am still doing a lot of work to unpack how I internalized negative societal attitudes towards these things.
I've also learned to listen to myself. Sometimes it feels like I already know quite clearly what I want, and have a lot of the answers that I've been searching for, I just needed to give myself the space to explore those answers and actually hear them. When I listen to them, my gut or the guiding universe, or whatever you want to call it, I almost always get results, and wilder than I could have predicted. I think that's because I feel much more fulfilled, like I'm not pushing against myself, that I'm more aligned with my vision and my purpose. That has led to huge changes in my personal relationships, my work and also in the way that I treat myself in the midst of it all.
Why did you get involved in the 'Who Am I?' programme?
During the pandemic finding online spaces with like minded people became essential to me. It coincided with a lot of personal growth and change that was happening for me also, but I think like most people, I was just a bit lonely. The Who Am I? programme allowed me to meet incredible people who have brilliant life stories and are doing really inspirational work. I would normally feel a bit of imposter syndrome in those spaces, but with this programme, I was surrounded by people who were rooting for me and saw in me all the inspiring things I saw in them.
Have you used anything from our retreat in your life?
One of the things that I like the most about the retreat was the holistic approach. There was breath and body work, theory and psychology and then just human conversation. This is something that I have tried to embed into my work and the various ways that I approach new situations and also how I think about my life. I am increasingly trying to make space for all the different elements that enrich me and make me whole from a deeply reflective and conscious place.
What relationship do you have to the LGBTQ+ community?
I'd say I'm pretty connected to the LGBTQ+ community. I feel like this has matured alongside me starting from being a pretty solid fixture on the queer club scene to now working in LGBTQ+ workplace inclusion. I volunteer with queer organisations and have participated in organising various Pride events at different cities. For me, being part of the community is now about making sure that no one feels left out and that everyone finds an opportunity to shine and thrive within it. I think particularly of the upcoming queer youth, who have so many more opportunities to define and explore their sexuality and gender, but who still need vital support. Quite often, these are the people who inspire me the most, because of the confidence they have to be themselves, and I consider my role as a self appointed elder, to be to make sure that I am laying solid foundations for those who come after me and learning from those who came before.
What's the biggest challenge you're currently working through?
I don't know that it's a challenge so much as growing pains, but I am undergoing a process of aligning my body to what I've always wanted it to look like by getting non-flat top surgery. This is incredibly exciting, but it's also pretty terrifying to think that my body and maybe my perception of myself is about to change forever. It's also pretty scary to think that this is something that I've wanted for so long in my life, and I'm finally making it happen!
But its something that could not have happened before this period of my life. I have taken all the learnings that have come from the last year, and a lot of the practical and reflective tools I have learned during the Who Am I retreat and applied them to how I want to live my life. This has immediately led to doors being opened and a lot of freedom to really question who I am, and then really just be that person.
Have you learnt anything new about yourself recently?
I think that I have learnt that I'm a lot braver than I realised. Even attending the 'Who am I?' retreat was something out of my comfort zone, but I went, and I was actually really excited to attend (amidst the nerves). That enthusiasm allowed me to be really engaged in the retreat, to approach it with openness, which required that I bring my fears and vulnerability to the table and actively participate.
I try to bring that feeling of excited vulnerability to each new encounter now. Rather than trying to hide the feelings, I am embracing them, and hopefully creating space for others to do the same. It's also nice to have a group of people who are excited to hear about you, your work and what makes you, you. It feels like you are being seen, and in recognising that, it shows that I don't always see myself. So in thinking about that vulnerability, it makes me want to see myself a lot more clearly as well.
How do you continue to 'Create Space'?
First and foremost, I am just focused on that very idea of creating space, both for myself and others. I am creating space to continue learning about myself and hearing myself and my needs, and to be kind, soft and gentle with myself. Creating space for love and rest and joy.
I hope that in this, I am creating space to be more compassionate and kind to others. That I am creating spaces where they feel safe and encouraged to be their whole vulnerable selves. This is especially important in my work, where I definitely lead from a person centered approach. I want to understand people as individuals and to hear about their experiences and find our commonality and celebrate our difference.
Are you interested in joining one of our retreats?
Our 'Who Am I?' retreats take place throughout the year. We have tailored iterations of the programme to suit the needs of differing identity groups. Each person can attend the group that feels right for them. To stay updated about upcoming workshop and retreat dates, please subscribe to our mailing list here.