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Period Story Podcast, Episode 22: Elaine dela Cruz, Start Having Uncomfortable Conversations

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I spoke with Elaine dela Cruz, the co-founder of Project 23, a culture and performance consultancy. Elaine and I had a great conversation about teaching her daughters about periods, how culture affected how she learnt about periods and sex and of course, her first period.

Elaine shares the memory of getting her period during a much anticipated family vacation and how she cringed at the way her mum and aunties were discussing it.

Elaine talks about how culture likely affected the way she learned about sex and period, saying that her family was not one to talk about these things. She says that she learned from this experience and it made her want to be more informed for the conversation with her daughters.

We talk about being laissez-faire about periods in your 20s, the change that can happen after childbirth and what happens when you ovulate.

Listen to hear what happens when Elaine decides to have the first conversation about periods with her daughters and why she had to have a re-do! She says these conversations made her more open about her period.

Elaine says it’s so important for us to have uncomfortable conversations and if we push the conversation and push through the discomfort, we’ll get to the other side and learn and connect in a different way. I completely agree!

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Elaine dela Cruz. Elaine is the co-founder of Project 23, a culture and performance consultancy, passionate about people. After a successful career working in the media industry, she saw that there was room to do things better and was placed to do something about it. Started in 2018, Project 23 helps organisations to create an inclusive culture, in turn increasing employee happiness and ultimately resulting in better business performance. Their mission is to make the media industry a fairer, happier and more productive workplace. Elaine is an ICF accredited executive coach, consultant, speaker and trainer. She calls herself a positive disruptor wanting to actuate change for good. Elaine’s a proud single mum, a first generation born Filipino Londoner and a lover of music and eating. Welcome to the show.

Elaine: Thank you, Le’Nise. Thank you for having me. That makes me pretty established, doesn’t it? Makes me sound like I’ve done stuff.

Le’Nise: You have. So, let’s get into the question that I start each episode with. So, tell me the story of your first period.

Elaine: Yeah. As soon as you invited me, I did think, you’ve got a rack your brains and start thinking about the detail of my first period and I do wonder whether or not this relatively short story about my first period actually may be is saying something about the way that I am with periods in general and maybe my kind of experience with it. So, the detail that I have is pretty short and stubby, I would describe. I don’t even know how old I was, but I’m going to guess that I was probably about 12. I’m 41 so back then that was pretty much in between primary school or middle school, as we called it, even back then and high school. So, because obviously the years dropped in London back then as well. So, every summer, me and the family and our extended family here in London would get so, so excited about the prospect of going to Newbury, that inverted commas, Newbury. So the place called Newbury, for what we called Newbury was actually where my parent’s friends, she was a housekeeper for huge, huge like what I would describe as a mansion is probably like a stately home in this mansion that had a swimming pool, which was like the best thing ever. They had horses there, tennis courts, they had a big old house. And the family that she was the housekeeper for would obviously allow her every now and then to invite her friends and family over. So, for us, you know, all my friends’ parents, we didn’t have any family here, but that was our family. So, all the kids, every year we would go and that would probably be our annual holiday, actually. And we would get so excited. And I remember, I would count down the weeks, count down the weeks to it then, you know, the drive there and inevitably it’s, ‘are we there yet?’.

And one year, I was absolutely devastated because this was the year that I got my first period. So, my memory of it was sitting on the edge of the pool, paddling with my feet, watching all the kids go nutso in the pool and, you know, splashing everyone. And yeah, with a big bunch of kids, I think probably about 13, 14 kids of various ages. My families actually. And I just remember thinking, shit, well I probably wasn’t thinking shit, I was just kind of sulking. I wasn’t in the pool because I didn’t, I wasn’t allowed to and all I remember thinking was that, I guess, blood would just leak out into the pool like a movie or something. And as I’m sitting there and one of the aunts, in inverted commas, if you know you know, then she was kind of like, “Elaine, why don’t you get in the pool? Come and get in the pool?” And before I could say anything else, my mum just went, “Oh, no, she has her period, she has her period for the first time”, and then they started speaking in Tagalog, like the Filipino, like the native language between them, and I could just get the kind of bits and pieces of the fact that they were talking about me and the fact this is my first period. Oh, my God, that type of thing. Oh, really? Oh, she’s so big now. Oh, and I’m just sitting there like, oh, my God, this is cringe. And that was my memory. So, And I think it was the missing out is the feeling I have and people talking about it like it was this thing that you weren’t really supposed to talk about, and most definitely something that the women did. The women spoke about it, not the girls, but the women. And I yeah, I just remember my mum blurting it out and obviously, I’m sure lots of mums do that. But ‘mortificado’ is the word I will use for it. Yeah, that’s it, and there’s not really a before and an after that. I don’t remember, the experience, I don’t remember, you know, looking into my panties and seeing blood, I don’t remember sanitary towels, I don’t remember anything like that on that occasion, I just remember, I guess, that trauma piece, which I didn’t really recognise as trauma at the time, but maybe it was just absolute embarrassment. Yeah, that was my first period.

