I started out... As the ‘perfect’ homemaker – organic everything, curtain making and flowery dresses. At the same time, I built my first two micro businesses on the side of the changing mat. It was accidentally attending a Women Who Work seminar that changed everything for me.
I knew this was the right career path for me when... At the last minute I was asked to speak on women in leadership at a conference. I was terrified – and hid in the ladies to sketch out my thoughts gleaned from just 10 months.
But I got a standing ovation – and a queue formed of women wanting to speak to me. My company PDT was then awarded a contract to tour the Middle East on behalf of the UK government and I still have letters from the women we inspired – and the men who saw things differently from that time.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way... We are all intrinsically biased, but it’s possible to understand that about your programming and still practise active allyship. I began this work being very centred around my own experience of exclusion.
However, I soon learnt that lived experience is key and so the skill of ‘listening to learn’ is one of the most important in my work. I have been lucky enough to have discovered so much about the history of specific diverse groups and the effects on their day-to-day lives of our microaggressions. Humility with power is all.
My proudest achievement... I am a strategist at heart – albeit a diversity strategist these days. We have helped our clients win many awards over the years, some more meaningful than others – but I am still most proud of an Export Award we won early on in PDT’s lifetime.
My biggest inspiration... It’s always the people who have come from little – or lived with bias and yet succeeded – that cause me to be inspired. Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama are the obvious ones.
But also my mother who, as a single mum in the 1960s, refused to have me adopted (she was the only woman to leave the unmarried mothers’ home with her child), found a full-time job, built us a home and even had a car (unheard of then). And, oddly, the young me – who didn’t let the starting point stand in the way of her dreams.
Keeping me awake at night right now... It has to be the Black Lives Matter movement and just how we can ensure that all of this raised awareness, great intentions and even the grandstand statements help us to move up several notches in terms of representation for all minorities – everywhere.
The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be... Reinvention. We are going to see the world of work alter forever. Virtual work campuses, for example, where my avatar can interact with my colleagues’ in real time. A recession which will mean that the reinvented organisations have to change to survive – and bring their products and services to a more woke but less affluent society.
I need my HR director to... Understand the issues outlined above and recognise that we have to work with processes that don’t hem us in but enable us to work with talent that is different from the ‘norm.’
More HRDs would become CEO if... They had held a profit and loss statement at some point in their career. Nothing gives you a deeper understanding than having your own livelihood depend on the fiscal success of a plan you have made.
What I’m reading right now... Girl Woman Other by Bernadine Evaristo. A brilliant series of interwoven stories. As a diversity practitioner from a mixed heritage family, it has given me insights into the lives of the people I claim to facilitate change for – and highlighted how I still didn’t know well enough how their exclusion works in this world.
My top leadership tip... You are not perfect – and nobody actually wants you to be. Recognise your vulnerability and use it to make you stronger.