In this episode, host Julia Streets is joined by Bukola Adisa, Founder/CEO of Career Masterclass and Joseph Williams, Founder and CEO of Clu. Together they look at some of the barriers to entry into the workforce for ethnic minorities, refugees, and people with disabilities, and how social mobility could sustain the pipeline of the current skills gap. They discuss perception bias and the impact of microaggressions within the workplace, and the positive and negative effects of call-out culture, and offer practical tips using a 4D framework to address this. They summarise with thoughtful and measured suggestions for change and community empowerment, to create a workplace culture that will enhance the appeal of working within financial services.
Bukola is an award-winning senior Governance, Risk and Controls experts who has held leadership roles in global organisations such as Barclays, HSBC, RBS, JP Morgan and Deloitte. Bukola is also the founder/CEO of Career Masterclass which is the leading career development platform dedicated to enabling the progression of aspirational and ambitious professionals in the workplace. Through webinars, live events and the annual STRETCH conference, Bukola teaches practical career tips to the STRETCH Community which has resulted in tangible career progress for the members of the community. She is also a highly sought-after speaker and a thought leader who shares cutting edge insights on career development and career growth.
Joseph is passionate about social education, democracy and the power of digital in elevating both. As a campaigner, he has been fighting for more democratic systems for almost two decades. As a professional, he has spent his career creating digital interventions that reinvent experience for the user. Clu is on a mission to make the working world work for everyone. They are improving the accuracy, experience and inclusion of job applications for everyone. After years of being overlooked for jobs we knew we'd be great at,Joseph and his business partner Cayelan, decided to create a hiring process that elevated everyone for the talent and skills they have, regardless of where they developed them. Through Clu, they want to create the biggest social mobility intervention of our time and open up the world of work to everyone.
Series Fourteen, Episode Five Transcript
Julia: Hello, my name is Julia Streets and welcome to DiverCity Podcast, talking about equity, inclusion and diversity in financial services. On the podcast, we seek to shine a light on positive progress, call out areas requiring further focus, and offer lots of ideas to help drive change. Before we get started today, I just want to take a moment to thank our friends at City A.M. They have given DiverCity Podcast a new home at Impact A.M. Their page is dedicated to ESG, impact investment DE&I, and more. We really appreciate that they publish and promote both our episodes and our supporting blog series so their readers can stay right on top at the very latest diversity, equity, and inclusion debate. So thank you to City A.M.
I’ve been really looking forward to this episode because today I’m joined by two guests, Joseph Williams and Bukola Adisa. Allow me to introduce them to you.
Joseph Williams is passionate about social education, democracy, and the power of digital in elevating both. As a campaigner, he has been fighting for more democratic systems for almost two decades. As a professional, he has spent his career creating digital interventions that reinvent experience for the user, and the organisation he is building, called Clu, is a meeting of these two worlds. They’re on a mission to make the working world work for everyone. And that’s all about improving accuracy, experience, and the inclusion of job applications for all. Joseph, I can’t wait to get into this. Welcome to the show.
Joseph: Thank you very much for having me, Julia. Really excited to be here.
Julia: It’s a pleasure. You’re joined by a wonderful guest. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Bukola Adisa. She is a senior governance risk and controls expert and she has had leadership roles in global organisations, think Barclays, HSBC, RBS, JP Morgan, and Deloitte. She is also the founder and CEO of Career Masterclass, which is a career development platform dedicated to enabling the progression of Black and ethnically diverse professionals in the workplace. I am so looking forward to getting into this. Bukola, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you on.
Bukola: Great to be here, Julia. Thank you for having me.
Julia: I’m so intrigued and I’m going to start the same question I ask all our guests, because people come with these incredible day jobs and side jobs. Joseph, let me come to you. Tell me, what are you particularly focused on right now? What’s new?
