D&I: beyond the day job
By Annie Makoff on 6 April 2023
The 9-5 may be somewhat anachronistic post-Covid, but for a sizeable chunk of the population, once the working day is done, it’s time – hopefully – to switch off. From a health and wellbeing perspective, that down time is important, essential even.
Yet some professions – like D&I – lends itself to going over and above what’s required. By its very nature, it’s a profession you can’t help but feel passionate about. You might say it comes with the territory. After all, no one decides to work in D&I because ‘they might as well’ or ‘it pays the bills’. More likely, practitioners and advocates come to the sector motivated by lived experience and/or a desire to change things for the better. You’d be hard pushed to find an apathetic D&I practitioner.
For Monica McCoy, founder and CEO of global consultancy Monica Motivates, who set up Pivot Purposefully in 2021, a non-profit organisation which supports women who have served time in prison, it was about giving back. “I already had four years of successful entrepreneurship under my belt and I did not want to wait a minute longer to support these women who face some of the toughest odds in rebuilding their dreams,” says Monica. “These women face numerous mental, financial and physical barriers to seeking and retaining employment. The quarterly Pivot Purposefully programme educates, engages and empowers successful entrepreneurship through bootcamp-style retreats, mentoring and connection to funding opportunities.”
Monica isn’t alone in her desire to go above and beyond. D&I expert Ashleigh Ainsley FRSA and co-founder of not-for-profit organisation Colorintech which promotes D&I in the tech sector, is hugely passionate about creating a more equitable society: a motivation borne out of his own experiences. Growing up in a diverse area of Lewisham, Ashleigh got into Oxford University to study Geography. It was, he says, a ‘transformational opportunity’, but it opened his eyes to inequality.
“I was one of just 32 Black students at Oxford and the only one to study Geography,” he recalls. “I went from one of the most diverse areas in the country to one of the least. I’d walk down the street and everyone would know my name, just because I was the Black guy. It was really odd.”
His Oxford university degree helped him secure an internship at Google UK, where Ashleigh was one of ‘very few’ Black professionals at the time. “That just felt wrong. I had a friend Hassan who was incredible at maths at school and was always beating me in school tests. Why didn’t he have the same opportunities I did? I wanted to change that for future versions of us.”
Ashleigh’s passion has driven him to do more than his day job at Colorintech which has been backed by several of the world’s biggest tech players such as Google, Meta and venture capital firm Atomica and is already having a huge impact on D&I in the sector. Ashleigh also mentors disadvantaged students wanting to get into Oxbridge, he’s on the Strategic Advisory Board of the STEM department at City, University of London and a fellow at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) to improve diversity across the public and private sectors. He’s also a school governor.
“There is so much inequality in our society,” says Ashleigh. “Young people from ethnic minorities are statistically less likely to find employment after study. Black students are five times more likely to be excluded than white counterparts and that seriously damages life chances. I think of these things all the time. I have a level of privilege to have had the opportunities I did, but many others aren’t so fortunate. The great people of Lewisham are just as capable, yet they haven’t had fair access to similar opportunities. I want there to be a more equitable world.”
Sustainable D&I culture
Lily Kitchen, D&I specialist at Network Rail shares Ashleigh’s views on equity – her focus is about creating inclusive and equitable environments where barriers are removed and poor behaviours are challenged. “People deserve to operate in respectful environments be it in work, in volunteering or day-to-day life,” she says.
Lily actually got involved in D&I through a volunteering role in Network Rail’s gender equality network, Inspire. “My volunteer role was to increase the number of male allies to gender equality. My passion for D&I grew and now it’s my job.”
Now a full-time D&I professional, Lily shares her expertise with Central London Samaritans as a voluntary trustee and consultant. Lily’s remit is to work with the branch to deliver their D&I plan. Part of this is about raising awareness – they’ve had speakers talk to volunteers about neurodiversity, disability, LGBT+ and how it relates to the support the charity provides.
“Many organisations have a D&I initiative but it’s often separate from the business plan so it can feel like an add-on,” she explains. “D&I must be rooted in everything an organisation does – it must flow through business plans like a golden thread. That’s our approach at Central London Samaritans.”
So when it comes to volunteering and doing more – should more D&I practitioners take on additional roles? Lily believes it can be a great thing to do, but only if it’s the right time for the individual. “Working in D&I requires a lot of resilience – there’s a lot of cultural issues we’re always grappling with, so it is important to have space from that too,” she points out.
Ashleigh meanwhile believes it’s more important for those outside of the field to volunteer: D&I practitioners, he insists are ‘already socially conscious’ so for those in other sectors to volunteer in the D&I space can help build up levels of professional empathy in a way no other work does.
The D&I professionals who do go over and above do so because they have a strong sense that there’s always more to do. As Ashleigh puts it: “When I leave the planet, people aren’t going to look at my bank account. If I can improve peoples’ lives and help people, that’s the legacy I want to have.”
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