Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari
May 31, 2022

Episode 13: Chi Chi Okezie

As an ambitious and dynamic child of Nigerian immigrants, Chi Chi Okezie has been creating opportunities for herself throughout her entire life. It is human nature to want to connect with others, but when you add value to those connections through mentorship and relationship building, it creates a foundation for growth. Author, Entrepreneur, Speaker and Trilingual Cultural Expert, Chi Chi Okezie, teaches our audience how to leverage the power of networking to grow our business, brand ourselves and advocate for things we are passionate about.

As an ambitious and dynamic child of Nigerian immigrants, Chi Chi Okezie has been creating opportunities for herself throughout her entire life. It is human nature to want to connect with others, but when you add value to those connections through mentorship and relationship building, it creates a foundation for growth. Author, Entrepreneur, Speaker and Trilingual Cultural Expert, Chi Chi Okezie, teaches our audience how to leverage the power of networking to grow our business, brand ourselves and advocate for things we are passionate about. #branding #diversity #Influencer #networking


Pretty Powerful Podcast with Angela Gennari, Episode 13: Chi Chi Okezie

Intro: Welcome to the Pretty Powerful Podcast where powerful women are interviewed every week to share real inspiring stories and incredible insight to help women or anyone break the barriers, be a part of innovation, shatter the glass ceiling and dominate to the top of their sport industry or life's mission. Join us as we celebrate exceptional women and step into our power. And now here's your host. Angela Gennari.

Angela Gennari: Thank you so much for joining me for the pretty powerful podcast. This is Angela Gennari and I am sitting here with Chichi Okezie. Thank you so much for being here.

Chichi Okezie: Thank you for having me, Angela.

Angela Gennari: So, I am very excited. You have such an impressive resume. And so, and you are a fellow entrepreneur. You're doing some incredible things. And what I love about it most is that you are influencing women and teaching about diversity and inclusion. So, kudos to you for that. So, I want to go ahead and read your bio so that our audience knows how amazing you are. So, Chichi Okezie is the owner and producer of simple networking LLC. Simple networking is a consulting firm based in Atlanta, Georgia, which specializes in business networking, diversity, inclusion, and cultural awareness consulting and training Chichi has spent the last 16 years assisting corporations, top universities, institutions, and federal agencies with professional development training.

She is trilingual the author of two networking books, simple networking and networking made simple blogs as the champion networker as well as published hundreds of online articles as a diamond expert for easing articles.com. Her company was granted a proclamation for business networking day on November 13th, 2017. Congratulations through her company, Chichi has presented keynote-hosted events and created training programs. She has also developed workshops and curricula on various topics of business, networking, diversity and inclusion, branding, entrepreneurship, ethics, and integrity. A unique value proposition is including cultural arts and entertainment to broaden the learning and development experiences.

Additionally, Chichi is the recipient of several awards, including the class of 40, under 40 for connecting magazine and rejuvenate magazine. She is heavily involved with her alumni association and serves as an alumni counselor to the campus life committee for the Emory board of trustees, as well as an executive committee member of the Oxford college of Emory board of counselors. Chichi holds several active memberships with the FACCATL ADMAG, which is the Atlanta diversity management advocacy group, and ASAP, which is the American Society of administrative professionals and turning point church. Thank you so much for joining us. As I said, very impressive.

Chichi Okezie: Thank you, Angela. I'm glad to be here.

Angela Gennari: Oh, I'm so happy to have you, so tell me, I mean, you have really built this amazing business around networking. Tell me why networking is so important.

Chichi Okezie: Oh my gosh. I think we're just scratching the surface.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Tell me why

Chichi Okezie: When it comes to networking. Well, I started 16 years ago, so of course social media doesn't look did not look

Angela Gennari: Anything. Yes.

Chichi Okezie: Like it looks now 16 years ago, but I felt like when I would go to events, there was a disconnect. You know, people would meet each other, they would talk. And then there was not really, I don't want to say like a method because I don't want it to be super structured, but there wasn't like a protocol. For networking. So, it was just, that if I need something, I'll reach out. If I don't need something, I won't reach out. And it just kind of fizzled. So, I would go to events. I used to be an intern for the French American chamber of commerce. So FACC Atlanta. And I learned how to network from my mentor. I would shadow her. And so go to events and learn how to network and connect with people in English and in French and felt like, yeah, there's a real need for networking.

Angela Gennari: I love it. And I love that you had a female mentor.