Joseph: Being a founder and growing Clu, really is all encompassing, but in order for us to truly deliver on our mission of making the working world work for everyone, we are currently working on two campaigns to drive greater social change. One is called Access to Funding, that’s access number two funding, which in partnership with Disability Rights UK and the Disability Policy Centre, is focusing on collecting data for the first time on the palpable barriers to investment faced by disabled founders when trying to grow their businesses. This is so closely linked to the wider disabled community, economic participation, as disabled people are significantly more likely to work in businesses that are disabled owned.
Another research based campaign that we’re also looking at the moment, super excited about working with parliament, the Social Mobility Commission and Not Going to Uni, which are a fantastic job board for school leavers. It is looking on more sustainable routes to social mobility for the most underutilised talent in society, including refugees and displaced people, former offenders, disabled and neuro-diverse people, and over 50s. The reason we’re focusing on this campaign and bringing together so many people around it, is justifying new methodologies around social mobility is directly linked to sustaining the talent pipelines and moving away from this charity rich rhetoric that does surround corporate D&I.
Julia: It’s wonderful to hear you talk, not only with such passion but the fact that you’re looking at it from different perspectives. One, being the entrepreneurial economic potential, one, being about the ability to extend talent pools and bring people in, but the other is also how to sustain career journeys. Fantastic work. I can’t wait to get into that, so much more. Bukola, can I ask you the same question? You have not only the busy day job, but with the Masterclass as well. Tell us what you’re focused on.
Bukola: It’s been a busy time, because actually, two years ago I transitioned out of a day job. I left my role, my senior role, and I focused heavily full-time on growing Career Masterclass. The reason why I did that was because it was becoming really, really important and it was becoming really crucial that Career Masterclass had a role to play in what is happening in society, especially as it pertains to Black and ethnically diverse professionals. So the ethnicity piece has always been really, really important to me just from my own lived experience and from being active, very active in the Black community. We all know what the stats say around the progression and outcomes for people of colour in the workplace and that’s something that has always bothered me. For a long time as I progressed and I’ve worked in financial services at very senior roles, it had always niggled at me that I was often the only Black person in the room. I was often the only Black woman, senior woman at the top of the table, and I was often the most senior Black person in any organisation.
I started a career masterclass as a way of helping the community to lift the community up to say, “There needs to be more of us around these tables, irrespective of the barriers, the systemic barriers that face us.” And so the work that we’re doing started gaining a lot of momentum. In 2020, I stepped out of my corporate role and I started to scale and build a business. Where we are now is from no employee whatsoever, in 2022 we’re an organisation with about 20 people strong. We work with some of the world’s leading organisations, we work with organisations in FinTech, in financial services, in tech, in FMCG. What we do is quite simple, because at the heart of what we do is career development and progression for people from a Black and ethnically diverse background in the workplace. We believe in the democratisation of career progression and career growth. Because my own experience of working some of these organisations, it shows that it’s just the same type of people, identikit people, that gets through, that get promoted, that get to lead teams, and they get to lead project.
What we are focused on right now is helping organisations unblock the talent pipeline. Because what we say to them is that recruitment is great, but recruitment is not the silver bullet that we think it is. Whereas, for a lot of organisations there’s something called the frozen middle piece, which is where people from Black and ethnically diverse background progress to certain points and they hit the concrete ceiling, not even a glass ceiling, it’s a concrete ceiling, and then they start to pool there and they don’t go any further. What we do is we help organisations unblock that talent pipeline by developing and investing in that talent, while not just looking at recruitment as a silver bullet, because there’s just not enough people to go around.
The example I always like to give is, if you’re looking for a senior Black woman to be Head of Compliance right now in any bank, there’s less than 10 of us already now, so that can’t be the solution. The solution is in helping to understand, break down systemic barriers that exist within organisations, and help that talent to actually progress. That’s what we’re working on right now. We’ve recently launched an amazing career development platform that helps employees with their career movement, just so that for people that don’t have access to sponsors, to mentors, to the right people, it doesn’t matter, you can come to Career Masterclass, the organisation can invest in Career Masterclass and we can help those employees through their career movements, thereby accelerating their growth. That’s what I’m really focused on doing right now.
