Audrey Forbes

Audrey Forbes
Senior Vice President, Member Experience

Education: Master of Public Administration, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Bachelor of Administrative Studies, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Certified Employee Benefits Specialist, Dalhousie University & the IFEBP
Company Name: OPTrust
Industry: Financial Services (Pensions and retirement services)
Company CEO: Peter Lindley
Company Headquarters Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Number of Employees: 350
Words you live by: Tentanda Via (The way must be tried.) –motto, York University; Do what you can’t—the obstacle leads the way.
Who is your personal hero? Zanana Akande, a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario
What book are you reading? The Intangibles of Leadership by Richard Davis, PhD
What was your first job: Electrical technician at a telephone company
Favorite charity: Canadian Diabetes Association
Interests: Hiking, volunteering, reading, and dancing
Family: 3 daughters and a husband of 32 years

It’s Time to Unmask

Within our fishbowl (social media driven) society and the competitive business environments we operate in, 99.9 percent of us show up to work every day, wearing masks. But what might surprise you is that I’m not referring to the creative and sometimes funny protective masks we should all be wearing to keep ourselves safe from COVID-19. I am instead referring to the protective facade we unintentionally or intentionally wear each day to cover up the psychological and emotional scrapes and bruises—or even gashes—we sustain throughout our lives.

In my mind, one of the most powerful ways to support the next generation of Black business leaders is for seasoned leaders to remove these figurative masks, acknowledge and talk about our fears and failures, and deeply own and share our experiences.

Along my own precarious yet rewarding journey to becoming an executive, I recall reading Jack Welch’s book, Jack, Straight from the Gut, and being struck by how honest and open he was about his humanness, his insecurities, and his setbacks. I remember being in my mid-thirties and pleasantly surprised by this modern-day portrayal of the sometimes messy sojourn of a man as accomplished, as powerful, and as controversial as the chairman of General Electric himself—Neutron Jack. True, I’ve been very moved by others within the annals of history (Blacks and others; controversial and not), but this was for me a great unmasking, and I was inspired.

As an immigrant to North America, a woman, and a Black person, I’ve had my own share of challenges, insecurities, and awkwardness to carry around. Most young Black leaders are already driven, well-educated, and skilled in their various fields of endeavor, so for me, one of the most powerful ways to help is to unmask and provide psychological support, spiritual energy, reassurances, and a caring community.

I want to tell young leaders they’re not alone if they have to battle early-stage feelings of insecurity, but they must acknowledge and address them. I want to tell them that it’s all right if they do not yet have the wisdom that seems to come so easily for people with more life experiences, but they must not walk away from their aspirations.

For most seasoned racialized leaders, its only after years of feeling “less-than” or like we’re the only ones in the room that don’t get it or like others are smarter than us because golden words roll effortlessly off their tongues, that we find out the truth. Deep down, most humans struggle with the same insecurities. We all have flaws and kinked armors, and if we push hard enough, we eventually overpower them.