Le’Nise: And so how did you learn about what it actually was? So, you said you don’t really remember the actual event, but did you have conversations beforehand with maybe cousins or your mum about what was going to happen?

Elaine: Right, so this is the thing. So, you know, I think knowing that I’m going to talk about my first period and knowing that I have two daughters who are 12 and 11 and talking about periods and understanding about periods, obviously completely relevant and I need to know, I want to know, I’ve always wanted to know how to tell them. So, coming here, I was thinking, OK, what was it? I mean, maybe my memory, maybe I have holes in my memory that I don’t remember my mum telling me or my older sister. My older sister is five years older than me. But genuinely, I don’t have a single memory of my parents, my mum telling me, my older sister telling me.

I have a vague memory of secondary school. So, this is, I’ve already got my period of how to use tampons. I remember that lesson because it was in one of the huts, it was freezing, but not a single memory. I called my sister, I FaceTimed my sister, she lives in Toronto and I called her just a few days ago, “Jude, just thinking to double check with you, you know, did you ever tell me about my period?” She’s like, “I don’t think so, I don’t even remember who told me” and I think I was really curious to know that most people come and tell you that they have a clear memory of who told them, and they have this horrific story, or this joyous story, but I do wonder what, I did wonder to myself, what does it say that I think it never happened? I think the conversation in the household actually never happened, and maybe that was a cultural thing, maybe it was just not what my mum thought was necessary or maybe of an age, I don’t know, maybe of our generation. I’m not quite sure. I’d be really interested to hear what other people will say and what, you know, what you experience, the averages, if you like.

Le’Nise: I mean, it’s so different. I mean, some guests have talked about learning almost by osmosis, seeing kind of pads or tampons around the house, in the bathroom. Other people learned from school. One of my guests, she talked about how she learned from Jackie magazine. So, I think culture definitely plays into a lot of the conversations. And I just wonder, from a cultural perspective. Was there any conversation about sex? Or was that kind of something you learned by osmosis as well?

Elaine: Like I said earlier, I’m 41, I still haven’t had a conversation about sex like that. I think it’s cultural to a degree, but I also think it is, like many things it’s down to you know, it is about who my parents are as people, the generation that they grew up in. And definitely, I don’t know, maybe, they came from the Philippines in the early 70s. They were completely able to speak English. But maybe I don’t know, maybe there is a language barrier thing for them as well to talk about things that are much more uncomfortable. I think they definitely come from an era, a culture, a family where we don’t talk about certain things. We don’t talk about periods; we don’t talk about sex. We will talk a little bit about the things that you’re not supposed to do. So, you know, I had many one-way conversations about drugs, which were basically you don’t ever do drugs. And so, it was mentioned like that. But I think in general, they don’t have, I suppose the vocabulary, the capabilities to be able to talk about things as a whole piece. So, if we’re talking about periods, I think that my mum and dad, they both were hospital workers. My mum worked for the NHS for ages, she was haematology lab technician. My dad was a theatre technician, so he worked in operating theatres, both very, very practical and able to deal with the medical and physical things. But actually, obviously, when you talk about periods or sex, a huge part of it is also about emotion and how you deal with it, how you cope with it as a person and those things, I don’t think they have the vocabulary to be able to really express and I think that’s another reason why they kind of shied away or stepped away from it. And to be frank or to be honest, I don’t even know if they know that they stepped away from it. You and I, we grew up with Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, and we’ve been given that vocabulary, right, you know, you’re not deep if you don’t have that kind of thing, which obviously I’m just joking but they just don’t know how. But also, I think there is 100% a part of it, which is, we don’t talk about periods because that’s periods and they’re private. You know, they are shut away, as we all know, that the society has made us do. They are things that we don’t talk about.