Julia: Let’s talk about some of the inequalities that exist in the job market. And Joseph, I’d really love to come to you on this, which is you’ve both got stories and you’ve got data. We’ve heard there from Bukola about the realities of not seeing representation at the top of the business, thinking about how do we sustain career pathways. I’d love to get your thoughts on what underrepresented groups and ethnic minorities and what perhaps some of their experiences have been. You mentioned in your opening remarks about some communities such as refugees, such as immigrants. Perhaps you could share some thoughts on that?
Joseph: Absolutely. Our lane, as you mentioned, Julia, is really around supporting vulnerable and overlooked talent into work. We use the term underutilised a lot because talent exists everywhere but opportunity doesn’t. We see time and time again with the organisations we work with, with the charities, universities that we partner with, that despite big slogans around inclusion and lots of public-facing activity, there is often very little infrastructure to truly support vulnerable, marginalised subsets of society.
We’ve seen this with Ukraine and the Refugees Welcome Here campaign that went around. But what we actually meant in the corporate world was we welcome first wave, white, Christian, English-speaking refugees, but the second someone from Afghanistan or Syria comes into the process, “You’re not welcome here.” We see it also with the current drive to higher autistic talent by inviting them to apply for roles on sites that aren’t even in the remotest way inclusive, or adopt accessible design and then they go on to continue asking if you are disabled, not, “How can I make this process better for you?”
It’s really no secret that there is a perception bias that is rife within the corporate sectors and that is really closely linked to class and status. What this boils down to is, “We’re happy for you to work with us because you’ve gone to a good school. We are happy for you to work with us because you interned at a FTSE 20 company last summer.” Regardless of where your start was in life, those status marks are still so fundamentally important.
Because we spend so much time in the corporate bubble talking about the skills gap and the unsustainable talent pipelines, but then implement these insurmountable barriers to entry at that first point and we just go to say, “Where did you go to school? How long have you worked? Where did you study?” And this inadvertently disconnects about 75% of the labour market from opportunity.
We spend so long talking about the importance of bringing your whole self to work but then instantly devalue talent and potential because someone has not excelled academically, or has had a previous conviction, a conviction of the like. Ultimately, we know through our data that disabled and neuro-diverse people retain up to 80% longer. Nearly half of refugees that come to the UK hold professional or educational qualifications. Until we start having honest dialogue as to why we place barriers to participation in the way of these skilled, valuable, talented people, we will continue excluding just vast communities whose talents are directly matching the necessary hiring demands of our biggest companies.
Julia: We recognise, and it’s wonderful to hear both of you talk about this, about the needs to appeal to that talent and how therefore we engage with that talent when it comes in. But there’s another piece to this, which is about culture. At the heart of concern about culture comes the question of microaggressions, and I wonder if we could talk about that a little bit. Bukola, I’d love to come to you first of all. When do we, first of all recognising that it exists, and also advice about how to tackle it.
Bukola: This is one of the things I do love to talk about, because I say to people, we even have a very nice middle class sounding name for it, it’s microaggression, like microdosing. The impacts on the person is not micro. While you might call it microaggression, the person experiencing that aggression does not experience it as a micro impact, it’s a real impact. For people listening who don’t really understand this, microaggression are those acts that people just mete out to you in day-to-day, to underrepresented people, that are not quite overt bias and racism, but they are things that devalue you as a human, devalue your experience on a daily basis. When you add up all the different incidents of microaggression, it actually has a debilitating impact on people, whether it’s their mental health, is their confidence or is even the way they move through life and experience the workplace.