Chichi Okezie: Yes. We Madam.

Angela Gennari: That's amazing. So yes, we don't have enough female mentors. So, I love that she allowed you the opportunity to shadow her because, you know, I say that what holds women back isn't necessarily men it's women. And so, I love that you are out here talking about diversity inclusion, and you are talking about networking and as a female, nonetheless, because networking for us is extremely powerful, you know, making those connections because we do really well in person, you know, we are charismatic and we can be engaging, we can show empathy and all of these things come across in networking much more than they do in any other environment. So, I love that your focus is networking. So, I have a quick story.

I got out of college, and I took my first job here in Atlanta. And I was working for a startup internet company and was business-to-business telecom. And when I took this position, my sales manager comes to me and he says, all right, so you're going to need to go meet business people. And I'm like, I don't know where to meet businesspeople. Where do I go? And he said, well, you need to go to the chamber of commerce. And I said, oh, okay. I don't know what that is, but I'll figure it out. And so I started going to the Atlanta, Metro Atlanta chamber of commerce meetings, and I was 23, 24 years old going to these meetings. And I felt like a fish out of water. I did not connect. I could not, nobody was really taking me seriously.

I didn't know what I didn't know. And so finally I was just so frustrated with the experience. I was like, you know, I feel like I wasn't getting out of it, what I, what I had hoped for. And so, I started my own networking group. It was a young professional networking group, and it changed the trajectory of my life because having those young professionals to network with actually became my accidental first company.

Chichi Okezie: Oh, nice.

Angela Gennari: Because, you know, I ended up with 2000 people on a mailing list and they would say, where are we going next week? And what's happening? And I'm like, oh my gosh, people are depending on me to figure this out. I just wanted to connect with people, but it's the power of networking. People were so thirsty for something like that, you know, young professionals getting together in a fun environment and connecting, and relationships were built there that I've maintained through the past 20 some odd years. And so, I believe in what you're doing. I think it's so powerful. So, tell me a little bit about how you got your start in network and in simple networking and just why this is so important.

Chichi Okezie: Well, I started out as a freelance translator. So, I am trilingual. English is my first language. My second language is my parents' language. They're Nigerian immigrants. So, my dad came here in the mid-seventies. Oh, excuse me. Mid-sixties. And my mom came in the mid-seventies and Chichi came in the late seventies, but I was born and raised in Brooklyn and then moved here to Atlanta. So, I consider myself a bit of an apple peach.

Nonetheless, when I went to Emory, I graduated, I majored in French cultural studies, which my parents still don't think that's a major and they're hardcore math and science people. So, this is, this was out. This was not what they expected at all right. But I started freelancing translations from French to English and working with the French American chamber and the consulate general of France. So back in the day when we had the white pages, I know some, some of our listeners may not know what that is.

Angela Gennari: I think there might be like a white pages.com or something. Now that you just use it on a date when you're looking up people on a dating app. And that's fine.

Chichi Okezie: So, there wasn't quite Google was not out there yet. You guys, so on the white pages, they would try people that were traveling to France or needed information about passports and visas. They were looking for the French consulate, but on the white pages, it was actually listed as a consulate general of France.

Angela Gennari: Oh, interesting.

Chichi Okezie: So, they would always look for the French consulate, but find the French American chamber. So, they would call the French American chamber and we would direct them, but I ended up getting a lot of referrals. So, I said, let me just start freelancing in order to build a business, learn about business, and make some money on the side. And found that when I would be doing these translations, I could network to get larger audience clients and things like that. So that's how simple networking started.

Angela Gennari: Very cool. And I love that you were, yeah. This whole, like bringing the white pages into it. That's amazing. So, then you started simple networking. And tell me about, you know, starting a business, launching something, how did you get started? How did reach out to people at that point?

Chichi Okezie: Well, I was not groomed to be an entrepreneur.

Angela Gennari: Yes. Okay. So, I know math and science.

Chichi Okezie: So, I did not have any formal training, but as I mentioned, I had an excellent mentor, and Jane Medlin and I would shadow her. And then also being an intern at the FACC Atlanta. I learned a lot about business because even though they are nonprofit, they did have a very strong economic stem. So, I learned a lot about finance. I learned a lot about budgeting, especially for a nonprofit. And that's really where it started for me. So, getting a business license, tax ID, trademark, all that fun stuff.

