Focusing on diversity, inclusion and wellbeing is really important
Mills & Reeve has a great ethos of being a “great place to work” and my role works to support that. There is so much research and evidence showing the benefits of an inclusive workplace. Everyone should be able to enjoy coming to work and be their authentic selves.
This is not a tick box exercise for Mills & Reeve. We do it in a meaningful and appropriate way because it is the right thing to do. Clients are also becoming more aware how important diversity and inclusion are to their business, so we need to be an exemplar at embedding diversity and inclusion for both staff and clients.
Wellbeing is vital for successful organisations
I thought it was great when I saw in the job advert that Mills & Reeve are focusing on wellbeing as many organisations don’t do this.
Good mental health and wellbeing is critical within any organisation and so I work with HR colleagues, wellbeing supporters and others to ensure that we have a workplace where if people need to talk, they have the space and time to do this. I also ensure that managers are equipped and supported to help their team members as and when required. We work hard at Mills & Reeve but also need balance.
I have been working in diversity and inclusion for over 20 years in both paid and voluntary roles
I have always been passionate about diversity and inclusion and most of my career there has been a diversity focus of some sort eg disability, social mobility, Black, Asian and Minority ethnic (BAME), young people. Previous roles have included Head of Diversity and Inclusion of a national charity, Head of Development for a diversity and inclusion consultancy, residential social work, running a mentoring project for BAME children and young people, project management plus a host of voluntary roles including being chair of my local African Caribbean Association, Adult Literacy Tutor and I am currently a board member for the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners (IEDP).
I also run my own diversity and inclusion consultancy Diverse Matters alongside my role at Mills & reeve.
Being black in the UK
Race can be a topic that people find awkward to talk about but it is really important. The more we talk about it, the greater awareness and more informed we will all be. I grew up where there was overt racism that my parents faced coming to the UK from the Caribbean but generally that type of overt racism is not as commonplace. However, there have been times in my life where there have been negative impacts due to my race/colour. When I was in my twenties driving home after a night out, I was stopped twice by the Police and questioned about where I have been and where I was going because there were burglaries in the area!
Unfortunately there are still occasions where things happen to me that perhaps don’t happen to (or as often) to white people. Last year I was stopped and accused in a well-known shop of not paying for goods. I had a receipt to prove it so was unsure why I was accused but wondered that racial bias played a part. This is why I constantly tell my young son – ‘always get a receipt!’. My parents drummed this into me and it has helped me get out of a few situations where I could have been in serious trouble!.
I have also often travelled in first class on the train (when I can get a bargain ticket!!) and have been the only person asked to show evidence that I have a first class ticket when others who got on the train at the same stop haven’t. There are quite a few stories I could mention but you get the idea….
Now I know there are many people from different communities are not racist in any way and embrace people from BAME communities. However it does need to be acknowledged that some people from BAME backgrounds may face daily considerations that perhaps others from non BAME communities don’t.
Getting the language right
The language around diversity changes and it can feel hard to keep up with it. For example, a few years we were not talking about people being non binary in terms of gender. In terms of race, people get nervous calling people ‘black’. But I am a black woman and very happy to be called black. Some people also use people of colour or ‘brown’ people (some like this /others don’t) for BAME colleagues. If in doubt, ask someone how they would prefer to be referred to in terms of ethnicity.
I also think we need to remind people to think about ‘intent’ – as terminology changes, if someone mistakenly uses a wrong term, just positively and politely let them know that this term is not really used or accepted anymore and suggest a more appropriate word. We all make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to talk about race/inclusion issues.
I have faced some obstacles in my career…
I have held management positions since I have been in my twenties and I often came across people who questioned whether I was experienced or skilled enough to do the job due to my age. I also often found myself being the only, or one of very few, BAME members of senior staff. It is interesting being in this position of under representation, but I love a challenge and am not afraid to speak out – in a professional and positive way of course! My challenge now is juggling home and work life and it is great that the firm are supportive re: flexible and part-time working.
My advice for anyone wanting to be a truly inclusive manager / leader
- Challenge inappropriate behaviours – this can be done in a really positive way without judgement
- Ensure you are demonstrating inclusive leadership behaviours eg be approachable, flex your style and approach to match others (one size does not fit all)
- Talk about diversity and inclusion – raise appropriate issues in meetings, when having a coffee/tea – the more we talk about it to each other it then just becomes part of the ‘business as usual’ and not a taboo subject or an ‘add on’
- Be a positive role model and ensure you are authentic and consistent – if you are saying you value diversity and inclusion ensure your behaviours match what you are saying.
- If you are able to, mentor or coach others who require support
- Create positive communication channels – it will really make a difference