When will BAME people get a seat at the table?

It’s for those already at the table to reach out beyond their immediate networks and deliberately pursue diversity, says Mayokun Alonge. But the onus is also on the excluded to ensure that they are suitably prepared for their place at the table when the time comes.

I vividly recall one of my first cross-industry working group meetings within the energy industry – walking into a room and being met with a sea of 30+ middle-aged male faces staring back at me, none of whom vaguely resembled me. I aspired to progress within the industry but didn’t necessarily see myself represented within the senior levels of the industry. Having worked across most areas of the energy and utilities supply chain for the last 10 years, I’ve seen a handful of people who look like me, however they’ve largely been at a similar level to myself. In looking up the ladder, I found no forerunners to aspire to, so where does that leave me?

Diversity and inclusion is not an issue limited to the energy and utilities sector, but a universal problem that companies and industries must get to grips with. The initial challenge is one of recognition – those currently in positions of power must recognise that there is a problem. Executives and leaders must see the problematic nature of being in a room where all experiences, views and opinions are common. In the absence of ‘challenger views’, there is a likelihood that any decisions / proposed initiatives will not have taken account of a wider perspective – i.e. consideration of how those from other contexts might view the outcomes. For brevity, let’s assume that there is a universal understanding of the benefits of diversity. So how do we ensure that there is diversity amongst tables of power in today’s global society?

For those currently sitting at the table

How is diversity and inclusion being sustainably pursued? Unless you’ve made a conscious effort to pursue truly diverse personal relationships, the likelihood is that you will not find diversity within your immediate circle – if you do, it is likely to be nominal diversity (i.e. those that don’t necessarily look like you, but have broadly had a similar life experience to you, share political ideologies with you and have a similar outlook to you). Approaching diversity is like getting into the sea on the beach – there isn’t one way to do it. Some people prefer to ease their way in by tip toeing, some run and dive in head first, whilst others must be thrown in by their peers. It may not be comfortable at first, but the deeper you get, the more comfort you will feel.

Practically speaking, diversity must be a deliberate and intentional focus. People and organisations must be self-aware in order to have an understanding of where their potential ‘blind spots’ are – i.e. what are the issues in life that they have never directly experienced, what are the social / political / theological views that they hold and subsequently, what are the views that they have never really encountered or taken time to understand. Engaging fully with diversity and inclusion requires stepping outside of your comfort zone.

There must also be a willingness to be flexible in approach. A number of companies that we have engaged with have demonstrated that they tend to recruit from a limited pool of ‘trusted’ recruitment partners – the question here is – what are they ‘trusted’ for. If you have limited diversity in your candidate pool, this might be an indicator that they can’t be trusted to provide a wide and diverse range of applicants. Perhaps it is time to initiate conversations with a different set of recruitment partners, to supplement to your existing set of partners. As motivational speaker Les Brown says, ‘if you want to keep getting what you’re getting, keep doing what you’re doing.’

For those awaiting a seat at the table

The wait can be frustrating, but there are plenty of opportunities to ensure that the transition from excluded to included is both sustainable and rewarding. In view of sustainability, look up the ladder and identify individuals that have skills and personalities that are admirable. I’ve personally benefitted from the vision and mentorship of key managers on my journey, who have challenged me to excel, provided platforms and opportunities for me to demonstrate my abilities – as such it is my responsibility to provide the same opportunities and positive influences for those coming up after me. Pursue the reward in seeking out a chance to help someone that is starting out on their journey. I’ve often found that my greatest moments of growth have come from sharing my experiences and knowledge with those that are behind me in their professional journey. As well as being the right thing to do, this will help to sharpen your interpersonal skills and hone your technical abilities.

Herein lies the common ground between the excluded and included – both have the opportunity to help others. Altruism is a forgotten virtue in today’s world, with people favouring a dog eat dog rhetoric.  The worlds of the excluded and the included collide in arenas where work is being done for the wider benefit of humanity, be that in internal CSR initiatives or external charity events. We are all human beings and when we start to remember that, we are sure to make connections that push beyond our immediate boundaries and give us a credible insight into the challenges faced by those with different life experiences to us.

Mac Alonge is founder of The Equal Group