Reflections on the Role of a Champion
Last year it was my absolute honour to be presented with the RfO Champion Award for demonstrating significant leadership within the workplace, in order to progress the diversity and inclusion agenda. So now that the RfO Awards for 2015 are open for nominations, it seems like an appropriate time to pause and reflect on what has happened since.
Re-telling My Story
What has been most surprising to me is just how many times I’ve found myself telling my story over and over again through casual conversations, formal meetings and presentations and in articles written for the media. I’ve said yes to almost every request made of me and at the same time I’ve reached out to leadership at senior levels within my company to evangelise about the cause.
I’ve also taken on a more formal, advisory role within the employee-led network that I founded, PEN (the Positively Ethnic Network) and renewed my commitment to seeing lasting cultural change within my company. As an advisor I’ve taken an active role in setting the long-term strategy for the network and helped where I can to see some of the in-year activities through to completion.
It’s no wonder that I’ve felt slightly overwhelmed at times, trying to balance my passion for diversity and inclusion with the continuing demands of work and a busy life at home.
The Work of a Champion
Now that things are beginning to settle down a little I find myself wondering exactly what a champion is supposed to do. In my case I’ve spent so much of my time continuing with what I’ve done before and building on the good work I’ve started, that I question whether this is enough. After all, the network I inspired is already established and the leadership is more than capable of delivering on the strategy. Furthermore the justification for receiving the RfO award is based on the fact that I had a vision and worked diligently over a number of years, breaking through numerous barriers to see it through to a conclusion. At this moment I could justifiably argue that there are fewer barriers to break through and that I’m working well within my comfort zone.
So it seems to me that in order to continue being a champion I would also need to work for change outside of my company. Thankfully some of the work I’ve recently done with PEN creates a welcome bridge between the company and the outside world.
A Bridge to the Outside World
In past few months I’ve been working closely on improving the diversity of graduates coming into the company through an initiative we call the WPP (Work Placement Programme). The WPP is a week-long event which takes place in June and is run entirely by PEN volunteers. It provides 1st and 2nd year students from a disadvantaged background who are studying STEM subjects at university, with exposure to the company internship and graduate recruitment programmes.
It delivers shadowing experience and workshops on CV-writing and presentation skills as well as site visits and a great overview of the company and its operations. At the end of this year the WPP will have been running for over 5 years and will have provided more than 100 students with the skills to apply for work in any company. This is clearly not just an initiative that looks inward but one that also faces outward and sees significant benefit in providing students with valuable skills they can take elsewhere.
The challenge I see before me now is to continue looking outward as well as inward, seeking new ways to grow as a champion for diversity and inclusion. I recognise there are still barriers to progression within the workplace and I will always look for ways to play a part in breaking them down. However I believe the real prize is to find a way across that bridge and start a new journey into the outside world.
Applications to the WPP
You can apply to the WPP by clicking on this link. Note that the closing date for applications this year is 27th February 2015.