Angela Gennari: oh, I know. I’ve Been down that road. Very cool. And then going to Emory there's, you know, what I love about Emory is there's a great support system there. I feel like when you've graduated from Emory you've graduated with a team of people who really just become, especially with being on the board of trustees, like you have such a powerful network there. So, tell me how your alumni and, you know, being part of Emory, has that changed or helped you in any way in terms of the building?

Chichi Okezie: Yeah, it's been great. And I just had a committee meeting this morning and it went so well, but I need a nap.

Angela Gennari: I hear you.

Chichi Okezie: Shout out to my wonderful committee chair Theresa Rivero

Angela Gennari: Yay. Previous a pretty powerful podcast guest.

Chichi Okezie: But yes, having a strong network has, and being an alum with Emory has been excellent. And it's multiple folds, right? I enjoy connecting with my classmates, and my fellow Eagles. And then serving on different boards, you get a chance to meet people. You would've never gone to school with, or different schools because there are nine school units. The other thing is that it gives me a chance to mentor. Mentor up and rising students. Those that are interested in careers that are in entrepreneurship or business or even in French or international business as well. And then the other fault is the business side. And a lot of people don't realize this, but at least in the schools that I've worked with. Right. They have a procurement system. So, you can actually be a vendor or supplier for your Alma mater and it's not just about being a professor or an adjunct professor. A supplier basically means that you're offering a service.

Angela Gennari: Right. And you'll be paid for this.

Chichi Okezie: Yes exactly.

Angela Gennari: So, leveraging the power of networking so talk a little bit about what that means as a woman, as a black woman, as you know, as anybody starting out as an entrepreneur tell me about the leveraging, the power of networking and what it can mean in a business. Because I think that we don't do enough of it outside of social media. So, what does that look like?

Chichi Okezie: It's really important and definitely overlooked and sometimes undervalued I still believe that we are scraping the surface of it. Building relationships is critical. That trust and like no factor. And also, it's a way to brand yourself. A lot of people don't understand that networking can actually brand yourself. And I think about it in the way how you communicate, and I say this in my workshops, you have three images right. That you can use to brand yourself, you have your written image. Your physical image as well as your verbal image.

Angela Gennari: Interesting. Okay.

Chichi Okezie: Your verbal image is the elevator pitch. So, this is how you introduce yourself, how you make this amazing first impression. Your written image can be of course your social media, your online presence, business cards, marketing material, and then your physical image, the way that you dress, and how you present yourself. And they all should come together and be congruent. And I believe that's very critical when it comes to networking. The other piece about networking is that I've heard the word on the street Angela that networking is slimy. I hate using that word and they have these other pseudo words and I have mixed feelings about this.

Angela Gennari: Tell me.

Chichi Okezie: Yes. Networking can be you know, it's what it is. It's what you make it. I always tell people to think of it like the word it is, network. When you look it up in the dictionary it means two or more computers connected to sharing information. So, think of it as two or more people coming together, sharing information, you're building relationships, supporting each other, mentoring, sponsoring advocating, especially now as we're moving into this, is it endemic? I want it to be a no demic.

Angela Gennari: Yeah, I agree.

Chichi Okezie: But nonetheless, we're learning a lot about or bringing to the forefront, social causes ways of advocacy speaking up, you know being able to have your voice and being heard and it doesn't necessarily have to be something that's always confrontational you can speak up to recognize someone. To bring recognition to yourself.

Angela Gennari: Yes. Yes. Agree. Well, I love that you talk about this branding of branding yourself because that's something we don't do enough of. You know, we identify with our company, we identify with our family, we identify with us, you know, where we live, but we need to build our own brand identity. And that is what carries you through and then everything else can be shaped around it. So, if your brand identity is, you know, I am a female CEO, this is what I do. This is what I believe in. This is where I spend my time networking. This is where I put my efforts and volunteering, then that becomes your brand. And I love that you really focus on how important that is to build that brand identity all around. ,

Chichi Okezie: No, I agree. I'll give an example. Because I've heard even entrepreneurs working professionals that work for a huge company feel like they can't have a personal brand. So, I always go back to the example of athletes, so we'll use, we'll use a woman athlete. I love Lisa Leslie. Okay. She's amazing. You know, was in the NBA.

Angela Gennari: Yes.

