My guest today is Dion Johnson, better known as The Womanologist. Dion is a multi-award-winning Women’s champion with the re-empowerment of women at the forefront of everything she does. Her clients include CEOs, Directors and Thought Leaders, who understand that when they truly thrive (and not just act like they are) so do their organizations, industries and ultimately their brands.
Dion was born with a pronounced facial disfigurement and her story of ‘unmasking’ is a powerful metaphor that is captivating and inspiring leaders around the world to show up, and speak up authentically, within their sphere of influence.
I invited Dion to be a guest on my show to talk about her brave unmasking journey. I wanted to learn how she became “The Womanologist”. And I was curious to hear what inspired her to become such an influential change maker.
Hi, I'm Joelly your Branding Badass, and welcome to season two of Branding Matters. My guest today is Deon Johnson, better known around the world as The Womanologist. Dion is a multi award winning Women's Champion with the re empowerment of women at the forefront of everything she does. Her clients include CEOs, directors and thought leaders who understand that when they truly thrive, and not just athletes, they are so to their organization's industries and ultimately, their brands. Dion was born with a pronounced facial disfigurement, and her story of unmasking is a powerful metaphor that is captivating and inspiring leaders around the world to show up and speak up authentically within their sphere of influence. I invited Deon to be guest on my show to talk about her brave unmasking journey. I wanted to learn how she became the woman ologists and I was curious to hear what inspired her to become such an influential changemakers Dion. Welcome to Branding Matters! Really excited about this conversation. Well, it's so nice to speak with you and you are where exactly? In London.Joelly Goodson :
What part of London Are you in?Dion Johnson:
In southeast London so near the river Bourbon either. Are you anywhere near Richmond by any chance because I lived in Richmond? Right so Richmond's really beautiful. But it's it's a good 20 odd miles away from here. Oh, nice. Yeah, after university I traveled for a few years and worked at a place called Joe's Bar and Grill right near Twickenham, and lived upstairs in Richmond. I mean, it was a long time ago. But it was so gorgeous there. Yeah. So lots of, you know, creative types live around there. It's all very picturesque and beautiful and a bit trendy bit bohemian in spots. So yes, very cool place. Oh, nice. Well, lucky you. That's a great place. Super excited to have you here. And so you were raised by your grandmother who used to call a woman of influence, which I thought was such a great compliment. So can you share a bit about what her role played like why she raised you and what was the greatest influence she had in your life My mum and my dad raised me they were divorced, my mum worked a lot. So my grandma was the in house child carer. So she looked after us. She really raised us under her supervision, while my mum went out to work and my mum worked a lot. She was a nurse. And she was you know, she worked back to back jobs. So my grandmother was the stable woman, that stable matriarch of the family, she was the head. And she took care of all the kids that you know, we had always had kids in the neighborhood come in to stay while their parents went out to work as well. And she was amazing woman, very strong woman. She had 13 children, she would tell us the stories about how she had her baby and then went back out into the field to do to farm her crops take to market she was a gritty woman. And the two of us really didn't get on very well. So there were all these other kids. But she and I had beef, you know, like we kind of rubbed each other at the wrong way. We made up. As I grew up in the chores, we made our partner she grew up and mature. And I think we made up but I learned so much from her. Even the bad years when we didn't get on we fought a lot, Julie, I think that you know, I learned a lot about strong women. And I learned a lot about what it really took like my grandmother raised her children by herself like her she wasn't married. And my mom raised us by herself she divorced. So I learned a lot about this toughness, this grip that sometimes we as women who are juggling, or trying to make it all happen tried to have everything I learned about what happens to us sometimes as we really grit our teeth and, and study ourselves and, you know, screw up our faces and and get on and partial just to the plow that sometimes it hardens us. And I think that that was really what I learned from my grandma was she was so strong, so hard. It was sometimes really hard for her to take another strong little girl like me, she thought I had too much mouth she thought, you know, she looked How dare you that I was a seer. I could see things I could see where things didn't match up and I felt like it was my duty to call things out and speak about what I can see and what I think and I had opinions and that my grand just didn't like that at all. So we were looking you know, luckily She probably saw a lot of herself and you a lot of times I've come and you've made come into this too with people that you work with is sometimes the people that seem to be the strongest and the hardest. It's because they put on this shell let's say to protect