Microaggression in the workplace is a real thing. I’m just going to talk a little bit about my own experience, because being a Black woman in the City of London working in financial services has been anything but easy. I’m originally from Nigeria and when I came here, I came here as law degree, educated, I had a professional qualification, so I was very well educated. I came here and I remember someone saying to me in one organisation I worked at, she was like, “Oh, you speak very good English.” And I said, “Yes, because in Nigeria, English, everyone speaks English. English is the lingua franca.” She was like, “Oh, but you know…” She just kept going on, “But your English is so good.” And I said, “Yes, because we were colonised by you people. We were forced to learn English, everyone speaks really good English.” And it’s things like that. It’s things like, “Oh, can I touch your hair?” Or, “How does your hair work? How does it go so big?”
And it’s little things like that that just serve to remind you that you’re just not quite part of the majority. It goes from the most, in your cross remarks, “Your hair is different,” to things like, “Where are you really from? Where are you from?” I’m like, “I’m from St. Albans. No, where are you really from?” That means you’re not really from here. “Where are you really, really from? Do you have cars? Do you have the internet back where you come from?” Those little things. Because people that are not from that background don’t have to spend time, energy, efforts understanding these questions, interpreting these questions, and trying to fit into a mould. All of these things do take away from you and they add to the lack of psychological safety that a lot of us experience at work as people of colour.
Because I can be in a meeting room and someone else can be in a meeting room that’s from the UK, that’s from the UK, white Caucasian male. We are both in a meeting room, we are both doing our jobs. He’s doing this job free from thinking about, “How do I put across my point so that I don’t come across as an angry Black woman?” He can just be himself. Whereas, I also need to deliver, but I also need to think about self-policing myself so I don’t fit into the terrorist stereotype of an angry Black woman. I also have to think about, “Wow, some people may not understand my accent, so I need to make my accents a little bit British. I need to speak a lot more clearly. I need to stop using hand gestures, which is something that’s very cultural to Black women. I need to also make sure that I don’t maintain too much of a direct eye contact. Culturally, Black women are direct. I need to ensure that I tone police myself.”
All of these scenarios are playing in my head and that is really taking away from the psychological safety and the efforts and energy I could be putting into just concerning myself with doing a good job. That is the real impact of microaggression in the workplace. It leads to a lack of psychological safety, it leads to a culture where people don’t feel like they belong in the same way, and it leads to a constant everyday devaluation process. It also puts you in this catch-22 situation, because the culture has made you not confident, and then guess what, at year-end you are told, “You tend to be a bit quiet in meetings,” but there’s a reason for that. So you are caught in this loop that you just feel like you can’t win, and this is very real. You multiply this across the experiences of so many Black and ethically diverse, or even underrepresented people, or anyone that is different every day, and that is why we are where we are, and it is so complex.
Julia: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on that. More and more people, enlightened leaders, recognise that culture plays a really important part. So now we hear this conversation about, “We want to create call-out cultures,” but that can’t be easy to do if you are on the receiving end of these microaggressions you’ve described. I would love to hear from both of you. Perhaps, Joseph, if I could come to you first of all, is what advice would you give listeners to call out some of these behaviours?
Joseph: Firstly, Bukola, thank you for sharing your story so honestly and authentically. It is reliving trauma when you go through these things, so really appreciate you taking time to speak so eloquently and beautifully about that. From a perspective of allyship, particularly as so much of the microaggression that we see and experience at the moment is anchored around race. I think one of the biggest pieces of advice that I have learned, is that despite someone who sees these things. Taking action off the bat without asking for permission and create and seeing if the person that you see experiencing microaggressions actually wants or needs or is, “This is the right time to offer them help and raise a situation for them,” can actually just intensify trauma, as opposed to mitigate it.
We have a guide that we’ve created internally because in a lot of the conversations we have with organisations in vetting them and getting them ready to work with us, we hear and see a lot of microaggressions, “Oh, well, why do we need to do that? Oh, well, that’s not a priority for us at the moment. Oh, well, maybe we can look at those people later down the line, etc, etc etc.” We use a 4D mechanism, so discern, disarm, defy, decide, all with the underpinning caveat of, “Have I asked the person that I see experiencing a microaggression, do they need my help? Do they want my help? Is this the right time or should we revisit this later?”