Chichi Okezie: Yes. And so, yes, she was on a team, but she still had her own personal brand. Yes. And I think about it in that sense, like as a coach, or even as a captain, she still wore Jersey and it's not like everyone had the same number Jersey. Everyone had different numbers with different names on their Jersey so that when you're playing, yes, you have the overall team score, but then you also have separate scores for each person. That's a branding mechanism. When you're able to be a part of a group or a team, but then you're also able to explain or show the value that you personally add.

Angela Gennari: Oh, I love that because you know, what we talk about in this podcast is how we give our power away as women. And that is one of the things that we do is that we become part of a group instead of a person, but you can do both. You can show your value in a room. And where I think we tend to shy away. We don't want to take credit for things. And so, we shy away from that, but it is possible to have a group that is powerful, whether it be a company, or a team, and then also to own your own power in your own space as well and recognize the value that you bring to that organization or that team.

Chichi Okezie: Absolutely. And that's something that I always push with my fellow female entrepreneurs and working professionals and colleagues. Because it's always good to have now we're in this data age. Analyzing and, and it's great. When you talk about yourself and the skills that you have, also making that quantifiable is extremely important.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Yeah. Everybody wants to know value according to numbers and that's sometimes hard. So, when you are starting your company and you're out there, you know, you've written two books. I mean, tell me about some of the obstacles that you have overcome in all of these incredible accomplishments that you've made, because, you know, I know success doesn't happen overnight, and as brilliant as you are. And as you know I have no doubt that you are extremely powerful in every single aspect of your life. Tell me about some of the challenges that you've faced.

Chichi Okezie: Well, the biggest challenge, actually, is my age. I never really had a bonafide full-time job. When I graduated from school, I did start doing marketing for a used car dealership. And I only stayed for a week.

Angela Gennari: Oh, wow.

Chichi Okezie: I really wanted to quit that Wednesday, but I kept it out Friday. So, once again, my parents had no hope in Chichi. So, it was my age. So, I was like 22, 23 when I started freelancing. And then when I moved into the simple networking, I was still under 30. And it was going to these meetings and people would start, listen now, listen now. Now on, when people start to explain themselves, they'll say I have 30 years of experience in corporate America, 35, Or I've done this and this degree and that degree, or I have this number of people on my team.

And I would just say, like, I just turned 24. Like I don't know how to compete with that. So, what I had to do when I was starting out was to do a lot of things that were not age-specific. You don't have to be a certain age to write a book. You don't have to be a certain age to get a proclamation, believe it or not, and you don't have to be a certain age to start a business. So those were the things that I started doing. And then also, you know, going to different groups and organizations, learning from people that were, I wouldn't say older, but more mature and wiser. And then also kind of piggybacking off of them getting referrals and leads to be able to you know, do workshops at conferences and different types of associations and meetings.

Angela Gennari: So, tell me who inspires you.

Chichi Okezie: Okay. So, believe it or not. It's my younger brother.

Angela Gennari: That's so sweet.

Chichi Okezie: At first it was a love, hate relationship. I remember growing up in Brooklyn and my parents worked all the time. So, when I was old enough, I became an unpaid babysitter. And I was just so what is that word? Bitter and I was like everybody's out, they're playing, they're watching TV, they're hanging out with their friends. They're going to parties. They're going to the movies. I'm just stuck watching my brother.

Angela Gennari: Was the tragedy.

Chichi Okezie: It was a tragedy, you know? So, I used this story actually in a lot of my workshops. So how I was, and please don't think of me as an abusive older sister.

Angela Gennari: No, never,

Chichi Okezie: But I would just be like, okay, mom and dad want me to watch you. So, I want you to just sit there. Don't say anything. Don't talk, just sit and you know, just do your thing and I'll be over here. And I think about that a lot in society when people are tolerated and not appreciated. I see you, you're there. I'll give you what you want. Don't bother me. And that's it until Angela one day, you know, bickering complaining. And when I was in school the next day and a friend of mine was like, so what'd you do this weekend? I was like, oh, I had to watch my brother, my younger brother. And she said that's so cool. You have a younger brother. I don't have any siblings. I'm sure you guys must have had a lot of fun. You have someone that can look up to you and I was like, oh, I felt so bad.

Angela Gennari: Stab you in the heart.

