Inspiring the next generation
Last month, four Barclays colleagues were recognised in the nationwide EMpower list, designed to challenge the lack of ethnic diversity in business. In the second part of our series highlighting the work they do to foster inclusion within the bank and beyond, we find out who inspires them – and what advice they would give to the next generation.
“Just because you’re different, don’t think it’s a negative thing. See it as a positive – you bring a different edge to the workplace because of who you are. Bring the value of your background, race or faith into the workplace in a positive way and demonstrate how it adds value.”
So says Nazreen Visram, Head of Citizenship at Barclays Corporate Banking, when asked about what she would say to a young person from an ethnic minority background starting out in the world of work. “You also need to work hard, you need to network and you need a mentor,” she adds, firmly.
Last month, Nazreen was one of four colleagues at the bank to be named in a Financial Times (FT) power list recognising professionals who are working to advance racial, ethnic, cultural and religious inclusiveness within their organisations and beyond.
Now in its second year, EMpower – the initiative behind the FT list – exists to challenge the lack of ethnic diversity in business, particularly at the most senior levels. Run by the same body that founded OUTstanding in 2013 to bolster more inclusive environments for LGBT people, it partners with businesses to identify and address challenges around the recruitment, retention and inclusion of ethnic minority talent.
Jagdeep Rai, Barclays’ Head of Corporate Banking, Heathrow and South West London, was also recognised on the list, having been with Barclays for 23 years, since joining as a graduate. As UK Executive Co-Sponsor for EMBRACE, the bank’s multicultural agenda, she agrees that building a network is important, adding: “Get to know the business, develop an edge. Work out what makes you stand out from the others. Academic achievement is important but make sure you are developing your emotional intelligence as well.”
Where you come from is not a barrier to where you will end up – know that opportunities are available, if you venture out of your comfort zone.
Another EMpower ‘winner’, Khalia Newell, Vice President in the Chief Controls Office, says finding mentors and allies is essential. “My main piece of encouragement is to be brave and reach out to people, because there are individuals willing to help,” she says.
“Not just to talk the talk and look over your CV, but to take a chance and actually hire you. In my case after graduating, I asked questions at a panel event where an MD from Barclays was speaking, we stayed in touch and he invited me to complete work shadowing. Now here I am several years later at Barclays continuing to progress my career.”
Khalia, who sits on the leadership panel of the Black Professional Forum and is involved in countless external initiatives, adds: “You need to know that where you come from is not a barrier to where you will end up in the future.
"Know that opportunities are available, if you venture out of your comfort zone."
In a country where the unemployment rate for black and mixed race people is double that for white people (10% compared with 5%) and where 23% of young people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are unemployed, this is an important message to impart.
Like the other three colleagues on the EMpower list, Ken Osivwemu, VP Transaction Banking, devotes a great deal of energy to diversity and inclusion within Barclays, in his case as Co-Chair of the Black Professional Forum, which he helped set up. In his spare time, he mentors young people from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds. He says he tells them: ‘Whatever you’ve chosen to do, do it in the best way you can’.
He also emphasises the value of being flexible. “I graduated in civil engineering and I’m now working in a bank,” he says. “You don’t have to have a rigid career in your head – careers and ambitions change throughout the years, and that’s fine! That’s not the same as drifting from day to day. At any one time, you do need to have a target and that’s how you’re going to succeed.”
Just because you’re different, don’t think it’s a negative thing. See it as a positive – you bring a different edge to the workplace because of who you are.
Asked who inspires them, both Jagdeep and Nazreen cite the former US First Lady Michelle Obama, for her “honesty and integrity”. “The people that inspire me are people that push on through despite their challenges, and always do the right thing,” says Jagdeep. “If I could have dinner with anyone, it would be her. She is inspirational in her ethics and moral compass and in the work she has done to help others – particularly girls.”
Nazreen, who is Co-Chair of Embrace, adds: “My husband is amazing too, in terms of supporting me and being my driving force.”
Khalia is encouraged by the plethora of best-selling books on race in the UK that have recently been published by British writers such as Reni Eddo-Lodge and Afua Hirsch. “I think it’s absolutely fantastic,” she says.
“It’s nice to see people being given a voice, especially women of colour, and they’re great starting points for encouraging conversations about these issues.”
More personally, she says she is inspired by one of her early line managers. “Her name is Julie Goldstone, and she was very kind, very gentle, very sincere and that was one of the reasons why I found her inspirational,” she says. “Not because she’d come from the same place I had come from or experienced the same difficulties, but because she was just herself. She showed genuine care and concern for the people on her team and she was also good at what she did. And as a result the output on the team was just outstanding. If I could emulate even half of what she did, that for me would be a huge success.”
Ken name checks Barack Obama for his ability to “deliver a message”, but there’s no doubt that his true role model is his own father. “He pushed and challenged me, but he also taught me very early about the facts – that as a black person, I was going to have to work harder than your average non-black person in England,” he says. “And that didn’t disappoint or frustrate me, it just spurred me on. I give him a lot of credit for what I’ve achieved today.”