In the lead up to our Race Equality Chartermark submission, we want to highlight some of the experiences of those working on race equality and the personal stories that take place behind the scenes. Over the coming months, we will be posting a series of guest blog posts written by those working closely on the submission which demonstrate the way race equality is a part of all of our stories. Our first blog is from Director of D&I, Sarah Guerra on the importance of championing, mentoring and supporting one another.
One of the biggest D&I priorities now is renewing the King’s Bronze level Race Equality Chartermark (REC).
Its very easy to get caught up in the commotion of making the submission and forgetting what the point of it is. I was determined that our participation this time should be real and not in any way a mechanical exercise. That alongside some recent occurrences has had me in a particularly reflective mood. The truth is race equality in general and particularly in the workplace is more than a job to me – it’s a big part of who I am
I am reading Slay in Your Lane (Black Girl Bible) (SIYL) by Elizabeth Uviebinené and Yomi Adegoke. The collection of observations and insights has had me reflecting on my personal path and experiences. I often frame these negatively. My recent reflection has had me thinking about how much feeling out of place/other in much of my early career has led to me being resilient and gave me the skills and experience that led King’s to appoint me into this brilliant and brand-new role. SIYL gives names to many of my experiences. That I have often had to codeswitch, to navigate with emotional intelligence, complex environments which were not accepting of me, that I had to overcome/side step barriers often which I couldn’t see, and which were mostly there because of my heritage and background – means I expect things to be hard. I expect to have to plan and have developed a wide range of personal tools and strategies to do this. Whilst I didn’t know it, I was faced with daily challenge to my competence and relevance. I can honestly say that hasn’t been my experience at King’s. But the experience I have means that I am able to cope – more than cope, in fact, thrive in the complex environment that King’s presents.
SIYL talks about the need for sponsors, mentors, coaches and cheerleaders in professional life. I’ve realised that for much of my career, these were absent for me. I didn’t know to look for them and I didn’t automatically attract them.
There were two turning points for me, the first having children which led me to change jobs. This helped me discover much about my own identity and drivers. I got the opportunity to work on increasing Black ,Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) participation within Trade Unions. Through that, the second turning point came when I met three women Beverley Martin, Maureen Martin (no they are not related) and Vivienne Connell-Hall, we for each other, suddenly, filled all these gaps (sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and cheerleading) simultaneously. Together we started a black women’s network. We worked on multiple levels and brought about real change in our organisation and created self-belief in many women of colour. Literally one more junior woman said to us I never knew there were any people like me (of colour) in those senior grades.
Beverley died suddenly recently from cancer. She was only 7 years older than me. She, through her own self-assurance taught me to consider my value and have goals and targets, to not be fobbed off or delude myself. She asked difficult questions and didn’t accept wishy-washy answers. I knew at the time I had experienced something special. But, it is only looking back that I realise what a turning point and catalyst the combination of those relationships was. Whilst on a regular basis we have lost touch, the majority of the original ‘Bamesisters’ were at the funeral. All of us recognised what special thing we had done pooling our resources, creating solidarity, support, advocacy and challenge.
These principles are now a key part of me and something less easily articulated about the person I discovered. The power I unleashed in myself because of knowing Beverley is the core of what SIYL also captures. These for me are also the core of what the REC is about. They are why I am motivated to do the work I do and want to have an impact here at King’s and in the world! I love that I am trusted and supported to do that. Beverley, Maureen and Vivienne taught me the value of positive reinforcement. Their influence has made positive reinforcement a big part of my personal philosophy. This was missing in my early career and I know is missing for many people of colour still.
One of the things I particularly value about the REC process is that it requires us to reflect on where we are, our successes and what we still must achieve. Personally, SIYL and Beverley’s death has led me to take inventory of where I am, of the relationships that boost and support me, doing what I can to notice what my needs are and recognising how to get the professional and personal nourishment I need on a day to day basis.
King’s is full of incredible people with huge talent and such strong values. I hope through my personal brand of leadership and via the REC we can get to a point where every single member of our community you feel they get the sponsorship, mentoring, coaching and cheerleading they deserve.