Chichi Okezie: So, then the next weekend I was like, hey, let's get to with my brother. Hey, let's hang out. We have some time together, but mom and dad are not here. Let's jump on the couches. He loves watching TV shows and game shows. So, he's the host and I'm the contestant. So, we’re like doing, you know, those type of role plays and that at the time I don't think he was able to read yet, but so it wasn't like in school per se, but if he had homework, I would try to help him. And it just became a thing of, instead of being like, oh, I see you, I acknowledge that you exist, but I don't want to have anything to do with you to, hey, let's come together. Let's have fun. Let's, you know, sing and dance and jump around and just enjoy this time.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Instead of I have to be with you, I get to be with you. Oh, I love it. That's amazing. Well, that's very sweet. I hope he hears this and appreciates that. Well, that's fantastic. So, your younger brother inspires you and so I look at that, you know, the story that you just told me, and I think to myself, how many times do we do that in our adult life? I see you, you're here, we tolerate each other, but I'm not going to give you any of my attention. And so that, that's so relevant, I think to how we live our lives today and, you know, not appreciating those around us, you know, I like you had involved with my church, and I run a women's small group. And with my small group, you know, we often talk about things like, you know, God loves us the way we are and you know, and despite our sin and everything else, but we talk about how we appreciate the people closest to us, the least.

You know, and like there are people I meet on a, you know, day to day, you know, interview something like that. And I talk to them in a nicer, more appreciative way than I talk to the people closest to me. And why do we do that? And so, we talk about that in our small group and like, how do we fix this? And so we actually went through a seven-day exercise where every single day we challenged each other to give a compliment or show appreciation to someone unexpectedly. So, you know, whatever that looked like. So, you know, and I think that that's what we have to do is, you know, with your story, with your, with your brother, I love that, that he inspires you. And you know, I really do hope that he knows that.

Chichi Okezie: He probably doesn't.

Angela Gennari: No, well, maybe he does now. But you know, there are those people around us, you know, you're right. You know, because how many times do we go about our day-to-day lives and not appreciate the people we acknowledge, they exist and then we move on now, but yeah. Showing appreciation goes a long way, so that's beautiful. So, tell me about the time. As women, we give our power away a lot, you know? And so, I think we share power, you know, we think, okay, we want to see to the table, but then we don't own our power when we have it or we, we don't know what to do with that power. So tell me about a time that you've stepped into your power and what that felt like and a time that you've given it away and what that felt like.

Chichi Okezie: Oh man. So, I will use the example of my role as alumni counselor on board trustee. So, it's, it's been interesting. I roll off September. So, it's a three-year term and most of it has been virtual because of the pandemic. So, it’s been interesting because it's really designed for in-person. And so, you know, they were kind of interviewing me pre this is like a pre-exit kind of thing and one of the alumni boards. And so they were, you know, asking me these questions, Angela and I were being as open and honest as I could, but still being objective. You know, it's a pandemic.

And so, at the end of the survey or the interview, they're like, oh, okay, well, would you like to recommend someone to succeed you? And I thought I never even thought about that. And I said, okay, let me sit down and think about this. And I did, I took the time, you know, they had certain criteria and then I took the time to really think about it, like who would be perfect for this role and who would be someone that to make me look bad, but at the same time, we'll get an experience that they may not have had an opportunity to have. So I was very intentional about that but nonetheless, that felt very empowering. For them to ask and then really like taking the time to sit down and really think about it. So, I was very honored in that position.

Angela Gennari: Oh, that's lovely. I love it. Because you said she, so I'm thrilled that you recommended a woman in your place, so that's amazing. Okay. So, then tell me as a woman what advice would you give to your 18-year-old self setting out on your journey?

Chichi Okezie: So, many people ask me that question. I would listen to myself really Angela and I think about like, what if your 60-year-old self came to you right now Chichi, and said something I'd be freaked out. And then I wouldn't listen. I would like no. Even though you've lived it, you know, like no. I think I would say, and I'm joking, but hydrate, just drinks a lot of water. Just because a lot of the things that I do, even though it's not hard labor. It involves a lot of thinking. And it involves a lot of energy and so being healthy. Is extremely important. I didn't really realize that until the pandemic hit mm-hmm and you know, I had to be at home of course, and working from home and taking care of my elderly parents. And I was just thinking, I had time to actually cook my food. Or you know, pick out healthy things to eat because I know when I'm on the go it's not good.

Angela Gennari: Oh girl, we've all been there.