because they're actually really soft inside and they're super sensitive, that's their way to protect themselves. That's so so true. Part of what I'm teaching is that I really want to get behind the mask, I say, up close and personal with the people that I work with. Because often, the way that we are on the inside is so different to the way that we turn up in the workplace or in public or in other relationships. I mean, that's my story, life really had to teach me how to show up as my true self. And I love your story. And I want to get into all that, especially about the unmasking. Can you share about your unmasking journey? Do you mind sharing sort of what was your were you born disfigured? And what was the disfigurement and and also you talk about to how you were forced to wear dark glasses, right? And it was interesting when I read that about you, because it's true, you often see especially blind people, they wear dark glasses, and they can't see. And so it's really not for them, it's for us to make us feel more comfortable right in society. So I found that really powerful. Do you mind sharing that story and how you unmask yourself? Basically, I love to say that I didn't develop conventionally in my mother's womb. I love to say it because I'm still unconventional. And this is such a clue there about the fact that we all come here as somebody, so in my mother's womb, in our mother's womb, we are somebody you know, but in there, I didn't develop conventionally my face didn't come that developed conventionally. So I had what's called a hair lip. So the bottom of my face was gaping. And my, the top of my face was asymmetrical. So I had quite a twisted face and a blind left eye. So there was lots right from day dot from about three months old, right into my adulthood, I was having lots of corrective surgery with my face, starting with closing up this gap at my lip, and then the rest of it. So right into my adult life, I think, into my 20s I was, you know, still having surgeries. So my appearance was always a thing for me. And being in hospital was always a thing for me, my face was a thing. And when I was part of that corrective process, when I was four years old, I was gifted, I say gifted. I really think that it was gifted, they would, they gave me them like gifts, they said, Here you go. And they gave me this plastic shell that was painted like an artificial eye that was painted to look like my good eye. And it would slit it sit on the top of my of my disfigured eye to kind of try and match it. But it protruded, it wasn't natural, it felt it never ever in all the years, 40 years I wore that thing, but it just never really ever felt natural. It felt like an appendage. Like as an add on, it was quite uncomfortable to wear. And also they gifted me dark glasses. So big, very dark glasses who say the hospital that? Yeah, the the specialist, okay, of helping my face short reconstruction, and so on. So, you know, they weren't doing their best, they were loving me, they were trying to help me to look more normal. They were trying to help me to blend in. They were trying to help me to be like you, you know, I remember when I received the artificial eye. And I remember looking in the mirror that Mr. Miami and the surgeon that know me from my birth was on one side. And my mom was on the other side. And we've the three of us were staring at me with this thing in my face. And I remember his words, I remember Mr. miamians? Was he said, No, there you go. My left now your beautiful, huh? Me. And I remember thinking to myself, I remember thinking my four year old brain. I remember thinking, I don't know about beautiful, but maybe just maybe I look a bit more normal. Yeah, maybe I look a bit more normal. So that was the aim. The aim was to look normal. The aim was saying The aim was to blend in and hide. I call that the beginning of my life behind the mask. And that's how I begin to show up in my life. One day, I went to school with no masks, the next day, I went to school with this stuff hanging off my face. And that's And from that day, I just never let people see behind. You know, there's a handful of people like my mom, my sister later on my daughter and so on. But I never let people see behind there. So I call it the beginning in my life behind the mask because that's how I showed up to school when it happened. And then later on to higher education and to and into the work market. I went with my muscle even into intimate relationships, or when fully physically masked, never, never should let anybody see behind it. And that's how I live my life, you know. And in 2009 I had this Turning Point year because it was a very special time. Obama, the black man went into the White House everyone was talking about well, if that can happen then pigs can fly like a black man in the White House. And you know, Michael Jackson died that year. Everyone was talking about this god of an entertainer, his magic in dance and his music. And, you know, everyone thought about him like he was a god, like he was a special type of human being. And I found myself getting more and more irritated with the conversations because it was like Obama, Hillary Clinton, Michael Jackson was in this sort of elite group of human beings who could do whatever they wanted to do in the world. And then there was the rest of us. And I hated the idea of being in that kind of grief of the rest of us. But I have to admit, when I looked at my life, it