This week as part of our 'doing it differently' series, we sat down with Stacia Neale, principal at The Skills Audit. Based in Toronto, Stacia helps clients from across Canada take inventory of their skills and accomplishments so they can make the next step in their careers with confidence and clarity. Stacia was a founding member of The Collective and many Moms at Work members were early clients as she grew her company.
Please tell us about your business?
I developed a skills assessment program that helps people seeking to change careers and/or do their jobs better or differently. My client demographic is overwhelmingly but not exclusively female, and it largely consists of adults, though I've started helping college students with things like choosing a major and developing career plans for after graduation.
All sessions have standardized frameworks, but I tailor each appointment to my client's needs. My job is just as much about holding space and listening as it is about actively helping.
How are you trying to do things differently with your business?
I didn't invent the concept of a skills audit. It's an organizational behaviour tool that has been around forever. If you look them up on the internet, you’ll find a ton of random, generic downloadable self-assessment PDFs that, in my opinion, are asking all the wrong questions.
I think it's imperative to do this kind of work through a lens of appreciative inquiry, meaning to stop focusing on what you think you're missing or what's "wrong" with you, and start naming and celebrating all the things you have going for you and how rad you are.
I also think that this process has been missing context. I believe that context is the most powerful universal truth. To me, to contextualize is to consider information that's external to people through the lens of perspective, which is, how that information relates back to them. And when they have both those layers of data, it's not only incredibly empowering, but it allows them to navigate circumstances in a much more efficient and effective way, because they understand what's actually going on.
So I provoke conversations to contextualize my clients' skills within their nature and lived experience. If they can do a job that is largely aligned with who they are and how they process information out in the world, then the work stops being soul-crushing and they'll be operating from their strengths with joy more often than not.
Additionally, because my education is in Sociology, I believe we need lift the conversation at least one level higher, to not only get my clients to contextualize themselves within their own lives, but also within society-at-large.
I have lots of important discussions every day about things like systems of power (e.g. capitalism), systemic oppression (the patriarchy), internalized capitalism (attaching your feelings of self-worth to your levels of productivity), benevolent sexism, historical and cultural bias, etc.
It adds a vital layer of understanding, particularly for those who are struggling with insecurity and self-limiting beliefs like Imposter Syndrome (which I could talk about for days). They need to see that part of their struggle is, for sure, their own responsibility, in terms of figuring out who they are and what they need. But a big part of it is also that they're trying to find their footing and flourish within a system of power that is not at all developed for - nor even concerned with - their own individual success.
These systems are so proficient and insidious that for their own survival, they must convince you that any deficiency or shortcoming they may have is actually your fault.
Showing people how to stop internalizing those deficiencies and properly allocating responsibility is crucial part of the work I do. And when the light of comprehension finally goes on inside of someone, there is no better feeling.
Watching people get back onside with themselves right in front of you is the absolute best.
Was there something or someone who inspired you on this journey?
Advocacy has been a through-line in my life since I was a kid. I have always believed that if you have the ability to help make things better for others, then it's your moral imperative to do so. However you do it, it has to be done.
I also deeply believe in the de-commodification of information, for exactly the same reasons.
Can you describe the moment where you realized you were doing something meaningful?
The way I interact with people in my work is a natural extension of how I operate as a person out in the world. For better or worse, it's not an affectation, it's my authentic self. So it has always been meaningful to me as I've been doing it my whole life.
But after I defined my process and really began refining my offering, the feedback I began getting from clients was overwhelmingly positive, and frankly quite moving. I'm so pleased and proud that I really seem to be helping.
What is the scariest part of what you do as an entrepreneur?
I've been an entrepreneur of one sort or another for a decade, so not much of the business side of it actually scares me anymore. But because my current gig is pretty new and I'm still finding my way, I sometimes get intimidated when I do certain things, particularly during high-stakes corporate sessions.
At this point, I've already worked with organizations like the U. N. Refugee Agency, Walmart, and Pearson Education. And at the beginning of each of those contracts, I've thought to myself, "Have you completely lost your mind, Stace? What is it exactly that you think you are you doing?"
But then I get in the groove of my agenda, and I lock in with my audience, and I'm full steam ahead. I don't know how to do lots of stuff, but I do know how to do this.
This thing that I've created is my forever jam, my ultimate purpose. The happiest I've ever felt professionally. It's the confluence of my education, my nature, my skills and talents, my lived experience, and my intuition.
And what's more, I'm my own best advertisement. Do I always know how things are going to turn out? Certainly not. But I know me, and I know my skills and strengths. I know who I am and what I can pull off.
The result may not always be my finest moment, but I have cultivated the utmost faith in myself that I'll get through it. And that faith is really grounding, particularly when you work on your own.
What impact do you hope your work will have?
First and foremost, I want people to be able to celebrate their skills and accomplishments, and to really see how valuable they are in the world.
As humans, we so often undervalue what we can do and overvalue what others can do, but it's because we've lost the ability to contextualize our own talents, particularly and especially when we're proficient at them. The assumption becomes that everyone can do what we can do, and that's simply not true.
I also want people to see these systems of power as mere social constructs, or made-up ideas that only serve a particular subset of the population, and try to find a way to succeed in spite of them.
To be empowered to take ownership of the things they can change, and identify and eschew the issues that are not their individual burdens to bear.
I am looking to disrupt these toxic narratives that are running rampant in our culture, and therefore in people's minds - particularly for marginalized populations.
Disruption of those narratives leads to challenges to the status quo, and that leads to resistance and revolution. And from that comes change. It's what we desperately need and what I am absolutely here for.
Any advice you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs? Perhaps something you wish you knew when you were starting out?
1) Don't discount the hustle. It's real, it requires attention, and it will be your constant companion in entrepreneurship so you'd better make friends. If you can't handle the hustle, this kind of life isn't for you.
2) Have someone help you determine the cost of your services. Not the worth - that's all you. But the cost. It's nerve-wracking and it's almost impossible to do without external guidance and expertise. Do your research and don't sell yourself short. Have faith in your offering and listen to your gut.