Today we’d like to introduce you to Shaara Roman.
Shaara, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
In some ways, I have the quintessential American immigrant story – wrapped in a love story. I’m originally from Bombay, India, but haven’t spent much of my life there. My parents moved to Lagos, Nigeria, when I was around a year old. They ended up living there for 25 years, and I spent my elementary school years in Lagos. I briefly moved back to Bombay, where I lived with my grandparents for middle school. I was a fish out of the water, and my grandmother, with whom I was very close, felt very strongly that I needed to “spread my wings.” So, she managed to convince my parents that I would be better off in the UK and I happily went to high school at an all-girls school in the Kent countryside. After wrapping up high school, I planned to take a gap year and learn languages while returning back to Lagos to live with my parents again. Well, you know what they say about best-laid plans…soon after moving back to Lagos, I met my husband, a Puerto Rican US Marine, from the Bronx, stationed in Lagos. We fell in love, moved to Greece, where we got married and lived for about two years, and then moved to the US.
I grew up speaking English, so I didn’t have a language barrier in Virginia, where my husband was stationed. What I did experience, for the first time ever, was biased behavior. I had always been a high achiever in school, even skipping a grade, so when I went to the Transition Assistance Office at Quantico, VA, to apply for a job at the Marine base, I was shocked at the abrupt dismissal I received. I was immediately pigeonholed (as an Asian woman married to an enlisted Marine) and told to apply as a bagger or cashier at the commissary. I was stunned. While I had not yet attended college, I knew that I had the smarts and ability to do many of the office jobs posted, and what I didn’t know I could figure out, just like I always had. I was quite perplexed because I thought they were there to actually help the spouses land jobs, and not outright reject me without any other support. I also had work experience from administrative and teaching jobs in Nigeria and Greece. None-the-less, I didn’t have the “qualifications” do those administrative jobs which were not much more beyond a high school diploma, organizational skills, ability to multi-task and problem solve. All of which I had in spades if he had even let me an interview. I was stopped from even applying to the jobs… for whatever reasons this guy deemed.
Having lived in many different countries, I had always “been a guest in someone else’s country,” so I realized then that in the U.S., it didn’t matter what my past experience was and what I may have accomplished. I needed to play the game U.S. style. I immediately enrolled at the local community college and soon got a job working part-time at an association in the accounting and then HR department. I will always remember the HR Director as she saw my potential and continuously challenged me with interesting and exciting projects. That initial rejection from the Transition office stayed with me and burned me, even to this day, some thirty years later. It made me also commit to looking at people for who they are and their innate talents, not just described by words on pieces of paper.
I worked my way through my undergraduate degree in business and fell into the HR profession. I worked with some amazing people, and had incredible experiences at world-class companies that were going through transformation and change, and got my MBA in International Business from Georgetown University along the way. I quickly moved up the corporate ladder wherever I worked, taking on bigger, more complex roles dealing with organizational culture and people strategy at companies like CGI, Fannie Mae and Visa. I ended my corporate career as a Senior VP of HR at a large trade association and began my career as an entrepreneur.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
A good friend of mine always tells me that I live a charmed life. I don’t know how true that is, but I guess it can seem that way to those looking in. I’ve always been a determined, hard-working person who sees possibilities when confronted with challenges. And, when I have experienced a door closing on a possibility, I quickly find many, many others to open. So, yes, there have been struggles. I mentioned the one I faced when I first arrived. There have been others: like the time when we moved to Savannah, GA, and the job interviewers persisted in asking me (illegal) questions about my marriage, my plans to have children, what my husband did, how long we planned to stay in Savannah and so on; or when I was told, also in Savannah, that I should make a video to introduce myself to companies because my name was different and they would not want to interview me if they just saw my name (at that time, I did not fully understand the systemic racial bias that existed in this country); or when my opinions were received with a smirk and a virtual pat on the head by the male leaders at an investment firm perhaps because I was female, or young, or not rich or didn’t have an MBA or all of the above; or the bullying and harassment I faced by a fellow executive that went unchecked by leadership, despite my raising the issue on multiple occasions. Little did I know, all of these challenges would come to shape my vision for my future endeavors.
But each time I had these types of things happen, I tried to speak up and realizing that my voice wasn’t being heard, I silently said “%&*$ you,” moved on and actually ended up in a better place. I got my MBA, found companies where their values and mine were in synch and started my own business to help leaders build companies of passion and purpose, minus the poison.