Discern, is around determining how much of an investment you want to make in that situation. What is your relationship and your proximity to this person? Are you doing this for you or are you doing this for them? Disarm, is if you choose to confront, be prepared to basically be in the firing line. If you are easily offended, if you have your own challenges around your own experiences of microaggressions, maybe this isn’t the space for you to get involved with and maybe flagging to someone else is actually the right course of action.
Defy, is anchored around if you are choosing to engage, using questioning as opposed to attacking the person and verbally saying, “You’ve done something wrong.” If we start there, we just create a bigger barrier around “war on woke” and we perpetuate and play into that rhetoric. So, “What did you mean by that? Did you want to cause offence? Do you realise how you caused offence?” Is it a much easier way to start a dialogue as opposed to instantly going on the attack.
Then ultimately decide how much you want to invest in the situation, in correcting this microaggression. Are doing it to inform or are you doing it to basically have done something? Some people are beyond help, and this is why I say at the heart of all D&I, if we don’t have accountability, we are just telling people to change their behaviours whilst not acknowledging that past the age of 7, that it is impossible to really reshape these instinctive behaviours that manifest in racism and discrimination in general. So that point of decision is really anchored around, “Am I doing this for the right reason? Is this something that I actually have the power and autonomy to be able to correct myself?”
Julia: Joseph, I’m really pleased you put some sort of structure on there, which I hope the listeners will find really useful. But I very deliberately, and I am very mindful by the way, I went to the white guy with suggestions about how to address that. But just for complete clarity, the reason why I did that was actually very specifically because of experiences around disability and experiences around working with minority groups as well. I would love to hear your thoughts now, Bukola, having heard Joseph’s remarks there about a structure, a model, if you like. And also, what advice would you give the listeners from your lived experience that you’d recommend?
Bukola: Thank you, Joseph. If I love the structure, I think that’s amazing. Call-out culture is something I am uncomfortable with because I don’t think, as a society, we’re at that maturity level just yet. We’re still at the level where we are still trying to tell people that treating people differently based on skin colour, in 2022, is a bad thing to do. It’s not acceptable. That’s where we are. That is where we are. We’ve not reached that inflexion point, that evolution. We’ve not matured on this agenda. Now, since George Floyd died, there’s been a massive optic in the education under the awareness of this and also the discussion. I feel as a society, as a people, and especially in industries, and the way the power structure and the dynamic is set up in industry, it is still a very, very risky thing to do, to call out someone, especially if that person is in a senior position that’s done something.
Because we all know that the workplace works on power dynamics. We all know that the workplace works on allegiances, and these things shift. We’re in a place where the CEO of a bank, in not to recent memory, was hunting down a whistleblower that whistle blew. It took the FCA getting involved for them to say, “Actually, this is not the right thing to do.” This was not even around race, this was just conduct, generally. The CEO of a bank actually deployed the resources of the bank to hunts down a whistleblower by passing all the structures in terms of when you whistleblower, when you submit something, your confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed, it’s protected, but a CEO tried to circumvent that. That is the landscape in which we’re operating.
If you imagine that someone senior, or someone maybe not so senior, but who is connected to senior people, who is connected to the power structure, says something that untoward, says something or acts in a way that could amount to microaggression or covert racism or unconscious bias, who is going to call out that person? And how do you call out that person? And who is ready for the consequences? Because I think it’ll be naive of us to think that the workplace does not work like that. I think genuinely, for the person, for the Black and ethnically diverse people who are on the bottom end of that power dynamic, for whom that power dynamic is not in their favour, they will just think, “You know what? It’s safer for me to just put my head down, ignore it, as I’ve ignored thousands of things before it and just do my job, go home and heal, and carry that trauma.”