was good. You know, people say, yeah, that deal. She's a real go getter. She's constantly going about her life, she's making things happen. She's pioneering services, you know, she's in health care, she's midwife come leadership consultant, blah, blah, blah, she's doing really good. But in my heart, I didn't feel like I was reaching my potential. I didn't feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do. And so I felt like I was probably part of the other group. And I didn't like that at all, I began to feel discontented actually feeling down. Like I wanted to make a more a bigger difference, but I didn't know how. And then my in that high of my discontent, my art died. And basically, long story short, that whole season of burying my arm brought me into contact with all kinds of different people that I hadn't seen for years. And it was just hard, I noticed that I didn't want people to look at me, I noticed that I was feeling uncomfortable about where I was in life. And then I lost my glasses. My glasses fell down the back of a radiator one day, actually the day of the funeral. And it sent me into a spin. I felt like I couldn't go to my aunt's funeral because I didn't have my mask. I didn't call it that at the time. But I just felt like I can't show up in the world without myself covered up. And just one thing after another that week, a boy called me ugly, that hurt. And then some kids tapped me on the shoulder, like the very next day, pointed to my face and laughed, and that hurt. And then I lost my glasses down the back of the radiator, or in the space of a week. And it was just really hurting. I didn't understand it at all. And then the straw that broke the camel's back, I left my artificial eye on the side, my niece who was three at the time found it, and she just couldn't get her head around, can't his eyes on the side, it just, she just couldn't work out. And it really, really freaked her out. But we still we giggle about it now. It really freaked her out. She ran to her room. And she didn't she didn't want me to touch her. She didn't want to look at me. She thought I was some kind of monster and it just really, really hurt. It really, really hurt. And that's when I kind of had this real turning point experience. I found myself hurting so bad. It's funny how when it's time for you to deal with something is often it just gets so poked, like life pokes at it until you have to look at it. Right? Yeah, yeah. So you know, that's what happened. I had to look at this and say, you know what the heck is going on? I like to say I had a conversation with God and said, You know, like, God, what the heck, you know, something, something's really hurting here. And then I had this conversation. And these questions started happening inside the still small voice inside asking me these questions like Dion so when he didn't let people see the real you, when you're gonna show up for real? Why are you hiding? Why don't you let people see you? I thought these are stupid. I honestly, I thought they were dumb questions. I couldn't believe that I was being asked this. I'd never I've been wearing the artificial eye at that time for 40 years. wearing those glasses for 40 years, I never questioned it. I just knew that this is how I have to show up in the world. But here were these questions coming at me at a time of high discontent, asking me like why am I hiding? Why am I wearing my mask? Why am I not showing up? And so I had to really think about it. And it was just like you said, with blind people wearing the glasses. It really wasn't for me. I felt like I needed to. This is what I concluded right there on the floor with my hands up in the air. I felt like I concluded that I needed to because it wouldn't be fair to let people have to keep looking at my face my disfigured face. Like it wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't be like how could I How could I show my real self in the world? But how could I it had never entered my head like this is how I face the world. This is how I show up in the world. This is how I make myself acceptable to the world. I heard myself saying if I was out loud, I was I was really crying and I was saying it out loud. And when I heard that come out of my mouth. I just thought it's not right with that like really like really I think like that about myself. That doesn't sound good. So right there on that floor with my hands up in the air. I make up in my mind that you know what To hell with that I'm going to find a way to let people see my face. Now. It sounded ludicrous. I've been hiding for 40 years. But I decided that I was gonna find a way I knew that I wanted to show up as myself. That was what was going on in my head, I want to show up as myself. And I had to admit that I really didn't know what that meant. But is it even possible for me to go without my mask on, I didn't know if it was even possible. But online on that floor with my hands up in the air, I say to myself, I'm going to find a way to shut up for real. So that's what I've done. You know, like, I just went on this journey of learning how like taking out that artificial eye, taking off those damn dark glasses. They were hard when it got to nighttime anyway, I just one step at a time, begin to get ready, show myself to my world and say, Hey, this is me. And I don't want to hide anymore. And I want you to see the real me. Now, of course, we were talking about my face back then. But oh my