April 20, 2019

Fairer Societies, fairer workplaces – diversity and inclusion in practice

Bola Fatimilehin

Bola Fatimilehin
Bola Fatimilehin

Today our blogger is Bola Fatimilehin, who is Head of Diversity at the Royal Academy of Engineering where she’s “Leading strategic design and delivery of a comprehensive programme to increase diversity and inclusion across the profession by influencing key decision makers and stakeholder participation”.

My inspiration

In the UK population 14% are ethnic minority, 50% women and 18% disabled people and 83% attend state schools. Are these proportions represented at all levels in organisations and public life? Unfortunately, the answer is they are not. This sense of inequality has been my inspiration and continues to motivate me to get up in the morning and attempt to make a difference.

I suppose I’ve always had a keen interest in social justice, perhaps I just never grew out of that sense of fairness children seem naturally imbued with. It seems to me that every young person deserves a fair opportunity to achieve their potential. I thought I had something to offer the young people of North Kensington where I started out in youth and community work. I then moved into training and development consolidating that experience with a Masters in human resources development. It is extremely gratifying when young people I have worked with, now adults, approach me in the street to tell me about the positive impact I had on their lives through role modelling and advocating on their behalf.

My Journey

Working with disadvantaged young people inspired me to move into diversity and inclusion because it turns out that diversity and inclusion is not only valuable to society, it is also good for business. I won’t go into why here – google it! Diversity and inclusion IS good for business.

Before working at the Royal Academy of Engineering, I worked at the BBC where it was exciting to be part of a team responsible for ensuring diverse people across the UK were reflected in both programmes and workforce. I left the BBC for the Royal Academy of Engineering, a move some found surprising, but my late father was an engineer so perhaps not so surprising after all. After completing his studies in the UK, he led a team that set up the first satellite earth station in Nigeria. Engineering is in my heritage, and from this I know black people can successfully lead and innovate.

Working at the Academy provides a new and exciting environment to flex my diversity and inclusion muscle. There’s lots of appetite to make a change from a white male-dominated profession to one that truly reflects the diversity of the UK population. I am really pleased to head up the Academy’s diversity and inclusion programme. The engineering profession is growing its diversity and inclusion repertoire – extending a focus on gender to other groups including black, Asian and ethnic minority people; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; older and younger people, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most importantly, recognition is growing that a culture of inclusiveness needs to become widespread if the sector is to address its skills shortages – which could be exacerbated when the UK leaves the EU. If and when this happens, a focus on diverse home-grown talent will help. We tackle this; we run a programme with employers to encourage more engineering graduates from diverse backgrounds to transition into engineering employment. If you are interested, contact us.

The workplace – a microcosm of society

Organisations exist within the context of societal norms and stereotypes – people don’t change when they walk through the door at work. Although some might suppress feelings and behaviour out of step with stated organisational policies. I would love to be in a position to make change happen at a societal level by influencing leadership messages and behaviour, and the underlying values that underpin UK culture. Leadership at organisational, societal and governmental level has to be focused on changing mind-sets to arrive at a UK where diversity is actively sought and welcomed, and inclusion is the norm. Where all backgrounds are represented at all levels in society, and we are not surprised to see anyone from any background in any role in public or organisational life.

Some tips to make a difference – start now!

People make up societies and workplaces – we all need to work together to make a difference. So what can you do?

  • Avoid stereotypes because this leads to prejudice, conscious and unconscious bias, which limits people’s life chances.
  • Treat people according to their needs, not the same. Treating people the same perpetuates inequality. Treating people equitably promotes well-being and more success.
  • If you want to achieve your heart’s desire do not be put off because you don’t see people like you doing whatever it is – go out there and take action.
  • Be inclusive and inquisitive, get out of your comfort zone and actively seek different views.
  • If you employ people, consider what ‘talent’ looks like in your mind’s eye and actively consider that this is not the only sort. Expand your networks and look for talent everywhere, and don’t be put off by those who say ‘there just isn’t anyone’ – challenge them. It may take a while to find that untapped source of talent but it usually exists, and once word gets out that your door is open, more will follow.


Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reload Image