Now, does that mean that there’s nothing people can do? There are things people can do. I think it starts with, if we say there’s a zero tolerance policy, we need to mean it. I’ve been in so many disciplinary cases where there are people trying to explain a way, because racism makes you uncomfortable. Because you think to yourself, “But Joseph is a good guy,” because you see yourself mirrored in Joseph. Maybe you and Joseph have the same background, you’ve gone to the same schools, so you see yourself in Joseph, so you don’t want to believe that Joseph has done this. I’ve seen people explaining it a way, “Maybe he didn’t mean it, maybe you misinterpreted it.” So inflicting more harm on the person who has experienced that thing. That’s why a lot of people would just think, “I’m just not going to bother to report this. I’m not going to go the long year.” Because it’s almost like what happens also in domestic or in rape cases, almost like the onus is on you to prove that harm has been done to you while noting that trauma. That is what happens. I’ve been in so many disciplinary cases where people have twisted themselves in a knot, trying to explain what was clearly to that person an injury, a grievous comment that was made to them. I always say to them, “It doesn’t matter what that person meant, let us think about it from the impact. It’s always about the impact on the person that receives it. We can’t look at just the letter of the law. We need to look at the spirit behind what was said.”
I think we can start by, if we say zero tolerance policy, then it is really zero tolerance. It doesn’t matter if it can be explained away, it doesn’t matter if there is context. If the person that received that comments or that act feels like, “This is microaggression and actually the impact on me is anything but micro,” then we need to stand by that. I think unconscious bias training has its place, but I also think it’s a get-out clause because a lot of bias actually is not unconscious. A lot of bias is very conscious, because if we think about it, this is 2022, these are intelligent people brought in to do very great jobs, and these are people that know what they’re doing. A lot of times it’s actually not unconscious bias. And the fact that it’s unconscious doesn’t make it right. So again, we need to take an outcome approach to looking at the impact that it has on people.
And also think lastly, allies, and I love the points that Joseph made around allies, because to the extent that there is a power imbalance in the dynamic, it is not on Black people or the disabled person or the gay person or the woman or whorever the underrepresented person is to call it out, because the person is suffering from microaggression fatigue. To ask them again to be calling out stuff, is, yes, another thing that they have to do, in addition to their day job.
This is where powerful senior allies come into play. If you see it, if you experience it or if someone reports it to you, you need to take on that fight. You need to help people to say, “It is not okay.” Because to the extent that the power balance is not in the favour of the underrepresented people, they wouldn’t be able to do anything consequential about it. It’s all about consequence management, but it’s about who manages and who mete it out, who manages that consequence just because of the power dynamic and the imbalance.
Julia: It’s been so important to dedicate time and space to this topic because it does come up a lot. And in the easy rhetoric around culture, call-out cultures, microaggressions, we’d assume they’re small things. As you say, they’re not at all. Thank you both so much for your thoughts and also for your advice to the audience, just fantastic. And I think this is a great moment, actually, just to pause and to bring in Cynthia Akinsanya, who has some research to support today’s discussion.
Cynthia: The 2021 Broadstone article – Microagressions and the impact they can have on individuals in the workplace offers some practical tips if you are ever called out on a microaggression:
Don’t get defensive: Microaggressions are often unconscious or unintentional, so by flagging this to you, you may consider your choice of words or behaviour more carefully in the future.
Do ask questions: If you’re not sure why your action is being highlighted, politely ask for an explanation. The act of calling you out would be likely to have been uncomfortable for that person and you can acknowledge that.
Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong: No-one gets it right all of the time and by learning to recognise microaggressions and being able to have conversations about them, we can all do better.
Julia: Thank you Cynthia for all the research and let’s just take a moment to remind everybody how you can find DiverCity Podcast. Links to the research could be found on our website, divercitypodcast.com. Remember, it’s diversity with a C, not with an S, DiverCity. That’s where you can find episodes, sign up for early notifications of future recordings, and also, you can sign up for our newsletter. It’s called, DE & I That’s Caught Our Eye. That’s where we share new stories and updates so you can stay on top of what’s current.
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We’ve talked in the opening remarks there, Joseph, your intersection with technology as well. I wonder if I could come to you with a question on that, actually? I’m really concerned that certain candidates are overlooked particularly in the world of technology because there are also biases in AI and the tech themselves as well. I’d love to hear what advice you’d give listeners to think about how they could immediately recognise and perhaps address some of that.