god, it's turned into a whole me. It's turned into, I want to show up all the way that I want to find out who I really am. I want you to understand what I really think what I really want to say, I want you to know what I really like and what I don't like, I want you to know me for real. And it's been amazing. It's terrifying. It was almost unfathomable that it was even possible. And then I went through the step by step slowly, but surely, I ran my business brandless like I remember, I had my logo in where all my profile pictures were just my logo cuz I took all my masked photos out down. I just didn't feel like I had the guts to show myself to put my brand pictures up. I didn't have any brands pictures, I'd never had any photos taken without my masks on. So it was all very process driven, I had to take one step at a time. And couple of years after that, I begin to decide that I want to show up in business with no maskJoelly Goodson :
I have chills listening to that because what you went through you talk about your face and it being physical and a lot of people and this is why I think what you're doing in your business and I want to talk about that is so impactful is because most people do wear their masks right to be vulnerable and to let people see who you are behind the mask. A lot of people can't do that most people can especially when you talk about powerful women who are in influential positions in the boardroom or in businesses, they have to wear their masks or they feel they have to. So to be vulnerable like that is just unheard of. And I love that you're helping break down those barriers and helping women understand that don't know statistics, that the higher up you are and you might know this and the more powerful position you are, the more mass you were the more people wear masks and the harder it is to remove.Dion Johnson:
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You have a book out there right now. And it's called influential woman, a celebration about women. Can you talk about your book? What inspired you to write it? What's it about and what you're doing as a woman all just to help women in these powerful position and mass themselves?Dion Johnson:
It started off as a branding exercise.Joelly Goodson :
Oh, that's why we're talking about it. That's why this is called Branding Matters.Dion Johnson:
So perfectly, hits off the branding exercise. So I'm always invested heavily in my own growth and development. I've always invested in coaches, business coaches, all kinds of other coaches. And people will say to me all the time do you should write a book and you know, in the early days, people will say, you know, it doesn't have to be Warand Peace. You just bang a book out, you know, just bang up a cat, just anything, just get a book out. BJoelly Goodson :
Yeah, just bang a book out. I love it, bec use every author I've talked o said, it's the most painf l experience to write a booUnknown:
Really, really is. I agreed, like so they told me it would be like a business card, you know, you get a book, you're automatically seemed like an expert. And you get invited to speak here and then everywhere. So I thought, Well, that sounds very cool. And how difficult Could this be that I know about women I know about humanity? I know about leadership? That's been a theme in my throughout my career, and I know about personal development. So how difficult could this be? So I sit down to kind of bang this thing out, like they say, and it wasn't happening. I couldn't just bang it out. And then I wondered what's wrong? With me, and then it was all of this pain is associated with getting my thoughts together. And then I realized that actually, I had been receiving a deeper message and just a bang out book that I had something important to say something I didn't know what that was really, I hadn't been saying it quite like this before. And it was a real painful process of really understanding what was going on. For me what it was, I wanted to say, like, honestly, it was such a painful process. And it was part of my healing journey, you know, writing that book, because I realized that there was a time when women who has opinions, women who had strong messages and things to say, were in danger. And I was feeling every ounce of that when I was writing the book, I was experiencing the pain of fear, and shame and guilt and doubt and worry, anxiety through the right input process. And I had to work through that. So it was much longer, much more painful process. And my thought my unmasking journey kind of underpins the book. And it really is a call to women who like me want to tackle heart change, want to lead heart change, what to use their voice and their position, to speak up about things that really need to change through marketplace leadership, what kind of book is the book split into two parts, the first bit is all about inequality. So it's about inequality through my eyes, why inequality is a huge deal that everybody if you're a leader, we can't not be concerned with tackling inequality in our realms, it talks about why I say women are equipped to be a new sound and new kind of leader to tackling inequality. So that's the first part of the book. And then if the reader says, Okay, I swallow that inequality needs to be dealt with, as women are the kind of ace up the sleeve of new kinds of outcomes around this. If we accept that, then the rest of the book, part two is about how we develop that