Le’Nise: So, having grown up with this, not really remembering how you learned about your period and how to deal with it. What have you taken from that experience and how are you now speaking to your daughters about what has come or is about to come for them?

Elaine: Yeah, great question. With all the parenting challenges and aspects that you have, so, you know, we all want to be amazing parents, right? I always loved this phrase when the kids were first really young, which is, I mean, this is so generalising here. So, everyone can hate me for this. But it just it meant something to me at the time. Mums, they want to be the best mums ever, the best mum ever, dads, they just wanna survive that shit. I thought it was just funny and I definitely experienced that as a mum. But I want to be the best mum I could possibly be. So, as I have got older, as I’ve got more informed, and that’s still a growth goal line for me now. Obviously, I want to be, I hate to say it, but I want to be a better parent than my parents were to me. And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. I mean that in a more informed, educated way and I take what they gave me as an essence, and I add onto it. So when it comes to what I’ve learned about my experiences with periods and how I can inform my girls, that’s just one example of that, where I can look back and I can see that, yeah, I didn’t have, not even the practical tools, because clearly I did. But it’s the empowerment that comes with being more informed about knowing about periods, the statement of the fact that it shouldn’t be in the background. Why does it have to be in the background? So that’s the part I want to bolt on. Yes, my mum never told me about how I should do it. But I think the bit that I really only got later that I want to put on them earlier from the beginning, is the feminist bit. Which is the bit about, you know, this is nothing to be ashamed of, this is everything to be proud of and actually the privilege that’s attached to having your period. Yes, I complain about it, but that’s a huge privilege. So, I suppose when I started to think about ok, I’ve got to tell my kids this at some point.

And I remember at the time my sister was on holiday here and her youngest, she has three girls and her youngest is the same age as my oldest. And at the time I think they’re about 10, she’s calm and then they’ve gone back to Canada, we’re face timing and I remember the subject of periods came up into our conversation as mums, and because her older two are that much older, like 10 years old, 8, 9 years older, Jessie, her youngest already knew about periods? That’s I was given. She was like “oh, yeah but, you know, I’m sure Jessie’s going to start puberty soon.” And I just thought, oh, shit, the kids aren’t babies anymore. And that was the moment I just thought, I need to start thinking about how I’m going to do this. And then what I did, obviously, like any first timer in the situation, I went to my friend Google and I was like, how do I do this? How do I check it out? So, I did that. I thought, OK, what’s the structure? I went very pragmatic, what’s the structure of this, how am I going to do this? And I kind of took what I wanted to take from it, which was the first one, I need to tell them about the physicality of it, the physical stuff, the human body stuff, the biology of it. And then the second thing was to talk to them about what you do about it, the resources, how you how you manage with that. And then the third one was, you know, the reality, the practicalities of it, if you like, because that was helpful to me, Google was helpful to me because I was gonna go in it with the science thinking that’s how it’s approachable for them. But actually, obviously, they would have a trillion questions about what does this stuff just leak down my leg or how does this work? So, I found that really helpful. But before I had that talk and I do have a funny story about that talk because I had it twice. I did think a lot about how I, like everything else, normalise things for them, that this is about periods just being something that is as every day as breathing or whatever else it is that we need to deal with or think about. 

Le’Nise: You took your experience and you want your daughters to have a different experience. And I think that’s really powerful because, you know, I really relate to what you’re saying about, you know, just trying to be a better parent than your parents. And I think that we have so much access to information now that we know so much more. And it’s easier to get informed about, oh, how should I potty train my child? How should I teach my child about periods? You know, it’s so easy to learn about whatever you need to learn about. But before you go onto this funny story that you have, I just want to ask you, so how did you eventually learn about your period? Was it reading magazines, do you actually have any memory of that?

Elaine: You know, I really genuinely don’t. I really, genuinely don’t. When you said earlier on some people talk about learning about it through osmosis. For me, when you said that, I thought, oh, yeah, that must be it. That’s all I’ve got, really, which isn’t the answer. It’s not the great anecdotal answer for you, but I don’t know, I was thinking about this last night, particularly, just thinking, I don’t know what that says, but I do think it might say something. Just the fact that it’s maybe, as much as I’m sitting here saying, you know, I want to teach my kids about the privileges to have periods and how strong and powerful we are as women. You know, it’s the absolute opposite of the fact that we have to hide this stuff and not talk about it. And I think that the experience that I have, or that lack of memory, I have nothing else but to think that it’s because it’s just not been a conversation in my life that I’ve had at what should be perhaps a profound moment. So, whether it was my mum and I don’t mean that as a disrespectful thing at all. But whether it’s a lack of conversation or my sister, who I was always close to and was definitely my big sister. At school, I don’t remember it happening really at school. The school thing I think must have happened, surely the conversation whether I remember it. But I think I would 100% know if I had the conversation with my girlfriends at the time. And I don’t that ever happened, I have no recollection of that. And I can’t you know, I think it was only until, you know, many, many, many years later where I think I might have had a conversation with my girlfriends about it actually, which I think is telling.

