Black History Month really wasn’t on my radar until I moved to the UK. In fact, I initially had an opposing perspective due to a lack of understanding about what its purpose and objectives are.
I grew up in Sweden and was born in The Gambia, West Africa. I thought it was a bit ridiculous at first – I was thinking of how rich Africa’s history is, how it’s really everyone’s history, and I couldn’t understand what ‘Black History Month’ was about.
But I appreciate now that it’s important to reflect on the contributions of black people in history in general, because that’s not always been captured or portrayed in a positive light, especially in the West.
I recently watched the film Hidden Figures (2016), about three African American women who worked for NASA in the 1960s, and their contribution was massive – incredible!
I’ve been reading more about black peoples’ contribution to Western development in all areas. I know I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, but I can see how significant this history is, and how much of it goes unrecognised.
Not only that, but I’d love people to know more about African history, too. Just googling ‘African empires’ would give you a good starting point. I’ve done this with my 13-year-old daughter, and she learned so much so quickly.
Reverse mentoring – wow! The idea was first discussed with members of Dimensions’ “Diversity Matters” group. We already had a mentoring programme and knew that we had the talent and skill in the organisation to do this.
Colleagues from BAME backgrounds were given the opportunity to partner with senior leaders to improve the organisation’s understanding of the challenges and issues faced by colleagues and people we support from BAME backgrounds.
I was amazed to see how quickly it was put into practice. Important initiatives like this wouldn’t come to fruition without the commitment of our senior leadership teams, and I commend them for that.
I learned so much from my coach and Learning Consultant. They helped me to prepare for the mentoring role and gain my mentoring wings, working with me on confidence, approach and reflective practices.
We didn’t know who we’d be paired with for the reverse mentoring, so we were a bit anxious!
But luckily I’d previously exchanged emails with my reverse mentee, so that made it a bit easier for me personally.
The first call went really well. I wanted to get across who I am as a person, as that’s really important to me, and I’m pleased it came through to my mentee. I spoke about things that are very personal to me, and I got the same response from them. So we had a very honest beginning, and we knew we could look forward to that in our work. It created a safe space to show our vulnerability. You get to see another side that you wouldn’t see in ordinary meetings.
I found the reverse mentoring experience really powerful and refreshing. The feedback I got from my mentee was that they are making decisions and thinking about things today in ways that weren’t even on their radar before, which is really great.
The next round of reverse mentoring is due to begin later in October and will give another chance for senior managers to get insight into the lives and experiences of colleagues from different backgrounds to their own.
Being a ‘critical friend’ was another fascinating experience. A ‘critical friend’ is someone who is part of the organisation or shares the same aims. Their role is to observe and question the organisation’s practices in a supportive way, to ensure that they are good as they can be.
I became a ‘critical friend’ in the recruitment process when Dimensions needed to fill a Board member vacancy. My role was to ensure that our recruitment practices at the senior management and Board level are as inclusive as they can be, that we are aware of our unconscious biases and challenging them and that we are informed about cultural differences such as tone of language.
It’s about making the recruitment panels more diverse and reflective of the communities we work in, to ensure that we don’t inadvertently discriminate against candidates or marginalise anyone’s opportunity.
This was close to my heart because of my own career journey. I’m young, probably in the best years of my working life, and so I’m asking myself if this is the right role and right organisation to invest myself in.
And I was really impressed. I was given every opportunity to share my opinion – which I did!
I found the Board members very attentive. I felt that they carefully considered every word, and took time to review their decisions and come to an agreement when I raised queries.
Furthermore, I felt a real warmth from the Board and I learned so much from them too.
Also, it was absolutely brilliant to see people we support involved with Black History Month & diversity and inclusion at dimensions. They gave feedback which was taken extremely seriously.
In fact, all the protected characteristics are taken really seriously. The amount of energy that was put in to ensure that one candidate with a disability could travel safely and comfortably, that there was no disadvantage or discrimination in the process, was excellent to see.
There are still huge challenges, for example, when we don’t get enough BAME candidates applying for senior positions. We have to continue challenging ourselves to ask why, and is there something we can do. I know there’s work ongoing in this area.
Finally, this experience has given me the confidence to invest in my career here.
To all my BAME colleagues working for Dimensions, and to future colleagues thinking about a job here, I want to say that if you have aspirations to develop your career here and work in leadership roles, it is possible.
The barriers that may have been there are being knocked down – quicker than anything I’ve seen. It’s impressive to see. I know we won’t suddenly see more BAME colleagues in leadership roles overnight – but I also know that the doors are open in Dimensions and people are treated fairly and given the best possible chance.
If you’d like to find out more about becoming a Dimensions support worker, take a look at our job vacancies.