character, how we, as women, take off those masks, find out who we are what we really want to say. And we present our ideas much more powerfully than we are right now. I really believe the world can't be well, unless women find our voice and take our stand and speak up about things that really matter to us in a way that we haven't been when we're so busy trying to fit in all the way that we haven't spoken up the way that when we're so busy trying to blend in and be accepted and be applauded. And, you know, given Pat's on the back and be in the clique, and we don't have the luxury of being able to do that it got us here, it got to the place where now we're in the boardroom, we are CEOs, we are directors, we are heads now. And we had to wear our masks and play the game and fit in and nod and smile when they told us to. But now our Earth, our world is in trouble. And it's requiring us to take those masks off, and to step up into our power out of our heads into our power to lead heart change.Joelly Goodson :
Wow, that's so true. I've heard you say when women leaders truly thrive and not just act like they are, so do their organizations and their industries, and ultimately, from my perspective, their brands. So what do you think are some of the things can you share quickly with some of the things that women leaders can do to help their organizations thriveUnknown:
Depends on your perspective, because all leadership training is all about that. It's all leadership is about helping you lead in a way that helps your organization to thrive. But traditional leadership training doesn't ask you to address who you are, or how you think about yourself, by a traditional leadership training didn't ask me to address the part of me that said, I'm hideous and I can't show myself for real, but I got higher up in leadership with those kinds of thoughts living on the inside of me. And if you imagine somebody who is wanting to lead change, create a thriving environment help people to be well at work and help the organization to great have this great impact. But they're behind mass, or they're thinking about themselves in derogatory terms or they're doubting their ability, they don't know who they are, or they're trying to be someone that they think they should be if for you to accept them. Like all those dynamics, no matter how much your heart says you want to make things better in that organization is going to be compromised, that's going to be compromised on your ability to lead a thriving organization. If you have unhealed wounds from your history or I have to say history if you've got unhealed wounds, and all of us as women have collectively, historically, we've been treated as chattel. We've been sold, silenced, raped, abused, we've been scrutinized. We've got our collective history of oppression. And some of that is showing up in our leadership. My type of leadership training, asked women to look at their stories. What have you walked through what have you been through what we survived these are very rarely looked at in any depth in traditional leadership training. But when we look there, we find unhealed wounds that are showing up in our interaction with the people that we work with. I say, if we're going to help organizations to thrive, then the first thing that we must do, we must heal, we must heal from the stuff that's happened to us collectively, we must be on a healing journey to deal with this stuff has happened to us individually, I told you a bit about my relationship with my Gran, I love my maternal grandmother, God rest her soul. But there was some stuff that I got through the pain of our relationship that was showing up in my work in what I would go for in what I wouldn't go for healing is essential. The second thing that I say we have to do is we must get our heads handle. So I say heal, then head, I say that because when I get to sit behind the mask with some of the people that I work with, I realize that I heads are very noisy, which were all up in there trying to work out how we coming across, how they're seeing us whether we belong there or not. But all up in our heads, if you call organizations thriving, my definition of organization thriving is one that is growing not just with the bottom line, but in the way that it affects the people inside and outside of the organization. But that's what I call thrive in bettering our world through its operations. What if you want that to happen, but the leaders are all wearing masks and don't know what they believe and are noisy in the head and all play one upmanship games and withdrawing and not speaking up and not wanting to truth and trying to be the same. Our heads are a real source of poor outcomes for organizations. And we simply must create spaces where we settle down that noise where we get those things out, I thought I was too hideous to show up for real. Now, I didn't go around saying that you'd never look at me and think, Oh, my God, look how she thinks about herself. But that was going on on the inside of me, we need to get our beliefs straight, we've got to get our thoughts straight, I say we need to develop higher quality thoughts that we need to move from fear based thoughts, to faith based love based thoughts, you know, we need to set up our find peace, our heads need to be handled. So that's what I say the second thing that we can do is handle our heads. The third thing is that we really need to develop our hooks. And what I mean by hooks