Le’Nise: Did you ever have any issues with your period? Did you have painful periods or any conditions where you may have kind of sought out some medical advice, if you would like to share?

Elaine: Yeah, no, not luckily, no. My experience with my periods was always a bit, I was always very laissez-faire about it. I did not keep track of when my periods were, I just would get caught out on the hop all the time. I never learnt, I mean, what a fool. I probably went through a time, probably like uni days, early uni days, early 20s, maybe when we first met, actually, I was a party girl. I was always out, and I was doing things I shouldn’t probably be doing. And I think that probably affected my period, too. So, I remember I would miss a period sometimes or I would be weeks late. And it would take me a while to notice, like an irresponsible while to notice and then it would come. And obviously in that period of time where you notice and you’re like, please, Lord, no, let my period come. In that time, you’d get a panic and then let her come. And actually, I put it down to the fact that I was partying so much I was having irregular sleep, I wasn’t looking after my body, I was having a ridiculously too good a time in that sense. And that was what was making my periods become very irregular.

Other than that, I noticed that I would hear or read, or someone would say that that period lasted seven days or eight days, and I would be like shit, mine lasted for like 4 days, 3 days, start to finish. And then I would think, well, I’m obviously pretty jammy here with this. And then I had kids in my late 20s and then after that, I noticed that my period was different. It did change everything. So, they were a lot more like clockwork. Although I still was very laissez-faire about it but I felt like they were much more clockwork and they were heavier. They were longer and heavier. And it was a bit like, goddamn why, you know, that kind of thing. And I would get cramps and PMT like I never did before. And actually, as I got older, I started to notice that I get PMT in a way that I’m pretty sure I didn’t before. Like clockwork, actually.

Le’Nise: And when you say PMT, what does that mean for you?

Elaine: To me, it means a frikkin mood. To me, it means, you know, it can be a mixture. It’s definitely mood based for me. And it can be either just feeling quite heavy like a dark, you know, just heavy in mood or most definitely a shorter temper. I wouldn’t say I’m irrationally so, but the fuse is so much shorter and it’s always four or five days before, rather than a day before, Two days before. I’m fiery as a person anyway, so, yeah, my pride gets in the way of warning people that it’s here or my boyfriend that it’s here. But, you know, and heaven forbid, if he was ever to bring it up with me and say, well, clearly, I probably would go to jail. But I know it’s happening after the effect, if you know what I mean. At the moment, in the moment, I just think I’m perfectly sane, thank you very much, do not criticise me, do not tell me I’m overemotional. And then maybe two days later, I’m like, oh, shit, I was a dragon. So, yeah, I guess that’s what it means, I turn into a bit of a dragon.

Le’Nise: Do you track your cycle?

Elaine: I started track my cycle only about three or four months ago, not long ago at all. I don’t know why I did it, it might have even been something as superficial as a frickin Instagram ad that got me. I used Flo and I only track it. I only wanted to track it because I just thought, OK, I’m a big grown woman now, I need to know what day this comes before it never comes again. And so, yeah, I do track it. And then as I’ve started to use the app, I started to track PMT and that’s pretty much it. I couldn’t even tell you what functionality there is in the app besides that. I remember having a quick look at like what other content there was that what other things are more I find useful. But I just thought nah, I don’t need that. Maybe I’m missing in a whole world of resource I don’t know about.

Le’Nise: What I say to my clients is you need to track it the best way for you. Some people, they love getting really into detail and they actually kind of journal on how they’re feeling each day. And some people, it’s literally the start of their period, end of their period. That’s me, actually, because I’m kind of in tune with how my body is. I track when it starts, when it finishes and then when I’m ovulating, I kind of notice that and that’s it. So, you just do what’s best for you. There’s so many different apps and options out there.

Elaine: Can I ask, how do you feel when you’re ovulating?