Chichi Okezie: I was like, I started taking vitamins on a regular basis. I haven't done that since the last vitamins that I took on a regular basis were my Flintstone vitamins. I think it's really just putting your health front and center.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. And you talk about the importance of prioritizing your quality of life. And health is a big part of that because when you feel good everything else in your life is easier. Because when you feel bad, I mean, even if it's just the flu, you know, even if it's something simple, but you know, in the middle of a pandemic, nonetheless you know, things are harder, every effort takes more. So how do you prioritize yourself? How do you balance that?

Chichi Okezie: One of the things is when I started out my business, I wanted to make sure that I had healthcare which is very expensive. And I'm not married, I don't have children. So, I'm not on someone's plan. But at the same time, I'm a solo entrepreneur, I am simply networking. If I go down God forbid or not, well, then that's not good for the business. And if I do you know, expand and get employees, I would want them to have healthcare as well. I think that's very, very important because when that's something less that you have to think and worry about. The other thing is that now these different healthcare plans are being a lot more flexible and offering a lot more. So, definitely getting a checkup, a yearly checkup is really important. As well as eating healthy, you know eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, it's a challenge because it is expensive.

Angela Gennari: My goodness.

Chichi Okezie: It’s Expensive to eat healthily. But nonetheless, you know, it's, it's definitely prioritizing, and this is something I did. And I'm grateful that I did this, but I do get a lot of side-eyes, but I did join AARP and some people like, are you old enough? And I said, there is no definitive age to join. Of course, there are certain services and incentives where you have to be a certain age. But nonetheless, I enjoy reading magazines. I'm my gosh. They talk a lot about, you know, investing and how to take care of yourself. And these are things I'm looking at for the future. So, I don't think it's a bad thing at all. I'm proud, to be a member.

Angela Gennari: So, using your role as a female business owner you have great influence. So, tell me how you use that influence and how other females in this role can influence others and can use that to make a change?

Chichi Okezie: So, it's interesting that you should say that because my brother did my taxes for me. And my older brother.

Angela Gennari: And he's going to be jealous of the conversation

Chichi Okezie: That's probably why I'm talking about it now. And it was interesting because when he is going through my taxes, he says to me, well you've given over 20% charity for your income. And I was like, oh really? And so that to me was powerful and influential to be able to use my money, to support other causes. To support other people. And even if it's not money per se I've donated clothes, I've donated time. I've donated services. So, I think that's really an excellent form of leadership, philanthropy, and influence. And I saw some type of post and I can't remember where, but they were comparing millionaires and or billionaires and how much money they gave and the lady McKenzie. She gave over 20% of her income to charities. Compared to her male counterparts that barely gave six to 10%. So, women are givers.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. We are charitable. Yeah. Wow. That's fascinating. I love that. So, I'll I have another story. So, I recently volunteered for DECA and you know, we're in this crazy busy time of our business right now. We've got all these commencement ceremonies and we've just, you know, we're in the events industry, this is event season, and we are working crazy hours right now, but giving back is something that's really important to me. And especially when it's young people, because I want to bring up this group of young entrepreneurs, and then I want them to come work with me.

So, I saw that DECA was coming to the Atlanta Georgia World Congress Center. We actually had some staff there that working for the security doing security there. So I was like, this is a great opportunity for me to get involved. So, I volunteered as a judge for the entrepreneurship category. Let me tell you how fascinating, this was because, as a judge, now I have this podcast and I did some business coaching and I've been an entrepreneur most of my life. And like I have just genuinely enjoyed getting to know these female powerful women, you know, these incredible women that, that have been interviewing on the podcast. But you know, we're all seasoned businesspeople, you know, businesswomen. And so, I'm looking at this, okay, what are kids going to say?

You know, these are teenagers, these are high schoolers. I can't wait to hear, their feedback. It was so enlightening. So, when I interviewed the female teams because there were teams of two, you know, sometimes it was two females, sometimes two males, sometimes male and female. And so, when I interviewed two females and I said, you know, we did a role-play like we did a role-play on franchising, right. So I said, how do we do our training for the franchisees? Tell me how you would design it. Almost every single female-only team focused on, well, we need to teach them about our brand standards, our customer service, and our brand standards brand identity, customer service, and value company values. The male teams said, well, we need to talk about safety protocols and how to use the equipment and how to do, you know like it was all like a step-by-step manual, kind of like operations focused.

