Cardiff University held its first ever Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) Leaders panel event.
It’s part of the university’s Go Wales wider diversity agenda.
There were seven speakers from a wide range of successful careers, giving advice to students – especially those from BME communities – about how to find work and what to do if you experience discrimination in the workplace.
Fauzan Muhammed, a graduate engineer for Network Rail, spoke about how he moved from Indonesia to the UK when he was 13.
“It was a new environment, new language, new culture.”
Mr Muhammed said it’s important to ask employers about their diversity and inclusion policies in job interviews. He says that if they don’t have a diversity policy, it can be a red flag. But another speaker Sanjiv Vedi, from the Welsh Government, said just because companies have a policy, it doesn’t necessarily mean it works effectively. It’s good to do some investigating.
Mr Vedi was born in Kenya, but his origins are in India. He studied law and politics at Cardiff University and became the university’s first BME president.
“I’m motivated by an intense desire to fight injustice. I’m going to be changing society.”
Mr Vedi is the Vice Chair of BBC Children in Need and received an award from the First Minister, Carwyn Jones.
He advised the audience, “Don’t ever have regrets, trust yourself and carry on.”
The Diversity Officer for the National Assembly for Wales, Abi Lasebikan, said she provides advice on accessibility and promotes equality and diversity.
Ms Lasebikan was born in Nigeria and describes herself as “vertically challenged and dyslexic.” But she said she hasn’t let those challenges stop her.
She said it’s everyone’s responsibility to create an inclusive culture.
“I may not be a leader in the traditional sense – but being a leader is about action and example.”
Ms Lasebikan said employers need unconscious bias training, so that they can become aware of prejudices that may not realise they have.
The CEO of Race Equality First, Aliya Mohammed, runs projects to create equality and supports victims of hate crime.
She said she’s spoken to some people from BME communities who won’t apply for promotions because they’re sure they won’t get them.
Ms Mohammed said it’s vital that BME communities have the opportunity to get into any career they want and not worry about facing discrimination.
Shazia Awan, a journalist from the BBC Asian Network, agreed with Ms Mohammed’s point.
“It’s proven that a more diverse workplace is more profitable.”
Ms Awan said it’s shocking that there is no non-white chief police constable in the country in 2017 and we are moving towards intolerance in work places, with the recent hijab ban.
She said more places should adopt a blind recruitment process, where employers cannot see the name of the person whose application they’re reading. It’s been proven that people with British sounding names are more likely to get a job interview than those with Muslim names.
“People face barriers because of their names. Many people change their names to get ahead in the workplace. If HR practices were working they wouldn’t have to do this.”
Dr Victoria Anderson, a researcher and lecturer at Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC), said she finds the lack of diversity in JOMEC staff quite demoralising.
“Lip service is paid to diversity but racism isn’t being addressed. There are no black people in academia in senior roles in the UK at all.”
Seyi Otegbeye, who works for PwC, described the importance of having ambition and drive.
She got scholarships to go to a good school and Sussex University, before achieving another scholarship to do an MA at LSE. Ms Otebeye was the first in her family to attend university.
She said she’s the only black female in her team at work, but advised the audience, “Make sure you’re not in the background – even if you’re the only black or Asain. Don’t be afraid, get a seat at the table.”
The main messages to take away from this event were;
- Don’t let any preconceptions about a company or a career hold you back,
- If you are from a BME community and you experience discrimination in the workplace, you can report it to an organisation like Race Equality First,
- Join a network in your workplace to get your voices heard together.