is that oftentimes when I sit with my clients, I realize that in their heart is a desire to change their world through their work, they want world peace, you know, as corny as that could sound, they want inequality to die. They don't want racism, they don't want killings, they don't want their communities to be in tension. They want their work to impact their world in powerful ways. And yet, oftentimes, those ideas just languish on the inside while they play the game of leadership on the outside. So I say that if we want to create thriving organizations, that we must get busy looking at what I call our hook, our hook is that thing that we're going to grab the attention of the people that we want to influence the thing that we're going to use to hold on to the attention, grab the credibility of the people that we want to hear our message. So it's our message, it's our insights is our ideas, we need to sharpen those that we need to get them ready to present. Oftentimes, we're just thinking about them, when we hold them dear in our hearts, we think are that they're they're not doing it the right way. But we don't present those ideas in ways that the marketplace can hear them. So we need to create, we need to find the stories that help people to understand our points, we need to find the data to back us up, we need to find the people that can support our arguments, we need to package our ideas and our insights so that they can present them influentially. So we can present them with intelligence and in a way that's palatable and can be received by the people that we most want to influence. Because at the end of the day, we can't change the world by ourself. We have to be the influences of that change. And so I say we need to be if we're really wanting to our organization to thrive, we must grow in our ability to present our ideas, and present our insights with power.Joelly Goodson :
Wow, well said with everything that we've talked about, and you've shared your journey and your unmasking and everything going over your whole life. Now, if you could change one thing about yourself, Dion, what would it be?Dion Johnson:
You know,I'm changing things about myself all the time. In fact, you know, I'm not one of those ones that is in competition with anybody else out there now. I used to be but not anymore. I just look at who I was last year. And I think okay, what needs to change? I'm asking that constantly and I think it's a really great Way to live our lives that we compete with the one with a woman that we were last month, we compete with a woman that we were last year, and that we should be evolving, we should be developing, we should be changing. And we should be looking in the mirror, I say my to my clients, we should be buying spotlights and mirrors shining a big spotlight on ourselves and examining what needs to be better how, how am I improving? How am I getting better right now, I think that that should be the way that we live our lives. It changes cars and not in an abusive fingerpointing accusatory way, but in a loving, respectful honoring way of the woman that you are yet to become that we are going from strength to strength, power to power, we glory to glory, we are going from one level of being to another, and that involves us being actively participate in in changing things about ourselves, and and allowing that to grow. That's such a great answer. I agree with you. I'm very much like that, too. I'm always trying to better myself, you know, and be the best version of me all the time as much. You know, I always say my I don't compete with other people out there in my industry or whatever. I compete with myself, and I try to be better today than I was yesterday. So love your answer. Well, thank you so much. It is I'm just in awe listening to you. You just have such an amazing energy about you and positivity. And I'm sure I'm not doing that feels that way. So if people want to learn more about you and about your book and about what you do, are you on social media, and what's the best way for them to connect with you?Unknown:
I'm on social media, L nkedIn is kind of my home for s cial media. And I Dion Johnson, he Womanologist you know, som thing that I'm saying about thi whole unmasking journey, omething that I'm saying ab ut showing up for real, you know, finding your voice is eally speaking directly o you to that pain. It's a bi like when the boy called me ugly, you know, it's touching omething, it's his point tri gering this triggerin , right? And so I want to say to your listeners, if that's yo , then just directly contact m via my inbox. Connect at the wo anologists.com.Joelly Goodson :
Okay, wonderful. Well, thank you again, I'm so happy to be connected with you. And I really enjoyed our conversation. And yeah, I look forward to continue to follow you and your journey and your stories.Dion Johnson:
Thank you. So amazing. Well, thank you. All right, well enjoy the rest of your day. And we will talk soon take care. And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. And maybe there are a few things to help you with your branding. If you want to learn more about me and what I do to help my clients with their branding. Please feel free to reach out to me on any of the social channels under you guessed it, branding badass. And please remember to rate and review this podcast on whatever platform you listen to. Thanks again. And until next time, here's to all you badasses out there.