Black History Month UK 2023
Our Black Professionals Resource Group brought colleagues together to highlight the importance of role models and discuss what Black History Month UK means to them.
Michael Sherman and Carleen Dussard: reflecting on leadership
Michael Sherman, Managing Director, Digital and Customer Propositions (he/him)
“In addition to my main job, I also chair our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council for the UK and I’m a UK representative for the Race at Work agenda. It's humbling but also a great responsibility.
As a member of the Black Professionals Resource Group at Barclays, it's also a great opportunity to work with wonderful colleagues across all the employee resource groups to start to codify best practice, so that we can address specific challenges.
Part of this is making sure we think about intersectionality, the societal missions that we want to achieve, along with making sure that all of our customers regardless of background, gender or sexual orientation are supported in an authentic way.
One of the things that I’m proud of is the continued diversity, equity, and inclusion push in a lot of our marketing efforts to make sure we're focused on being representative of society at large. It’s just one step, but it's one step to make sure that all of the customers that come to us feel that Barclays represents them and has a culture of inclusivity.
What I really admire about Carleen, and a lot of our leaders, is the positivity that they bring and their willingness to engage not only with the Black Professionals Resource Group community, but also looking at it more broadly in terms of what it means to the culture of our business. She brings great ideas, she challenges us – and always does it with a smile and vibrant energy.
I think that all of us, regardless of being part of a specific underrepresented group, have a role to play in understanding diversity, equity and inclusion on a much deeper level. So when we engage with Black colleagues, we understand their journey and how best to support them in their career growth and aspirations.”
Carleen Dussard, Commercial Manager, Customer and Digital, Barclays UK (she/her)
“I became a member of the Black Professionals Resource Group within the first two weeks of joining Barclays. The employee resource group has provided a genuine sense of belonging and helped me to recognise that I've got capabilities I didn’t know I had.
Now I facilitate the senior leadership team’s involvement within the Black Professionals Resource Group. I consider the power that they have, as a collective, to be a driving force. Right now, I’m working on establishing a roundtable network for all of our senior Black leaders. We've never had this before at Barclays – it’s focused on bringing them together in one room.
Michael Sherman was one of my first senior Black leadership figures. A conversation with him ended up being pivotal in my understanding that we have leverage with senior people in the bank who are open, creative and willing to listen.
I'm conscious that the burden to attend and support initiatives that we run can lie on the same shoulders over and over again. But Michael is one of those people who will always, always, always show up. And he brings his whole self to the to the conversation, which as a junior colleague, I find really inspiring to know that – with the right support and the right opportunities – I can be a Michael.
I'm a descendent of the Windrush generation, and I feel privileged that I've got grandparents around who lived through that time 75 years ago. As a mother of two young girls, it's important to me that they understand their history. But I think although there is true value in understanding where we've been, it’s just as important to identify where we need to get to – including recognising how my daughters will contribute to that future story.
Having Adïam Yemane lead our photoshoot, as a Black female photographer, helped us to make this campaign reflect Black excellence. She was able to professionally advocate for our needs, and the collaboration delivered a true sense of celebrating what sisters can achieve together.
We need allies behind us. It can be a difficult space to be in, at times – but rewarding when we see the fruits of our labour shine through.”
Carter Bowman and Victoria Fayemi: levelling the playing field
Carter Bowman, Executive Recruitment Researcher, Global Markets (he/him)
“When I joined Barclays via the Military Talent Scheme back in 2019, I was very much a deer in the headlights. I left the army and jumped headfirst into financial services. The Black Professionals Resource Group helped me to build my network of colleagues and friends, easing my transition into the corporate world.
I’m now Deputy Co-Chair of the Black Professionals Resource Group, and their Communications Lead. The group champions ‘Black excellence’ internally, which to me can mean a multitude of things. It can mean excelling in your career, your moral compass, your attitude and your drive.
That excellence is shown by Victoria, who put her hand up, without hesitation, to help with the strategic build of the events and communications planning and management that we distribute across the bank. She’s been phenomenal and has delivered some high-quality content.
I’d like to think I contribute to that notion of excellence through my day job by pushing forward with the Race at Work agenda. When I assist with recruiting senior positions, I am mindful of the ambition to increase the percentage of colleagues from underrepresented ethnicities, in line with the Barclays strategic goals.
Celebrating Black History Month is an opportunity to remind us all of the impact ethnically diverse people have had on the success of the United Kingdom as it is today, but also to think about the work that is still to be done."
