Don’t tell me I’m lucky to get this far. Being diverse is an advantage.

by | Jul 10, 2019 | Talent Talks, The Inclusion

Christina Ajose, member of the Arrival Network, writes for our Talent Talks. In her article, she shares her experiences growing up as an immigrant black woman, but she also tells us not to confuse our biases with her good fortune of being diverse.

 

Growing up as a young, black woman, from an immigrant family in an inner-city community, diversity obviously played a key role in shaping my life narrative.

At certain points on my journey from The Old Kent Road to Corporate UK, I’ve been reminded, implicitly and explicitly, that I’m “lucky” to have achieved what I have. Sure, we all need a little luck. But my being ‘lucky’ hints at something else. What they’re actually saying is – I didn’t get where I am today on merit.

“The day I stop counting how many other black women are in the room, is the day I know businesses have been bold enough to do more than the bare minimum.”

Difference makes you different

Growing up on The Old Kent Road, as an immigrant black woman, you might assume that being diverse is a disadvantage. But in spite of the challenges, I firmly believe it to be an advantage.

Let me explain.

My education and career were at times challenging. The state-school I went to required metal detectors for weapons. I was often the only person of colour in job interviews. I understood that I had to work twice as hard as the other kids. But my ‘challenging experiences’ also helped me develop skills and insights that you just wouldn’t get otherwise.

Being diverse has been both a ‘cloak and a cape’. I’ve had the benefit of the deep familial and cultural richness of my African roots. But it’s also empowered me to be Western, European, English, a South Londoner, a University Student and now a young professional.  This has allowed me to look at the world through many different lenses. To consider multiple, varied viewpoints.

South East London to the Shard. Britain From Above.

Don’t confuse your bias with my luck

What people don’t always understand about being diverse is that it requires a certain level of resilience.

I’ve achieved so much because of my diversity, not in spite of it. I feel it has given me superwoman like powers. Resilience being just one superpower.

My other issue with the ‘lucky’ label is that it implies that it’s unusual to find talented black women from my community, which it is not. 

The label undermines the amount of work I did to get here. The risks and opportunities I took. The difficult decisions I made. How I embraced being outside my comfort zone. All to my benefit in hindsight. 

My being ‘lucky’ also hints at the fact that my success is formulaic. Ripe for process and scale. That my ‘luck’ once understood, can somehow be captured, packaged and turned into a process, replicated with the next ‘lucky’ young black talented immigrant woman.  

Companies need to invest in diverse talent early

If I indeed did have any luck, it was to find myself on Arrival Education’s Success for Life career programme. I didn’t know or have any role models with successful careers, so success wasn’t a very tangible concept for me. But the opportunities and development I had working with Arrival Education played a significant role in where I am today.  

Businesses offering workshops and mentoring, helped me break the invisible barrier of ‘them, over there’ and ‘me, over here’. It allowed me to become a leader. The level of investment Arrival Education and their corporate partners put into those of us on the programme is directly reflected in how successful my contemporaries on the programme have become. We’re all forging great careers. I don’t think that’s down to luck. It’s down to the amount of talent in our communities and businesses being open to that talent.

I won’t be settling

Although I have achieved a lot career-wise, I’m nowhere near where I want to be. Why should I settle?

Now at Deloitte, I feel a sense of duty to move the diversity narrative, further along, to ask “what can companies do to make diversity more than just a target or quota?”

I’m lucky to be part of a great team, with different backgrounds and skillsets. I know this isn’t necessarily the same for every business or department. When I speak to my diverse friends, there’s still a significant disconnect between what businesses present in their marketing, and what they are really like to work for.

The talent acquisition strategy needs to evolve

For organisations to flourish they need a diverse mix of talent to drive innovation and growth. My firm, like others, is making headway in this. But like most change, it takes time.  

Businesses need to think differently about how they enrich their workforce. This takes changing how they think about talent. Perhaps if they freed themselves from the chains of grades, degree and university name. Instead, thought more about the quality, value and impact an individual can make to their business, they would make more headway

The day I stop counting how many other black women are in the room, is the day I know businesses have been bold enough to do more than the bare minimum.

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