Bolanle JohnsonBack to Blog

A racial equality consultant was invited to a place I used to work. A conversation came up about there being no Black people in senior roles. The organisation was diverse – but at best Black staff members were either among the admin team, or a receptionist. Mind you – these roles are nothing to sneeze at, but some of them had been in the organisation for ten years – even longer. Clearly something wasn’t right. I asked the consultant why Black people in the organisation weren’t progressing. His response: “Many have decided to just keep their heads down and remain on the payroll – more needs to be done to encourage and support staff to advance.”

It was at this point, I told myself - I want to be the change I want to see. I made a promise to myself that – wherever I work in future – I’ll do everything I can to be a voice. I’m currently the Head of First Line of Defence Operational Risk at Brewin Dolphin, and in light of the death of George Floyd, I decided to make myself available beyond my day job to get involved in the D&I initiatives of the organisation. This has resulted in the creation of an employee-led cultural network called embRACE – to provide a safe space for the underrepresented group like myself to share their lived experiences and impact positive policy changes that enable underrepresented employees to reach their full potential.

I inherited this nature – being a voice for the voiceless – from my mum. Growing up, I saw how my mother thought of every single person every single day – not just her own family. She was like a community leader because she was always giving. I’ll be honest, there were times I felt a little neglected because it seemed my mother was prioritising other children over me. As I grew older I began to understand why she was doing it. She would always assure me by saying: “I couldn’t look after people if my own children are suffering. When doing anything, always have at the back of your mind those who are not as privileged as you are.”

She’s just turned 80. If she calls me five times in a month, I can tell you without doubt that four out of the five calls will be about asking for something for somebody else – not for herself. She’s been like that all my life.