Joseph: The first point, is look at who’s building the technology that you’re using. Look at the teams that have built the software. Ultimately, homogenous cultures create platforms that address their needs. That is what we do as technologists, we look at the problem from our perspective. Often, particularly at early stage, concept stage, as most AI and ML platforms are, you are starting from the problem from the place that you see it. If that is not viewed from a truly diverse perspective, inherently, from the very get-go, those platforms will be flawed. Look at the algorithms themselves.
How diverse are the data sets that they are learning from and have been matured using? Particularly in video AI, I’ve seen a scarily large increase in video AI technology and interviews and screening where people with glasses are marked down, people with accents are marked down. When we start looking at neuro-inclusivity, video interviewing is one of the biggest barriers to comfort and setting someone up for success, so all of that is super important.
If you’re looking at behaviour-based interviews, understand that AI is fundamentally flawed in behavioural assessment, because assessment is an academic process and shouldn’t be replicated for behaviours because behaviours are contextual and show up in very different ways in very different environments. Also, look at the way you are utilising AI and machine learning in your process. Are you using it to replace human interaction or enhance human interaction? This is people-led processes. Technology should not be doing the job, it should be enhancing the job. Don’t hide from data. Our modus operandi is clarity, accountability, transparency, trust. And so our data processes follow this, capture inclusively, and report honestly. More on data in the final point here is, you will never understand the biases that exist in your process until you create those feedback loops to speak with the people that are actually affected by them.
Julia: I feel this could be an entire episode in its own right. I love the fact that I’ve actually slightly abused you being here to ask you these questions. It’s fantastic and so concise and so precise, thank you Joseph, really, really appreciate it. That’s what we tend to do, is we go through these episodes, certain things bubble up as I described them. Bukola, at the beginning of when I introduced you and you were talking about what’s important to you right now, and you talked about your career journey where you didn’t see many role models or peers at the top of the tree where you sat at the highest seats in the organisations, it’s undeniable to be able to say role models matter. But I’m really intrigued to know, what advice do you give to encourage role models and also allies, which has come out in conversation, to step forward and also pay it forward?
Bukola: Yes. Thank you. You’re right. Especially when it comes to the issue of ethnicity and race, we do not have enough role models. And it’s important, because people ask me all the time, “But why is that important?” It’s important because you cannot become what you cannot see. It doesn’t matter if an organisation says, “We are committed to equality, fairness, we do not discriminate, it’s a meritocracy, blah blah blah.” If we look at the top of the organisation, everybody looks the same. And we’re excluding women, we’re excluding people of colour, it’s not a meritocratic organisation, you are not committed to equality, you’re not committed to fairness. And actually, that’s probably an organisation where discrimination is rife, because why is there certain cohorts not progressing? That is why it’s really important that we have role models. Because I remember when I was coming through and I would look up at the top of organisations and I’ll be like, “What this organisation is telling me, is it doesn’t matter how hard I work, people like me are just not the kind of people they’re looking for in leadership positions.”
Now, nobody has stood up at any town hall to say that, no HR leader has said, “That’s our policy.” But there is what you say and then there’s the actual code that runs through your organisation. The actual code that runs through your organisation is what your employees hear on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t matter if a CEO stands on a global town hall and say, “We’ve just signed the race and equality, we’ve become part of race and equality task force.” It doesn’t matter if they say, “We’ve just rolled out initiatives,” or, “We’ve paid this organisation,” or “We’re doing this.” All of those things do no matter.
If I look at that stage, I look at the website and look at the people that make up your executive committee or your non-executive committee and none of them look like me, what you’re saying to me, Mr. CEO, is that people like me do not matter. We’re just there to be the soldier and to keep plugging away, but when it gets to the people that really matter, in terms of strategy, in terms of having senior roles, there are no people like me. And by the way, “The fact that I’m a Black woman does not mean I want to be your head of D&I, thank you very much. We can do more things than being heads of D&I.”