And then when I interviewed minority teams, theirs was, well, we should be mentoring other franchisees. We should be connecting with the community. And so, I was like, fascinating. And so of course the ones that I felt had the best answer were the diverse teams, because it was a male and a female, you know, minority it was just, they gave a better, well-rounded response because it encompassed all of it. And so, the key takeaway is to diversify your leadership. And you talk about so much of that. And it's like, guys when you look around the room and everybody looks like you're not winning this race because what's going to happen is somebody's going to beat you at what you're doing because they have greater perspective. So, tell me about diversity inclusion and what that means to a company.

Chichi Okezie: Well, I'll use myself for example. You know, born and raised in the United States. My parents are Nigerian immigrants. And so, it's always been interesting when I would go to school because people would think, oh, you are an immigrant or if you were born here, then English, wasn't your first language. So, I get to experience a lot of these things that other people experience. And then of course my name Chichi is my stage name. That's not My full name. And so, but when official documents come Chichi’s full name is on there. So, Chichi was not, that's not going to be on my bank card and it's not going to be on my passport. So, it's interesting to see how people react to me when they see my full name. Cause I have a foreign name. So, that's a different layer of diversity.

And so, I, when I go into places, I always have to think that I have to be open-minded. Because people may think that I am an immigrant and have certain biases towards immigrants. They may think you know, or even what type of immigrant they think I am. And so, when I talk about diversity in my workshops, it's really, multi-layered, it's not just necessarily gender or age. It can also be socioeconomic. You know, given the examples that I was having lunch, a friend of mine, so sweet was introducing me to a lady who worked for a wonderful company here in Atlanta where I could do professional development training for her team. We were having lunch together. So, I'm telling her about the business. We're having a great time, Angela. And then she says, oh, I have a diverse network. I said, okay. So, she starts to explain her diverse networks.

It's four other businesswomen that are located in different areas of the world and she goes on and she goes on and then Angela said to her, well, you don't have a diverse network. It's actually just you in four countries, nonetheless, I did not get the training program. And that's okay, I'm not, but I have bitterness, but it was what it was. They're all women they all are in this C-suit. They all make the same amount of money. They're all heterosexual. They all, you know, have children, the same educational background. And I said that's not diversity.

Angela Gennari: It’s not diversity. You're absolutely right. I love that because you know, everybody thinks, oh, if I have all women, it's diverse. No, it's not it's really not. And so like and so diversity matters because the different perspectives, the different life experiences, the different ways of viewing things, the different, you know, what is in your heart, you know with the decade kids.

Chichi Okezie: Well, I'll tell you what it does do. Does that really invoke empathy? I had a roommate in school that was vegetarian. So, you can imagine in the late nineties, not like here where you have all these options. It was really difficult for her to find food to eat. And it was more along the lines of religious choice. So, there were certain things that she couldn't eat, even if it was, there was no meat. And so, she was kind of borderline vegan, but not, but almost so when we would go out, we would ask different restaurants to make sure that she had something to eat. And even when we would go on these buffet lines, if we saw something that was no meat in it, we, we wouldn't take it. Cause we would think, well, somebody else cannot eat this. We can eat this particular dish. So, let's have the spaghetti meatballs and leave the beans for somebody else. So really just being empathetic to other people's needs to me is a form of diversity and inclusion.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. A hundred percent. And, and when people recognize that on a board of directors or a C-suite or, you know, when you're even just sitting around a boardroom table, the diverse backgrounds and inclusion, and different, you know, socioeconomic status, whatever it is, it all brings something valuable to the table. You know, with the decade of experience, every single person that sat in front of me gave me a very well thought out from the heart intelligent, insightful answer. And it wasn't wrong. None of them were wrong. The difference was it wasn't comprehensive. d so, you know, I love their answers. They're right. You know, we should be looking at values. We should be looking at safety. We should be looking at mentorship. We should be looking at brand identity, but we should be looking at all of it.

Right. Not just one segment. And so, you know, that that's so important to, to bring that to the table and to make sure people understand that it's not about checking a box. Right. Because I feel like that's where a lot of the corporations have gone. Oh, I've got a DNI. You know, we've got diversity and inclusion person here, and now we’ve checked the box, but you have to go far deeper than that. You have to really make sure that the voices aren't just being understood, but that their action plans are being implemented. And that there's real true value in the voices at the table.

Chichi Okezie: And I will take it a step further is the diversity piece. Some people think, well, if we have this particular group, it's a disadvantage, we can actually be an advantage. And the example I'll give is I'll give myself. There was an issue that came up years ago. It was a very faulty mascara, Angela, and it poked my eye out. And like I had to go to the eye doctor. That's how serious it was. And they're like, you have a corneal abrasion. Oh my, we can't even spell that. So, we didn't use vine. We had to use some steroid-induced eye drops.

