Real Model interview episode #32 featuring Olivett Ihama, Legal Counsel at Stellantis and Inspiring Automotive Women Award Winner for 2020

Olivett plays a leading role in evaluating and promoting inclusivity and diversity both within Groupe PSA and the external facing media, and has inspired others to question how they can contribute to maintaining and improving an inclusive and diverse culture within the legal team and as part of the wider organisation.

As part of the women’s network at Stellantis Olivett takes a leading role on gender and racial equality, diversity, equality and inclusivity initiatives, including presenting the same at Board level.

How did you feel to be nominated by your colleagues in the Inspiring Automotive Women Awards 2020 and how did it feel to be one of our winners?

2020 was full of so much bad news and negative surprises that to be notified of something like this was a real joy and encouragement for me. It seemed ironic that in a year when I felt as if I was the most ‘hidden’ and ‘limited’ than I have ever been before, I would be recognised with such an honour.

What is your job and what does it involve? 

I work as Legal Counsel for Peugeot Citroen Automobiles UK Ltd (part of the Stellantis Group). This involves a wide range of responsibilities from assisting with company secretarial matters for the boards of the entities in the UK, to reviewing a variety of commercial agreements and advising the UK Group entities in relation to legal risks and compliance.

How long have you worked in the sector?

I have worked within the automotive industry for just over 3 years.

What do you like best about your job?

The variety of work that I am involved in. I never know what will come in to my inbox on any given day! I have a very active imagination and like variety as it stops me getting bored and too comfortable. By having a varied workload, I am able to discover different interests that I would otherwise not have known about.

What are your future aspirations?

I consider myself to be a creative person so I hope that in the future I am able to find a profitable way of expressing this. My sister is a qualified chartered accountant, yet published her first book during the pandemic (The Emerald Stone) and this really inspired me. I think it is important that as we journey through life, particularly in our careers, that we are not afraid to acknowledge and explore other things that catch our attention (even if they were not originally part of “the plan”).

Can you name a woman in automotive that inspires you and why?

Alison Jones, Senior Vice President at Stellantis Group – who is also a fellow Inspiring Automotive Women Award Winner 2020. I have much respect for Alison, not least because of the significant responsibilities she carries within the Stellantis Group but for her ability to do so without losing her sense of relatability.

One thing that I did not realise was important to me until recently – in terms of leadership within a company – was the perception that leaders are genuinely “open to being persuaded”. Knowing that you have a leadership team that are not afraid to reconsider their position and acknowledge some gaps in knowledge, makes leadership at board and senior levels seem attainable for those who have this aspiration, and sends the message that learning (even within your area of expertise), is for life, not just for those who are aspiring to senior roles.

What makes you happy?

Travel – I LOVE to travel and experience different cultures, food and people. The feeling of physically being away from my “norm” and being somewhere I have never been before, or that is not my everyday (or similar to my everyday) location, is very freeing and gives me a blank canvas to paint a new life experience and memories. I also find that I am more appreciative of my every day life when I come back home. Time away to disconnect gives me space to identify the simple but important things that I love and I am grateful for in my life.

Which word or phrase do you most overuse?

“Check your heart” – for me this phrase encourages me to constantly be aware of my motives, whether in relation to what I say, do, or think. This is important to me because I want to genuinely be on the inside who people think I am on the outside.

A less admirable phrase – “Golly!” (pronounced “gah-lee”) – I used to live in Texas, USA and this was a very common saying used to show surprise/shock/exasperation. I originally started using it in jest because it sounds funny and then it became a reality for me that I have been unable to shake for the last 12 years! Moral of the story “She who laughs now, may be laughed at later!”

What is your worst trait?

I can internalise many things, particularly in relation to negative emotions. I think that has much to do with significant responsibilities I carry in both my personal and professional life – nobody wants to see their lawyer crumbling! However, this is something I have actively been working to change since I became aware of it (particularly doing the pandemic) and have been encouraged to see how my transparency about my struggles can help others to overcome theirs.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as someone with a sense of purpose and that moved through life consciously. Life can get so busy and demanding that if we are not careful, we can find ourselves drifting and that “life happens” to us. I find life more meaningful when I know ‘why’ I do what I do. 

For example, when I travel for holidays, I try, as much as possible, to have limited to no contact with my home environment (particularly through social media) because the purpose of that holiday is to momentarily disconnect. I set out with the purpose of rest and recuperation for my body and mind and therefore actively guard against things that may hinder that purpose. One of my favourite sayings that relates to this is “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

What advice would you give to women who are wanting to progress in the sector?

Bring ‘all’ of you to the office – what I mean by this is that you shouldn’t exclude any knowledge gained from personal experiences (both good and bad) and part of your personality as not being “relevant” to your role. We can often try to compartmentalise our lives and automatically write off certain “parts” that do not immediately “look like” they would fit into our roles or profession. For example, I am a very creative person and it can be a bit more challenging to find an outlet for this in my role as a lawyer. However, I have allowed myself to lean into certain conversations/opportunities at work that are not necessarily directly relevant to my role as a lawyer, but stirred up something within me. Giving myself the permission to do so has contributed to discussions and changes taking place at a senior level of the company that will no doubt benefit the company.

There will never be another person that has the same exact “Life CV” as you, just remember that!  

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