Victoria Fayemi, Marketing Analyst, Barclaycard Payments (she/her)
“To me it was important to join the Black Professionals Resource Group so that I could meet leaders who were Black, and be inspired to see how far I could go in my career. I'm Nigerian, British and extremely proud of my heritage. For me, to be Nigerian is to be bold in everything you do. We are ambitious people, which is why I look to learn from the inspirational leaders before me, to see where I can learn and help my peers grow.
I also want to help champion Black excellence in the business. Black excellence is demonstrated by those working to push boundaries to make life more inclusive for our community.
Social mobility has always been important to me. We know that there are structural barriers, racial barriers and economic barriers that affect different groups in different ways. It's why I volunteer in my spare time at secondary schools, and get involved in CV and career workshops. Role models are so important for young people. People often tell me that they did not even know that roles like mine existed in banks. They are happy to talk to someone who looks like them about all the opportunities out there.
If even one student searches online for ‘apprenticeships at Barclays’, as a result of something I have said, I would like to think I am having an impact.
Upon joining the Black Professionals Resource Group, I quickly learned that Carter is a person with answers. He is an excellent leader, and a charismatic, pivotal part of the team. So much of the work we do here is about communications and delivering a strong message about purpose, which he does to a remarkable standard.
For Black History Month, it’s fantastic that we are focusing on the visibility of Black female talent in the workplace at Barclays. We bring with us our own unique experiences, stories and perspectives, and offer a reflection of society and our customers.”
Kwasi Affum and Raphael Dowokpor-James: inspiring from the top
Kwasi Affum, Director of Sustainable Finance and ESG Regulation, Group Finance (he/him)
“One of the things I always ask my kids is: ‘What is excellence?’ For me, the concept of Black excellence is important. There are people who despite barriers and struggles have been able to get to the top of their industry and be thought leaders. Black people who reach the top act as a beacon to attract and mobilise other Black people in believing that they can achieve the same.
People like my colleague Raphael, have the type of drive and talent that will help break the barriers that previous generations have faced and make a positive contribution to the organisation.
I grew up on a council estate in northwest London. Back then, I had no idea that the type of high-level career I have now in banking was an option for someone like me. I feel strongly that people from my socio-economic and racial background should get an awareness of the opportunities available to them.
It’s why I’m part of the Black Professionals Resource Group at Barclays. Showing people what I've been able to overcome will hopefully drive a new generation to achieve and pursue diverse careers in banking.
One thing I have realised is that our Black experience isn't one homogeneous banner. We all have a very unique set of experiences, and challenges. You could be Black and British, or you could be Black and from the Caribbean, or you could be Black and from Africa. There are lots of nuances to the challenges we face.
I am proud to be celebrating Black History Month at Barclays. It’s an opportunity for us to shine a light on Black culture in particular, in British culture. It showcases areas of society where Black people have contributed, but that might not be commonly known about because of whatever norms existed at the time.”
Raphael Dowokpor-James, Head of Foreign Nationals UK, Private Bank (he/him)
“I’ve worked predominantly in leadership roles and have been involved in diversity-related initiatives, as well as supported colleagues’ development through coaching and mentoring. I see it as my way of giving back.
I used to be the Deputy Chair of the Black Professionals Resource Group, which sees Black colleagues from around the country come together as one community and make our experience within the company more positive. Kwasi is now doing great things: he’s been able to elevate himself within the organisation, which deserves recognition.
Sometimes as a Black person you have to search hard to find senior role models in business. By focussing internally on Black talent, we can showcase and highlight the different people in the bank and also provide a pathway and motivation to junior colleagues.
Being able to shine a light on ‘excellence’ is a great way of encouraging people to try and break through the glass ceiling and break those barriers down. It's also good for people to be recognised for some of the hard work that they’ve put in for years. It works both ways.
Black History Month gives us the chance to reflect on some of the phenomenal achievements that people have made to Black culture and to society as a whole. But just as key to me is that people who don't necessarily identify with Black culture get the opportunity to feel connected, to learn about and also celebrate our community and our culture."
Henrietta Dayo-Somefun and Maya Remedios Charlery: how we are celebrating our sisters
Henrietta Dayo-Somefun, Programme Director, Digital Client Experience (she/her)
“When you’re Black and identify as female, working in the corporate world can feel like a double whammy. If you’re not careful, gender and racial biases can combine to keep you trailing behind your peers. For a long time, I thought that if I kept my head down and worked hard enough, things would change – but it became clear I would have to find a way of breaking through those barriers.