So, I was down for three days oh, yes. And so, when I didn't have my eyesight. so, I didn't have my eyesight. I noticed that my hearing started getting better. And so, I could hear like, when I would turn the TV on, I'm like, oh my God, do I really listen to the TV that loudly? So, I'm literally lowering the volume of the TV and I go into the kitchen, and I can just hear things that I never used to hear before. And I was like, is there something wrong with the refrigerator, like, why is it making that noise? is the food like staying cool. And then the best part was when the mail would come because I'm at home, I'm not going anywhere. So, I could hear the mail truck coming and it always does my mail carrier or postal carrier always come at 12 o'clock because I never noticed it.

Not to say that US postal service did not maintain their cars, but oh, it was a loud sound. And so, my point is that if someone may have a disability or what we would consider a deficit. And we need to look deeper into that because there could be an area where they're stronger. So, in my case, you know, I did lose air quote, lose my sight for a few days sure. Where I just had to rest my eyes, but my hearing and my sense of other senses were so much better. So, I think that's really important going back to valuing people.

Angela Gennari: Sure. Absolutely. Yeah. I am hundred percent agree with you and we actually have a gentleman that works with me who is legally blind. And it's so funny because we'll have hundreds of people at an event, and I'll walk up to him, and I'll say hi to him. And he's like, oh, hi Angela. Like, how do you know it's me and say it was me but he's, you know, it's just the other senses you're right. Absolutely.

Chichi Okezie: He probably recognizes your voice.

Angela Gennari: Yeah. Yeah. so, but you know, and when you're talking about hundreds of people coming in and saying hello to you, and then all of a sudden, they're like, oh hi Angela. You know, and it's just interesting that. But anyway, so I have just really enjoyed talking to you. So, I have one last question for you. And it's one that I love this question because it's just so insightful. What do you wish more people knew?

Chichi Okezie: I wish more people knew that there's always opportunity even when things may look like there's only one way to do it. There's only one way that I've seen this done. This is just inevitable. Just really being flexible open-minded and patient. And you'd be really surprised.

Angela Gennari: Very cool. I love that. I think more people should take that to heart. It's always opportunity. Just never know sometimes the things that you think are the opportunity, aren't the actual opportunity. So, there's that too. So, thank you so much, Chichi. You are just a pleasure to talk to. I've really enjoyed this. I had big fun. Thank you for having me

Chichi Okezie: And shout out to Monica McCoy,

Angela Gennari: Monica, Teresa.

Chichi Okezie: Amazing. Yes. And Theresa absolutely

Angela Gennari: Absolutely. Two of my absolute favorite people they are so amazing. So thank you for being here.

Chichi Okezie: Thank you.

Chi Chi OkezieProfile Photo

Chi Chi Okezie

Authoress / Consultant/ Entrepreneur

Chi Chi Okezie is owner / producer of SIMPLEnetworking, LLC. SN is a consulting firm based in Metro-Atlanta, GA, which specializes in business networking, diversity and inclusion and cultural awareness consulting and training. Chi Chi has spent the past 16 years assisting corporations, top universities, institutions and federal agencies with professional development training. She is trilingual, the author of 2 networking books (“SIMPLEnetworking” and “Networking Made Simple”), blogs as the Champion Networker. As well as, published hundreds of online articles as a Diamond Expert for EzineArticles.com Her company was granted a Proclamation for Business Networking Day for November 13th in 2017.

Through her company, Chi Chi has presented keynotes, hosted events and created training programs. She has also developed workshops and curriculum in various topics of: business networking, diversity and inclusion, branding, entrepreneurship, ethics and integrity, etc. A unique value proposition is including culture, arts and entertainment to broaden the learning and development experiences.

Additionally, Chi Chi is the recipient of several awards including Class of 40 Under 40 Connect Magazine and Rejuvenate Magazine. She is heavily involved with her alumni association and serves as Alumni Counselor to the Campus Life Committee of the Emory Board of Trustees. As well as, Executive Committee Member of the Oxford College of Emory Board of Counselors. Chi Chi holds active memberships with the FACC-ATL, ADMAG (Atlanta Diversity Management Advocacy Group), ASAP (American Society of Administrative Professionals) and Turning Point Church.