I grew up in south London, my parents had come from Mauritius in the 60s. I studied marketing at what was then London College of Printing, then I worked in web project management, way back in the first dot.com boom of the 1990s.
Early in my career, I had these two distinct parts of my life that I enjoyed – and fed into each other – but I kept them separate. First was web production work. Especially once we’d moved to Brighton in the early 2000s, I worked in some great agencies on the south coast, overseeing some big projects, meeting brilliant leaders in that industry and having a lot of fun.
Living two lives
But at the same time, I was developing an eastern spiritual practice into a serious sideline, way more than a hobby. I travelled in India and Nepal, became a yogi and meditation teacher, learnt some powerful esoteric disciplines. I dabbled in some strange but wonderful stuff! This reached a point where I was travelling internationally to lead large groups – so it was a very big part of my life.
This was years before the ‘mindfulness’ boom. So, I discovered the role I’ve built now in a moment of revelation, from my husband actually: Chris said he couldn’t understand why I kept the two parts of my life separate, when companies were full of the very people who most needed meditation, coaching and advocacy. Especially where women were being overlooked and under-represented in the tech industry.
From then on, I began to build my role by merging those two aspects of my life. For me, it was the real meaning of ‘bringing your whole self to work’. Today, I organise events, large and small, to advocate and enable mainly women and particularly women of colour to build networks and succeed in the (still very white, male-dominated) tech and creative industries.
Becoming a career coach
The other bit of my puzzle is private client work, as a coach, mentor and basically cheerleader. I offer three-hour blast! sessions. This covers the client’s personal and professional life and varies according to a person’s needs and available time. I love doing both.
One of the best things is there’s no average day: I could be speaking at a conference, running a group, or doing a one-on-one session with an inspiring woman leader. Variety is the gift! I love hearing about people’s goals and challenges. And when you’re able to help someone see a clearer path, sometimes through the most difficult time they’ve ever faced, if you’re a part of supporting them through it, the feeling is just incredible.
A recent career highlight was organising and hosting The Story Conference last year, in London, working with Matt Locke and the team at StoryThings. The event was hugely inspiring and it gave me a taste for organising more creative events in the future.
Creativity and passion
I’m not a very good politician, so I’m bad at faking it and I need straightforward, honest people around me. I’d rather take longer to choose employees or business partners, to ensure it’s a good fit. In a CV I look for integrity and those little things that make people stand out as humans. I want to see creativity and passion. I want people to be excited about working with me and to understand my vision.
My teenage self was fierce and creative but fragile and not supported by people around her. She almost had it all ripped away by the loss of the family home at short notice at a crucial moment (in the middle of A-levels) causing a lot of anger and fear. I’m not queer myself but I love Grace Petrie’s song ‘Black Tie’, which is a letter to her teenage self about how it’s going to be okay. I’d love to give my teenage self a tiny glimpse of how enriching and full of love and adventure her life will turn out to be. As Bill Hicks said, “It’s just a ride.”
To find out more about Rifa and Refigure, visit: www.rifa.co.uk