Though it’s encouraged to ‘bring your whole self to work, there’s a bit more of a spotlight on your identity as a Black woman. In my early years I was so conscious of not fitting into the negative stereotypes typically placed on Black women, that I didn’t feel I was able to bring my true self to work. More authentic conversations are happening now in the bank, and there’s a recognition of the headwinds that underrepresented colleagues face, with equitable measures being implemented to enable a more level playing field for all.
Maya represents for me what is fresh and new about the next generation of leaders at Barclays She will be part of the generation that will hopefully benefit from a more inclusive and equitable environment. So, I am looking forward to handing over the mantle to someone like Maya, who is fully educated of her rights and needs as a Black woman in the corporate world.
I've been at Barclays for 16 years. Aside from my exciting day job in Digital Transformation, I co-lead the Race at Work agenda for the Chief Operating Office and I’m Deputy Co-Chair for Win UK, our gender employee resource group.
With both of these hats on, I sit on the Black Professionals Resource Group senior roundtable, working alongside the leadership to foster greater connection between the senior Black leaders in Barclays and support key initiatives to increase diverse talent in the organisation.
We’ve been very keen to make sure that the emphasis is on the organisation, and not just the individual, to create an inclusive environment that allows people to thrive and flourish. It can be challenging but I am proud that Barclays is looking at diversity, equity and inclusion through that lens.”
Maya Remedios Charlery, Vice President, External Communications (she/her)
“I am of both African and Caribbean heritage – to me, Black History Month is a way of remembering those who came before us and also acknowledging the journey that we’ve been on. I’m proud to say that my grandad came from St Lucia to start a new life in England, as part of the Windrush generation, and helped build the society that we have today. If it wasn’t for the hard work of the people like my grandad, I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I do now.
I love that ‘Celebrating our Sisters’ is one of the Black History Month themes this year. When you work in what can seem like a male-dominated industry, it’s really important to take the time to celebrate the contributions of those that may feel overlooked. We need to make sure that we’re loud and proud about what we’re achieving, and what the people around us, like Henrietta, are achieving. Women often wear many hats and when I see colleagues like Henrietta doing it and still always finding that motivation to strive for greatness, it is truly inspiring.
I joined the Black Professionals Resource Group in my first week at Barclays. I now sit on their leadership team and look to mentor and give opportunities to others. I think it’s really important to have, or to see people that look like you or may have grown up in a similar environment to you, at work. It’s also a safe space to learn from different people.
To me, the concept of ‘Black excellence’ is about being a leader in a time where it’s a lot more comfortable to be led. It’s about acknowledging and recognising the positive impact that the Black community has on society.”
Ama Ofori and Audrey Adams: helping the next generation
Ama Ofori, Win Co-Chair and Head of Operations and Chief Data Officer, Internal Audit
“There’s an African philosophy ‘ubuntu’ that translates as the phrase ‘I am because you are’. It embraces the idea that humans cannot exist in isolation. We depend on connection, community and caring. So when my sister succeeds, I succeed. And when I succeed, my sister succeeds. Essentially, we lift others with us as we rise.
I see excellence not as an individual achievement. Rather, it’s helping others to succeed – when we're looking at women it is the success of all Black women. So, I am very happy that one of the focusses for Black History Month this year is ‘Celebrating our Sisters’. I have the opportunity to look at people who look like me and have done marvelous things in the past, despite whatever constraints. It inspires me and gives me the confidence to be the best version of myself.
I try to do that in my role as Co-Chair of the gender employee resource group, Win, and my mentoring role with the Black Professionals Resource Group at Barclays.
My work with these employee resource groups has also introduced me to phenomenal women like Audrey. She is an inspirational leader – she's able to connect so many people within the Black community at Barclays. The passion that Audrey has, to actually move forward, and to influence other people to also do the same is amazing. One great quality about Audrey is that it's not all resting on her shoulders, and it's not all just about her. It's about making sure that everybody succeeds.”
Audrey Adams, Black Professionals Resource Group Co-Chair and Head of Cards and Payments, Business Banking (she/her)
“I have always felt an ongoing desire to have an impact and make a difference. I support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives where I can, within the business teams that I have worked for and as a Co-Chair of the Black Professionals Resource Group at Barclays. It’s important to me outside of work too, as Governor of a grammar school.
You want to bring people along the journey with you, so it's quite a nuanced agenda of sharing stories and educating on some of the challenges that are being faced, while celebrating cultures, contributions and achievements. It's so important to get the message out in a myriad of ways, so that people are inspired to make a difference in their own spaces and really help to drive allyship and inclusion.