It is really, really important that we start pooling people, that we start looking at talent, and we start actually becoming brave. I hate that I’m using that word brave, but we become brave and say, “This person, yes, may not be 100%, but you know what? We hire on potential and the rest we make up for true training and support.” And the reason how white allies can play into this or the power of allyship, is that sponsorship piece. We know, I’ve worked in financial services, I’m in the industry long enough to know that the cream does not always rise to the top. The people that rise to the top are the people that are the most sponsored, most connected, and the most liked. This is how the allies can start to pay their parts.
You as a white person with all the power structure and the dynamic and you have the power to make hiring, firing decisions, or who to make visible, who not to make visible, you need to start looking at how you share that power. You need to look at who are the people that are routinely, in calibration sessions, when the redundancy list comes out, who are the people that are routinely getting the short end of the stick? I can tell you, without even any data, just anecdotally evidence says, it is the people that are different. They are the ones that will be the first on redundant list. They’re the ones that are not getting the right rating and they’re the ones that when you force the curve, the performance curve that we also do not exist, when you force the curve, they’re the bottom 0.5%. So that is the power of allyship, in looking at people and saying, “I’m going to use my power to sponsor you.” And that is how we start to move the dial and we start to move the conversation forward
Julia: As we navigate these really challenging times ahead, economically, geopolitically, commercially, why is it so important that DE&I remains top of the agenda or high on the corporate board agenda, because there is a risk it may well drop down? Joseph, can I come to you first?
Joseph: Talent is evenly distributed, opportunity is not. So sustaining talent pipelines, boosting retention, plugging skills gaps will only ever happen when we get serious about actually reevaluating what it takes to do a job well and who is capable of doing it. The world is full of amazing and really, really talented people who are really desperate to contribute. If we really get serious and want to get serious inclusion moving to looking at people based on what they can do, not what they have done previously, we’ll underpin successful EDI, and it has to be our starting place.
Julia: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Joseph. Really appreciate your thoughts on that. And last but not least, Bukola, really keen to hear your thoughts on why it absolutely must remain high on the agenda.
Bukola: It has to, because this is the way you win. This is the way you win in the long run, this is the way you win in a sustainable way. Because if we continue to routinely exclude 50% of the population, a huge co-hortof the population, from contributing and making a difference in the workplace, then we all as a society would lose. But for us to win economically, geopolitically, and for us to have thriving companies that’s sustainable for the future, all talents, all voices have to be at the table, and that’s the way we win. That’s the way we come out of this.
Julia: What a wonderful way to end the show. I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed the discussion today. We’ve been very thoughtful, we’ve been very provocative, we’ve also been very considered in terms of some of the dynamics that are difficult, as much as hearing your stories about your own career journeys. And also, where you’re focused in terms of your organisations in really empowering and driving change. Joseph Williams, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been great to have you on the show.
Joseph: Thank you so much, Julia, and thank you so much, Bukola. The work you do is fantastic.
Julia: Well, likewise, you almost took the words out of my mouth, actually. Bukola, thank you for joining us and for all your insights.
Bukola: Thank you so much for having me, and Joseph, you know I’m a huge fan. Thank you so much. It’s been great.
Julia: Well, to everybody who’s dialled in today to join us, I hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation as much as I have. I’ve been Julia Streets, thank you for listening to DiverCity Podcast, and we look forward to bringing you a new episode very soon. Thanks for listening.
This episode of DiverCity Podcast was produced by Roshan Roberts on behalf of Julia Street’s Productions. You can find out more about the guests from this week’s show on our website. That’s, www.divercitypodcast.com. That’s diversity with a C, and not an S. Whilst you are there, you can also sign up to our newsletter for all our latest updates. All our episodes are available in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast app. If you enjoy diversity podcast, remember to share on social media and give us a rating or review. And finally, our Twitter handle is, @divercitypod. Thanks for listening.