The Silverene Group – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Despite my corporate success, I realized that I had the itch to return to entrepreneurship. My earlier entrepreneurial experience in real estate sales was short-lived, although I learned a ton! I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I guess it isn’t too surprising that I would want to start my own business. I’ve always been fiercely independent, and someone who challenged the status quo. I’m not afraid to try new things, and I have incredible confidence in my ability to figure things out and to surround myself with smart people who can help. My own work experiences, coupled with data from companies like Gallup (which shows only about 15% of the workforce as highly engaged), drove me to want to do something about it. I started The Silverene Group in 2016 to help leaders purposefully create and build company cultures that foster a sense of belonging. It simply means that we help them build workplaces where people want to come and work, and stay, because they feel heard, valued, can do exciting work, work with inspiring people, and can grow their skills. For too long, most companies have not centered their strategies around their people, and have not adequately addressed their people strategies to keep up with the changing times.
We have a unique opportunity right now – post-Covid – and in the midst of a social revolution around racial injustice – to build companies that can lead the way in stamping out inequity. I see it as a moral obligation and a very necessary role for businesses. And, as a mom of two Gen Z’ers, I want them and their generation to have workplaces that inspire their talents and bring out their very best. My global upbringing allows me to bring a unique perspective to helping companies create workplaces that foster innovation and welcome different perspectives because I’ve lived it. The skills I learned studying and living in different countries, navigating relationships and building friendships, are many of the same elements that go into building healthy workplace cultures. It’s about empathy, creating safe spaces, curiosity, compassion, cultural awareness and recognition that we all have value to contribute.
I’m most proud that we have made a difference at three dozen or so companies we’ve worked with over the last four and a half years. Whether it’s been a smaller event like facilitating a strategic retreat and helping clients get focused on their purpose and goals, or doing a full-on culture assessment, redesign and implementation over a 12-18 month period, it’s always fulfilling to have your client say, “never in my wildest dreams did I think we could make so much progress with building our culture in such a short time. We couldn’t have done it without you and your team.” I’m proud too of bringing together a team of talented, rock-star women who all care very deeply about building better workplaces. Together, we can leverage the diversity of our lived experiences, our professional experiences and our passions to solve our client’s challenges. Growing a business is like raising a child, you know there will be bumps along the way, and you celebrate every milestone as a joyful and proud moment.
Who else deserves credit – have you had mentors, supporters, cheerleaders, advocates, clients or teammates that have played a big role in your success or the success of the business? If so –who are they and what role did they plan / how did they help.
If this were the Oscars, the walk-off music would be playing for the list of people I have to thank and give credit. My husband deserves much of the credit – he has always had faith in me from the very first minute we met. He’s the one who has encouraged, supported, and cheered me on no matter what hair-brained idea I pursue. He’s been my rock and my inspiration – he’s always there for me even when I get into the workaholic mode and ignore everything around me. My kids inspire me to help companies create better workplaces so that they don’t (hopefully) have to settle for a bad boss or out of touch company. They were so incredibly supportive of me starting the business, even when I laid out all the trade-offs and cutbacks we’d have to make, and actually, it was my then 12-year old daughter’s words “Mommy, grown-ups don’t take enough risks, if this [starting the business] is what you want to do, you should do it” that were the last kick in the butt I needed to just do it.
Growing up, my grandmother was my biggest fan, in fact, she called me her favorite human, and she inspired me to be my best self. She saw into the future almost, and I know that her vision to get me out of India and into a school in England is what set me on my path to success. I know she is still with me every day.
I’ve had incredible bosses at Fannie Mae, Visa, and CGI, who have nurtured me, given me tough feedback, and challenged me with incredible assignments that helped me learn and grow, and ultimately allowed me to bring all that experience to bear as we work with clients. They took the time to get to know me, what made me tick, and how to best use my talents and gifts. My first client came from a colleague and leader at CGI, and I am always going to be grateful to him for that opportunity. And, to all of our clients, especially the ones in the first couple of years, who took a chance on my team and me when we didn’t have much of a track record as a company.
And, finally, there are the many, many colleagues and entrepreneurs, who have been incredibly gracious and generous with their support, wisdom, ideas, time, and guidance as I have built The Silverene Group.
- Website: www.silverenegroup.com
- Phone: 703-283-1258
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @SilvereneGroup
- Twitter: @SilvereneGroup
- Other: www.linkedin.com/in/shaara
Headshot courtesy of Christi Porter Photography