Le’Nise: So typically, that’s where you have the highest energy in your menstrual cycle. So, for me personally, I know when I’m ovulating because, and I really have to control this because I have like a manic energy and I want to overschedule. I try to do too much and it’s like, go, go, go, go, go. I know that I can, I have more energy to do workouts and I can do long runs, or I can do super long yoga sessions. And that’s because, you know, oestrogen is really high, testosterone really high. Obviously, libido is highest at that point. But there are also physical signs. So, you know, you have the cervical fluid, it changes, you notice that in your underwear, our temperature will increase as well. So, I think typically, women start to notice ovulation when they’re trying to get pregnant. But actually, it’s something that we should all be aware of because that’s actually where our menstrual cycle, I believe, focuses on ovulation rather than where everyone focuses on having a period.

Elaine: So true. As soon as you start saying that, I’m like, I have another date to mark in my app. I’m going to start tracking. I’m really curious to know if that’s how I feel when I’m ovulating, because I think that’s what it is. How do I feel when I’m ovulating? I want all the energy. I want to do something with it. And I’ll just steal from you and the fact that I just cap it, I know not to overextend, but I’m going to get back to you and tell you if happens to me as well.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about how you talk to your daughters about their period and what was their reaction to the conversation?

Elaine: Rewinding back to that moment when my sister was like, you know, you should tell them, I was a bit like, oh shit. It’s been the three of us in the house, I’ve been a single mum since my youngest, there’s only 13 months between them and since they were two and one. And so, it’s a very female house, obviously. And I have always tried to be a parent where I’ll just tell them the way it is, nothing is taboo or anyway. That’s how I tried. For all I know, I’m just a walking version of my mum. Whereas, you know, maybe I whisper the bad words or something, I try to be very open. So, you know, when they first, I don’t know, saw on TV, a gay couple, you know, how come they’re kissing? Because they’re gay, that’s it. Well, there’s a trans person, but he’s trans, that’s what it is, here’s the background. This is, you know, as much as I possibly can about the world, but for some reason, unbeknown to me, maybe because we’re just a product of our mums and dads. I never really told them about periods, like most mums, I could never go to the toilet without it being a party in the toilet, right. And they’re asking me about frickin homework or whatever in the toilet. But I would always lock the door when I had my period or when I was changing my tampons or whatever, maybe because when they were really young, I guess, exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to teach them, I just thought maybe it’s too much for them or whatever. But I found myself, you know, beyond their two or three years old to now they’re eight or nine and I still haven’t really said anything about it. The way that I would tell myself anyway, and I still think it’s fair is that they’ve got years to think about that shit. Like you can get away with that for now, don’t worry about it. I think I just wanted to maintain that for them. Innocence is the wrong word. For want of a better phrase. Just give them that kind of freedom and innocence.

Anyway, so now, you know, unlike most topics in my life with them, I don’t have any run up, I’ve got zero run up.  You know, I got scared. My sister was like, it could happen any day and I know some girl where it happened when their 9 and I’m like, oh, fuck. So, I know that at some point I’m going to sit them down. And we happened to be watching a TV show and I can’t remember what, but it was slightly adult. But I’ve always let them watch TV that’s a bit more mature, but comedy wise, particularly and something happened and there was a bit of banter on the TV and it was about sex. And I just found this moment, I thought, OK, this is the moment and it’s like 8:45, so it’s nearly bedtime as well and I learnt later that wasn’t a good time to have these conversations. And I just launch into this conversation and I start with the science of it all and they are engaged, they are on it and I was like, this is going well and I knew that that would be how I get in. You know, this is science. I’m proud to say that they’re both very bright girls and are very into school. I think I went slightly birds and bees first and then it gets to the point where I’m like, so if you don’t have a baby, then what happens is your uterus lining and then, you know, they’ll be blood, and I think I said it like that. Before this point, there’s questions, loads of questions and I’m like, you know, I’m a frickin great mum, this is going well.

And then, as I say, there’s blood and I’m like, yeah, it’s blood but it doesn’t hurt in the way that, you know, we think about blood when you get cut, it doesn’t mean that, there can’t be some pain. And then before I knew it, the old one, Mia, she is bawling. She is just crying. And I’m like, “you don’t have to cry, you don’t have to cry.” And I just had this, what I now know was pretty hard. You don’t have to just worry. And I’m like, “no, really, you really don’t need to cry, don’t worry about it, there’s nothing to be scared of” and she’s still crying and she said I don’t want to talk about it anymore, and I’m holding her there in this conversation. And then I have this moment where I’m like, I am the trauma, I am giving her the trauma now by keeping her in conversation when she is literally saying, I want to go upstairs. I want to go to bed. Right. I messed this conversation up so much in that moment that my daughter actually asked me to go to bed. So, I’ve gone okay, go upstairs.

