When I was a child, my family lived in America. During this time, I was picked on at school and this is perhaps the point when my sense of resolve began. Once my family left America and moved to the UK though, the need to stand up for myself and be unapologetically me really came to the surface. This mentality has stayed with me through the years. It is probably one of the reasons that people who know me describe me as very direct, forward, and straight talking.
Birmingham, a city in the UK midlands, that we moved to from America, was different to New York in many ways. In New York, at school I was exposed to different races. When I then moved to Birmingham, it was the complete opposite. I lived in a white community and was one of only a few Black students in the whole school. Growing up though, I did not let this discourage me and focused on doing well in school and getting a good job. I was so focused it took me many years to recognise that some of the negative experiences I faced early in my career were probably racially motivated.
For example, at 18, I applied to join a graduate scheme at a construction company. After a long 12-hour day in front of several assessors, I was told I was the best person they had interviewed, and it seemed they were prepared to give me a job. Alongside this scheme, the company also offered a graduate finance track, which was the track I actually preferred. However, after a very short 15-minute interview with the finance director, where the only thing we discussed was whether or not he should buy his 16-year old daughter a prom dress, I was told by one of the assessors that I had been removed from both graduate scheme tracks. The only reason given to me was that I had ‘a poor turn of phrase’.
At the time, I would not have necessarily linked the experience to any sort of racism, but as I progressed in my career and better understood how an interview process should be conducted, I do believe their assessment of me was unfair.
This experience, and a number of others, has helped to build my resilience. The ability to stare adversity in the face, yet retain my resolve, sense of self and ambition for the future is a skill I’ve had to hone over time. Thankfully, I am now at a company, where I found my stride and am thriving. But those early experiences have made me more determined to succeed in everything I do. I never want to be complacent so I am constantly learning, developing my skills and looking for role models, particularly those in senior positions, who I can emulate.