My D&I Journey with:
Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion,
1. What was your journey into diversity and inclusion?
I started my career as a financial adviser but decided to go back to university to study accounting and finance. I’d thought about being a trader, but a friend told me I’d struggle in investment banking as there were so few black women. Having experienced racism at school, I didn’t want to enter a hostile working culture as a graduate.
While I was at university I’d done a case study on BT and some work experience there… it was one of the few businesses leading the way at the time from a values and sustainability perspective. I joined the fast-track graduate programme and ended up as an executive assistant to one of the vice presidents, and had the opportunity to work-shadow the EO. Then a brand new D&I role came up and I got it: we were working on equality frameworks around new legislation so it was a great time to be working there.
My next role was at Barclays Capital (I decided to go against that earlier advice not to work for an investment bank as I saw this to be an opportunity to change the culture) where there was not much in place from a D&I perspective, so it was a huge challenge. After that I moved to Standard Bank Group, a South African, global bank. For me this was important from a values perspective as my father is from Nigeria and working for an African bank was a great learning opportunity. For the last 4 years in Standard Bank, I moved to Johannesburg where I learnt so much about the country’s challenging and devastating history. I also took on a broader, organisational culture role while I was there so had a great opportunity to expand my experience.
After I had my son I decided I wanted to move back to Europe and re-focus on D&I, which is when the Maersk job came up. It was a completely different industry, which was a bonus, and it was up to me to drive the D&I agenda from the beginning as there was very little in place.
2. How would you describe a typical day in your role?
I work with an international team, with two colleagues in India, so I tend to start early. I think the time we spend catching up with our teams at the moment is so important. Then throughout the day I’ll talk to HR business partners, or I might run some sessions on aspects of D&I for leaders. I could be presenting to leaders on our targets, or preparing papers for the board. I try to keep up with the latest articles and research, too.
A big part of my job at the moment is our global inclusion survey. We’ve worked closely with lawyers on the questions we can ask in different countries, for example what can we ask about ethnicity in certain parts of the business? We’re a complex organisation with different stakeholders – there’s the more expected parts to our organisation such as finance and HR etc, but then you have colleagues in our terminals and seafarers, many of whom have been away from their families for months, so different colleagues with different needs. There’s lots of stakeholder management in this role, and it’s down to me to influence people at different levels who may not report into me. I need to have commercial nous too to know what’s going on in the business.
3. What is the best part of your job?
I love speaking to people in different parts of the world. I’m always dealing with different time zones so it could be Columbia one day and Nigeria another. This is always a great learning experience for me. I ask questions about where people are based, what’s going on where they are. These small details have such a big impact when you are thinking about what different employees may be experiencing as often we only see things through our own lens.
It’s wonderful waking up every morning to make progress towards a world in which people’s success is determined not by their demographics, but by their talent.
4. What advice would you give to someone looking to move into D&I?
When I entered D&I there were not really any courses, and we’re only starting to see them now. Most people I know got into it through the company they worked in, or had a passion for D&I and moved into it through their business. I think you need some understanding of how the wider business works, as well as HR (this was a big learning curve for me). Get some experience working on initiatives and projects, and spend some time with the D&I team if you get an opportunity, so you can get a feel for what they do. It will be really different depending on each company.
Passion is important but you’ll also need to be able to articulate a business case, as you’ll be faced with leaders who may push back. Also, build a network as there are some great people in D&I whose knowledge you can leverage.
5. What are the main challenges faced by D&I professionals at the moment?
Most of us are swamped at the moment. When Covid hit there was a worry that business leaders would lose focus on D&I, but they’ve realised that people are the only thing that keep the business running, and their mental health is very much part of business continuity management. Suddenly our leaders are in contact with their teams more and having more one-to-one conversations.
Black Lives Matter has also had a huge impact. Personally I think one of the most challenging times I’ve experienced in my career. Seeing the video of George Floyd hit me hard and personally we were all already under pressure just dealing with COVID, my resilience levels were low and I needed to personally manage that. I wrote a personal response internally for Maersk which felt almost therapeutic. It was a unique moment in my career, where I was personally impacted by what was happening and yet needed to also respond in a professional and helpful way for my colleagues at Maersk.
Generally D&I professionals are facing a unique challenge just keeping up with the geopolitical climate. What’s happening in the world has shown that companies cannot operate in silos and can have a positive impact on their employees and the communities they serve and in some cases may need to step up to some of the geopolitical challenges that impact our employees- so that puts our values, our diversity, our equity into focus. Crucially, you need a CEO that will stand by and support these values.
6. Name three skills that support you to succeed in D&I
Firstly you need to be able to influence without authority and put yourself in others’ shoes. Think about the person in the business who would least support your D&I activity and influence that way, they will be the ones who are the most challenging to move. You need business acumen, to understand why D&I is important and to see opportunities where building diversity can boost the business too. Finally, you need the resilience to keep driving change and progress, your job is never done.
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Online Training Workshop
The Foundations to Being an Effective D&I Leader
This one day online CPD Accredited training workshop has been designed for professionals who have recently taken on responsibility for leading, or helping to deliver their employers diversity and inclusion strategy, as well as those who aspire to do so. It offers a unique opportunity to learn the foundations to being an effective D&I Leader directly from three experienced D&I practitioners: Gamiel Yafai; Fiona Daniel and Toby Mildon.
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