And then Tiggy, she’s left and I’m like, OK, I start to carry on the conversation with the younger one and she’s like, “I want to go upstairs as well, I want to go upstairs as well.” The younger one definitely idolises but would never admit that she idolises the older one. So, I have this moment, she copies her, so I have this moment where I say, “you don’t have to do what Mia does, you can stay here, you will have this conversation with me, Tig.” She’s just a bit like, “no, I don’t want to.” I kind of push her. I’m like, “why do you want to?” And she just kind of blurts out and they’re like cats and dogs these two, and then she says, “because she’s my sister, I love her and I love her, I want to be with her.” I was just like, I was taken aback, and I was just like, OMG and I was like, “OK, go, go upstairs.” And then that was it, that was the conversation. I went into work the next day and I was like, “oh, my God, listen to what I did, this is how I messed it up” and it was just this funny anecdote where I was the trauma and it was all going so well and then I just held them in this space until I realised that, oh, no, you’ve got to let them go and then we left it at that.

And I think what that did was just served to break the ice for the time when we had the conversation after, which actually, I did in two parts. I did it separately. Neither of them had their periods yet but that conversation went that much better and it was broken down. It was all about let’s do it when you’re on your own, which is very rare, they’re always together. And I did it when my other daughter was at a sleepover. And it just gave us the space to do everything and she was then able to ask the questions, rather than it be the dynamic between the two of them, which is what that was. You know, that first conversation, they’re looking at each other and thinking, what are you thinking? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Oh, my God. I want to go with you. Oh, my God, I love you. Which, you know, she has never said since by the way.

Le’Nise: So, having after having those conversations with your daughters, do you find that you’re more open now about when you have your period and how you’re feeling?

Elaine: Yeah, yeah, I definitely am. I still keep the door closed and actually sitting here, I’m thinking maybe I don’t need to do that anymore, but I think there are certain things that I want my own privacy for. I’m sitting here thinking it could be good education for them to see how you do things and perhaps when those moments come and they really need to be more practical, then I will be there. But actually, I don’t think everything I do has to be a lesson for them because I’m my own person. And so, you know, I don’t really want the door open when I’m changing my tampon or there’s certain things that I kind of think I want to reserve my privacy for. I haven’t actually said to them, I think I’m in a bad mood because my period. I tend to just say I’m in a bad mood if I’m in a bad mood. So, it’s not necessarily attached to that. And maybe that’s a conscious thing, I don’t know, I’ve learned as a parent, you know, you have to show them how you feel because we are a dynamic. If I’m telling you to go to bed because I’m tired, I know you’re not tired but it’s 9:30, it’s past your bedtime. But I know you’re not tired. But if I tell you, do you know what? I need you guys to go to bed. I know you might not be tired but it’s your bedtime, but I’m tired and I need my own time. I need you to go upstairs so I can have my own time because that makes me happier and then I can do what I need to do. So, I always try to address moods like that. I’m going to share it with you so that you know, because then it’s up to you to do something about that or not.

Le’Nise: It sounds like you have been more open and perhaps maybe things will continue to shift as they get older. I just want to shift a little bit towards your business and the work that you do to create inclusivity within media organisations. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Elaine: Yeah, of course. So, I had a good just under 20 years, maybe 18 years in the media industry, and I fell into it like a lot of people do, I think. And I was in the commercial side of things. I was selling advertising and running teams. And by the time I left the last organisation I was in, I was running a team of about, I don’t know, 30 odd people. And before that, maybe a team of the department of about 50 or so people. And I was the head of digital advertising. So, in there you’ve got different teams doing different things, not just salespeople, operations, client services, things like that. And what I started to realise was that, yes, I could still sell. Yes, I was a technical salesperson. And I still loved that part of the job getting out there. But actually, where I gathered all my energy from was the fact that we had a great culture, we had a great team culture within our team, which I almost felt, not in an arrogant way, our experience told us that people gravitate to our department. So, you know, people wanted to work for us. People were happy to work for us when we weren’t there. People, you know, they respected us. They enjoyed their time there. They learnt and there was a palpable energy that belonged to us and our identity. At the time I just thought that was what team was, that was definition of team. As I started to think about exiting the business and thinking about what to do next. I started to realise and see that not all teams operated like that. And not all teams put energy in to building a culture where we were all part of what made it really work and there was less hierarchy. Yes, I was the boss, but I need you, you’re the person I’m helping to deliver here and I’m just here to facilitate that. 

