Written by Gamiel Yafai
It was 20 years ago last month that I entered the Diversity and Inclusion profession. Little did I know that it would become a way of life, a passion that allowed me to use all my lived experience to help and support individuals and organisations to create a culture of Inclusion that would in in time put right the social injustices and social exclusion experienced by different minority groups. Well that’s what I hoped!
I bit more about me….
I am a born and bred Brummie, third generation of mixed heritage marriages. My grandfather came to the UK (Scotland) from Hyderabad in India in 1905 and married my Glaswegian grandmother. His experiences as a black man in a very white and tough Glasgow must have been eventful. He served in the first world war and all my uncles served in second world war and are very proud of their service to this country.
My grandparents had 8 children, my mum being the second youngest. She met my dad in 1958, he had not long come to the UK from The Yemen to find work and trained up as a welder. He needed a profession as he already had a wife and two daughters in the Yemen and had to support two families. He often left us for long periods to go home to family number two. At school we were the family that were not quite white enough and not quite black or brown enough to fit into what was considered to be the norm.
My early childhood was spent between Glasgow and Birmingham before being sent at the age of 11 to Yemen to learn the culture, traditions and customs but also to stay out of trouble, which was the real reason for my dad sent me over there! It was supposed to be a six-week holiday but ended up being a 2 1/2-years separation from my mum and sister, friends and the rest of my family. It did however give me many adventures and made me realise that it wasn’t just in the UK that I was not quite brown enough to be considered Yemeni and not quite white enough to be considered English. This knowledge helped me find different ways to navigate the various systems that were created for norms that were created White, Black or Brown people and nothing in between. I also realised That I was a Glass 3/4s full type of person
My time in the Yemen also gave me an insight into real poverty, hunger and gender inequality that was rife in the Yemen as Women in the 1970’s were treated as second class citizens, who very rarely went to school, got jobs or drove cars.
Having the cultural experiences that I had it was inevitable that I would stubble in the world of Diversity and Inclusion. Finding that something that you connect with so deeply is rare and I consider myself to be both privileged and honoured to be doing what I love every day. I am considered to be a thought leader in this area, but to be frank I feel every day is a school day and that I will never stop learning, sharing and adapting. There is always more to learn when you have a human centred approach to your work and always more to do.
In 2000 I got my first D&I role as a Public Sector and Diversity Director for an organisation in Berkhamsted. I felt so comfortable from day one and was fortunate to lead a project with the then Commission for Racial Equality to help them promote the Amendments to the Race Relations Act through our recruitment publications, The Amendments were brought in to address the under representation of Ethnic Minority Groups in the UK workplace and the lack of support offered to those minority groups when in work. This led to my first big Diversity and Inclusion project for the Department for Health. It was to pull together a good diversity practice manual promoting the great work that was done by the NHS. This, not only gave me a great insight into the different initiatives that were being created but also and more importantly why they were needed.
After my first 5 years as a D&I professional, which saw me move up from Head of Public Sector and Diversity for a Recruitment Advertising Publication to head of D&I for a Global Recruitment Adverting and Resourcing Agency, I started to get restless and wanted to see change happen faster. Hence the arrival of Diversity Marketplace which I registered on the 15th August 2005. I handed in my notice in the October and started working with my first client on the 4th January 2006. That client I worked with for three and a half years, working 3 days a week for them, giving me two days a week to build a Diversity Practice that I am proud to lead. We work on bespoke projects covering four areas Research, Training, Strategy Development and Positive Action Programmes, focusing on all strands of Diversity however Ethnicity is by far the one that we do most of our work supporting clients.
We work with some of the largest organisations in the UK such as the Channel 4, The Civil Service, Siemens, The Welsh Assembly, The Royal British Legion, Historic Royal Palaces, Cranfield University and many more. We also work on some the biggest Inclusion programmes in Europe, supporting the Civil Service, with its Positive Action Pathway, which focuses on moving Women, People from BAME background, those who are LGBTQ+1 and people with disabilities move from junior level positions to middle management.
These are just some of the activities that we design and deliver for our clients, I take great pride in the fact that we create our own programmes for clients and help them to bridge the gaps that have been created by the inequalities, the structural, institutional and systemic discrimination that exist in society and the workplace.
The biggest challenge that we have is that things are just not happening fast enough to make any meaningful change. That is why over the last 5 years I have been focusing on creating more ‘Change Agents, Role Models and Champions’ to help drive the change needed to increase the momentum at which we need to be travelling. Most of this work is done through existing programmes that we run and talking at conferences around the world, coaching and mentoring people in UK and aboard.
I have had many highlights in my D&I careers such as supporting 1500 Heads of D&I through the d&I Leaders Network https://dileaders.com/ which I facilitate members workshops, write and contribute to D&I articles https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/what-will-it-take-for-diversity-and-inclusion-to-be-taken-seriously-by-boards/. We have become preferred partners for d&I Leaders when it comes to supporting their members with Training, Audits, Research and Positive Action initiatives. I am also proud of the work that I am involved with at Women Leaders UK https://www.womenleadersuk.org/ in supporting the creation of more Male Allies and Mentors in MK Businesses. However, the biggest honour was being invited to speak at the Diversity MBA Magazine’s 14th Annual National Business Leaders Conference on the topic of Leading in a Changing World with the Global Head of Diversity for MacDonald’s and Global Head of Diversity for General Motors exploring the development of individuals from Black and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds in the workplace.
Sadly, as we have all seen from the George Floyd video and Black Lives Matter campaign, we haven’t moved as far forward in my 20 years and still so much to do.