Someone making a difference, and who I really respect, is Ama. She is on a similar path to me as a female engineer, who is motivated to take practical steps to affect change. She has a lot of demands on her time, yet she still aspires to make the world a better place and get herself to a level of seniority where she can have a bigger impact.
It seems fitting that the UK theme for Black History Month this year is ‘Celebrating our Sisters’. I’m always conscious as a Black woman that we are at the sharp end in terms of the impacts around race and ethnicity – if you look at statistics across the industry, Black women really feel the brunt in terms of pay and progression.
So for me, equity is always on the agenda. But it’s also important to have a flagship moment in the year, like Black History Month, when you encourage everyone to recognise, reflect and take action, through the celebration of the countless stories and contributions of Black individuals.
This year, with the 75th anniversary of Windrush, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on how we stand on the shoulders of others. I am a proud descendant of parents and grandparents who came over to the UK from Barbados and Jamaica. They have had such a big impact on Britain and our culture, which is something to be respected and this inspires me to play my part.
As a society, we’ve come so far but we still have a long way to go.”
Loice Gachara-Mwangi and Folake Johnson: taking time to celebrate talent
Loice Gachara-Mwangi, Managing Director, Professional Practices and Learning, Internal Audit
“When I joined the bank as an Assistant Vice President 15 years ago, I was the only Black auditor on my floor. Today, there are so many Black folk coming through the doors – we’ve really changed the face of Barclays.
I’m still in the internal audit segment but I’ve worked my way up to Managing Director level. I like to describe myself as the ‘magic’ behind the auditors because I’m responsible for the team’s methodology and training.
I’m also involved in the Black Professionals Resource Group at Barclays. Joining allowed me to pass on my experiences to younger colleagues. I’ve had good days and bad days, and I’ve made good decisions and poor decisions – I wanted to share my perspectives with others to make sure they don’t make the same mistakes.
Outside of the bank, I’ve served as a magistrate within the family courts. It’s an amazing opportunity that I was able to take on because of my role at Barclays. When Black families come into court and see one of us sitting on the bench, we’re able to give a unique perspective that others can’t.
I hope that the bank’s internal focus on driving diversity, equity, and inclusion will highlight the solutions we’re coming up with to support the Black community with progressing their careers.
I met Folake at a Black Professionals Resource Group event – and conversations with her have shown me what an amazing journey she has been on. She’s got a bright future ahead of her, and it will be my honour to watch her grow on that journey.”
Folake Johnson, Customer Care Director, Barclays UK (she/her)
“Black History Month is a time to reflect, rejoice, and celebrate talent and leadership. For me, it’s also about recognising how far we have come. Outside of work, I’ve been going to schools, talking about Black history and encouraging the next generation to see that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. I talk about mentors, sponsors and the different organisations out there that can support them to get ready for the working environment. I wish I’d had that direction when I was starting out.
One of the central themes for Black History Month UK this year, ‘Celebrating our Sisters’, is personal to me. I want to do well, I want to grow, I want to develop. But I don't want to be the only one getting to that level. That's not success, to be honest.
Success is all of us working together to achieve our dreams. I do a lot of mentoring at Barclays. I like to encourage other women to not limit themselves. Junior colleagues sit there thinking ‘how did she get there?’. I try to get them to understand that actually, they are no different.
Someone like Loice is a great role model. She is a Managing Director at Barclays and that gives me the courage and assurance that it is possible for me to get there too.
As a female senior leader at Barclays, I have found what I love doing, found my strength, and I'm really playing to it. I have been working for the bank for 21 years, starting out as a cashier and working my way up. Now I lead a team of more than 300 colleagues who are helping customers.
My mum was part of the Windrush generation. She came here from Trinidad and Tobago to be a nurse. It's been a journey, and it's quite emotional for me because I see what she went through. But she came out stronger, and what I get from my mum is my resilience.”
Race at Work
Tangible progress towards racial equity
Race at Work is Barclays’ diversity, equity and inclusion agenda, launched with a 12-point action plan in 2020. Since then, the bank’s strategy has expanded beyond a focus on colleagues to include its clients and the communities where it operates. The Race at Work agenda impact report, published in October 2022, sets out the initiative’s reach so far, including progress against published targets that aim to close the gap for underrepresented minority employees.
This year’s Black History Month UK theme, ‘Celebrating our Sisters’, aims to highlight the crucial contributions of all Black women in society. It also demonstrates the important role that they have played in shaping history and influencing change.
About the photography
As part of Barclays’ Black History Month campaign in 2023, participants gathered at the bank’s London headquarters to be photographed. The images in this piece were captured by Adïam Yemane, an Ethiopian-Eritrean photographer based in the UK.