What I started to notice in my last couple of years working in media was that I had a growing feeling inside of me about the kind of unfairness of it all. I was a step away from the board and I was literally working for five white male middle class men who were on the board who had actually been working together for 15 years plus. I don’t think I ever was a woman to pull out the feminist card at all, not really. I would never think ‘ahh it’s because they’re white men and I’m a woman of colour’, I wouldn’t think that, I would think ‘this is what the frickin world is like and you need to work your ass off if you want to get up there. And you know what? You can’t complain about these people. You just have to be good enough to get a seat on there. This is the reality.’ And I was starting to get more and more into it and so I started to think, ‘actually, this is the reality, but it shouldn’t be like this, and there are people like me or others who literally can’t get in because actually it’s closed.’ And that just was growing inside me as a bit of resentment, actually. And then I started to realise, that’s not my problem, that’s not resentment, that’s just me observing.

So, what we did with Project 23 is we launched a company that a understood the value of culture when it comes to performance because if people are happy then funnily enough, they’ll do great work. But also, the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion of that diversity within the media industry became the other thing. We are culture experts, but actually our passion is about building inclusive cultures and getting the value and the equity of diversity to be seen at CEO level. If we were an industry that’s been desperate for innovation for years and years and years and it’s the answer to so much, then how come we don’t realise that diversity is the answer, not the problem? So that’s what’s effectively what we do. We go around and we help organisations understand that this is an answer to some of their strategies, rather than something that the HR department has to do or the BAME Group on the side that is really passionate about this stuff. This should be part of your core corporate strategy.

Le’Nise: Amazing. I think it’s so needed, I know from my background in media, on a certain level it’s quite diverse and then as you get more senior, I know that as I got more senior in advertising / media, I would look around and I would think there’s no one really that looks like me. So, I love what you guys are doing, I think it’s really, really positive. I just want to round off the conversation by asking you, if listeners take one thing away from all the brilliant things that we’ve talked about. What would you want that to be?

Elaine:  It’s a great question. I think for me, like almost everything, it’s that, and this goes for some of the work that we do in the main, actually at its core, it is about talking about a topic and really listening to what comes back to you. You know, the fact that today we are in a world where I can be invited on to a podcast, which is just about periods, is incredible, it’s incredible. And I think the reason why it’s so important is because these conversations need to happen. So, I think if there’s one thing that I want everyone to consider is that you just have to start having the conversation to begin with. And if you’ve started already, then we can push the conversation a little bit more too. There tends to be for most of us, I think that tends to be a barrier that we tend to not go past. So, for me, it was you know, maybe it’s talking about moods with, you know, how you can get PMT, what that does with my kids I haven’t done it yet. So, push the conversation and if we want things to get better, then sometimes you’re going to feel slightly uncomfortable, but that’s OK and you can push through the discomfort. And when you push through the discomfort, you’re probably going to get to the other side and realise something or learn something or hear someone in a different way or be connected in a different way. So, yeah, have the conversation, push the conversation and ultimately listen.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. So where can listeners find out more about you and your company?

Elaine: Yeah. Thank you. So, we have a pretty basic website called www.project23works.com and it tells you everything that we do. In essence, though, what we try and do is say have a look at what we do, get inspired, get a gist of what we do but please just reach out to us. There’s two of us so myself and Gary Rayneau and we’re both on Twitter, we’re both on LinkedIn and you can find us Elaine dela Cruz and Gary Rayneau. We’re always open for people just to have a conversation with us, because actually, before you come up with a big strategy on any of this stuff, all we try and do is have more honest conversations out in the market, because often conversations particularly around diversity & inclusion can be overly sanitised. So, we try and promote honest conversations. So, reach out to us, ask those things and that’s usually where things start.

Le’Nise: Great. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Elaine: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. And honestly, I think this is brilliant and what you’re doing is incredible. And, you know, I love seeing people that I’ve met years and years ago doing much better things than selling banners and buying banners.

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