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Black History Month

25 October 2018

Senior black, Asian and ethnic minority leaders from Barclays, KPMG and Bloomberg came together this month for a discussion on ethnic inclusion in the workplace, as part of Black History Month.

“When I look at Barclays, one of the things that I feel very good about is that the ethnic minority representation at the very senior levels of the organisation is beginning to move. We’ve still got a lot of work to do – we’re nowhere near where we want to be.”

Tushar Morzaria, Barclays Group Finance Director, was speaking at a panel discussion on ethnic and racial inclusion in the workplace held at Barclays’ head office in Canary Wharf, London as part of Black History Month.

The event – hosted by Barclays’ Black Professionals Forum earlier this month – brought together black, Asian and ethnic minority leaders from across the business, including Rick Vassell, MD Chief Compliance Officer Barclaycard UK and Vandana Siney, Group Chief Controls Officer, as well as Morzaria. 

Lord Michael Hastings, Global Head of Citizenship at KPMG International and Pamela Hutchinson, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Bloomberg, were among the business leaders from outside the bank who also joined the discussion, which looked at the barriers faced by people of colour in the business world – and how to overcome them.

Kelechi Onukogu, Director, Group Chief Controls Office and Co-Chair of the Black Professionals Forum told the audience: “As much as today is about celebrating success, for me today is also about acknowledging how far we are yet to go in bridging the gap of reaching true racial equality, especially across the industry.”

From foreign-sounding names on CVs and accents in interviews to cultural communication norms and skin colour, the panel addressed some of the challenges facing people from ethnic minority backgrounds, and related their own workplace experiences.

Black History Month

Sharing his memories of starting out at a UK-based law firm, Vassell said: “When you come from a different background, your norms are completely different – it feels quite alien to try and have to change that. I kept getting feedback that I was aggressive, and I wasn’t listening. So, I found that in some eyes I had to moderate it. I knew it was a cultural thing.”

“I come from a Caribbean family – we speak loud, that’s just the way it is,” added Hutchinson. “For me, growing up in a house like that, to then come into an environment and be quiet didn’t feel right. I was wearing somebody else’s skin. And slowly but surely, I started to let who I really was out. As I started to do that, and the passion and the excitement for what I do began to show, I started progressing very quickly up the corporate ladder.”

Siney agreed, advising the audience of over 100 Barclays colleagues: “Be yourself more, with skill.” She continued, “I think self-awareness is the key. The more you know yourself – the good, the bad and the ugly – the better you interact with others.”

Black History Month

It’s about the future and who we are bringing up behind us

Discussing the future of Black History Month, the panel agreed that reflecting on the stories of the past and celebrating the achievements of the present is necessary for progress.

“What do I feel about Black History Month? I am a champion of Black Futures Month. We could reflect on history endlessly – I want to get to the point where we’re only about possibilities” said Lord Hastings.

“I’d much rather we thought along the lines of Martin Luther King Jr. who had the dream that his sons and his sons’ sons will be known not for the colour of their skins, but for the content of their character.”

Evelyn Agbara, PMO Finance and Research Lead at Barclays – who kicked off the event with a moving rendition of the song ‘Glory’ from the soundtrack of the civil rights film ‘Selma’ – said: “I seize any opportunity to celebrate the accomplishment of black people. It’s important for us to highlight areas that have not been attended to in the past.”

Hutchinson added: “Anyone who’s first generation in the UK, our parents, our families were pioneers – and we are because of what they did. It’s important to recognise where we came from, but again, it’s about the future and who we are bringing up behind us and that’s what Black History Month is for me.”

Speaking after the panel discussion, Ken Osivwemu, VP Liquidity Product Management and Co-Chair with Onukogu of the Black Professionals Forum, reflected on this year’s packed programme of events at the bank, which ends today with a visit to Barclays by a team from the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, London followed by a musical celebration of black history at Barclays’ head office in Canary Wharf, London, tonight.

Highlighting the plethora of awards in which black Barclays colleagues have been recognised, including the Financial Times EMpower list, the Women in Banking and Finance Awards, the Black British Business Awards and the UK Diversity Legal Awards, he said: “It’s been a phenomenal year for colleagues of black origin here at Barclays in terms of recognition.

“Black History Month is a time when we come together, and we celebrate and share our history and our culture and our heritage with society, but importantly, with our colleagues here at Barclays.”

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Rising stars

Bukola Adisa, MD Chief Controls Office at Barclays, was a finalist for the Black British Business Awards in the category for financial services leader. The award celebrates the exceptional performance of black professionals and entrepreneurs. Stephanie Amoah, AVP Barclays, is a finalist for BSN Rising Star (In house legal) at the UK Diversity Legal Awards, the winners of which will be announced next month.