Categories
Diversity

Winning the British Muslim Award for Education and what it means for me

At the start of January, I had some general goals I wanted to achieve this year. I’d always been one of those people to try and create a sophisticated plan, only to then hit a brick wall in keeping the momentum going. But a theme that I kept in my mind was this idea of the ‘control for new.’ It’s something that really resonated with me after reading ‘The Charge’, a book by the world famous high performance coach and trainer, Brendon Burchard. In a nutshell, ‘The Charge’ talks about 10 human drives we need to activate in order to live a more fulfilled, productive and meaningful life. One area he talks about is the ‘drive for control.’ This is about taking control of our outlook and character, looking at ways we can introduce new experiences and opportunities, and controlling your workflow, including creating new projects. All of these definitely struck a chord with me.

In terms of new experiences and opportunities, I achieved this through a rather unexpected honour. Last Wednesday night, I attended the 5th British Muslim Awards held in Leicester’s Athena, having been shortlisted as a finalist for Services to Education. This glittering ceremony, organised by Oceanic Consulting, and presented by key sponsor Al Rayan Bank, celebrates the talents and successes of British Muslims from a diverse range of sectors and professions such as arts & culture, law, medicine, science & engineering, community work, sport and much more.

I was familiar with the initiative, as I had friends who had won before, but never imagined I would be there myself. So needless to say I was extremely nervous and excited! The calibre of finalists in my category was extremely high, and it was an honour to be included with such a group of esteemed academics, researchers and educators.

So when it came to announcing the winner of the Services to Education, and the presenter started to describe me, it was a total shock that I had won! With my mind all over the place, I made it onto the stage without any major disasters, and very humbly received the beautiful glass trophy. My dad was with me on the night, and it goes without saying he was beaming with pride. Lovely messages came flooding through from family, friends and colleagues. My Twitter feed was on fire – I felt like a celebrity!

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Photo Credit: British Muslim Awards
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Pictured with Fadi Itani of Qatar Charity UK, sponsors of Services to Education Award (Photo Credit: Qatar Charity UK)

In my acceptance speech, I spoke about the catalyst for my career in higher education – that nearly 20 years ago it was a university lecture on the challenges facing Muslims and BME groups in education and employment, that inspired me to serve disadvantaged groups and make a difference to their lives. So the fact that I was recognised as an example of a British Muslim Asian female dedicated to helping others, really meant a lot for me. I did feel very emotional at that point.

I am delighted on so many levels, but I am also pleased that this has highlighted the valuable role careers professionals play across the education sector. Hearing that I work in a university, people have asked me on numerous occasions, “So, you’re a lecturer, what do you teach?” I’ve tactfully had to say that it’s not just lecturers who work in a university! We all have a responsibility and role to play in the education and development of our young people, students and graduates. Careers information, advice and guidance is critical in helping people achieve their goals and ambitions, and I am very proud that once again, I’ve played a part in showcasing the work that we do.

I’ve been asked where do I go from here, how do I intend to use this award? I guess the simple answer is to continue to empower, inspire and support students and graduates but to also continue to be a role model for people in my own community.

But going back to what I said earlier on about ‘new’ experiences, opportunities and people, I think the evening was certainly the start of that. It was a pleasure to meet the sponsors of my award, Qatar Charity UK, represented by Fadi Itani (Deputy Director General) and Chris Goward (Communications Manager). Qatar Charity UK are a development and humanitarian charity committed to empowering disadvantaged people in the UK and abroad, and I am looking forward to being the first guest blogger on their new website. It was also great to meet so many inspiring and talented British Muslims, including fellow bloggers and some well known public figures. I will certainly be showcasing some of these successes in upcoming blog posts and future projects.

I want to congratulate everyone who was shortlisted and all the winners – it is fantastic to see people from the Muslim community challenging stereotypes and succeeding in such a diverse range of professions and roles. I hope their work continues to inspire many others.

You can see a full list of winners and further coverage of the event here.

Categories
Diversity

Universal lessons for success from global Muslim ‘mumpreneurs’ defying the odds

Growing up, I would often see and hear about the Asian mums in our community running small businesses from home, usually in catering or making clothes. With no technology, social media or massive business networks, these women had to rely on word of mouth, community events or weddings to be able to promote and provide their services.

Fast forward to 2016, and we see a very different picture now particularly for Muslim women. Despite workplace disadvantage and the ongoing battle to challenge barriers, we are also witnessing a very interesting trend – the rise of global technologically savvy Muslim female entrepreneurs, and particularly mums, who are defying the odds and smashing all preconceptions.  And there was no better evidence of this phenomenon than the Muslim Lifestyle Expo (MLE) in Manchester which I attended last weekend, along with my good friend Gemma Somauroo, a writer, Muslim home educator and one of the official bloggers for MLE. 2016-10-29-14-56-10

Regardless of gender, faith, race and whether you’re in business or not, there were some universal lessons for success which I took away from the event.

For those not aware, MLE is a unique event that showcases the best of global Muslim lifestyle businesses. More than 100 exhibitors from 12 different countries were promoting a fabulous range of services, products and creative talent – halal food brands, toiletries and cosmetics, modest fashion, art, Islamic finance and greeting cards and toys. The event is a reflection of a rapidly growing global Muslim consumer market, which according to official research, will be worth a staggering £2 trillion by the end of the decade.

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Photo credit: MLE and Khalid Moon

The influence of women at this event couldn’t be missed. The founder and CEO of MLE, Tahir Mirza, stated that 60% of the exhibitors were female entrepreneurs, adding that women represent 50% of the [Muslim] start-up business community, a figure which is set to grow further over the next few years.

I attended the Empowering Muslim businesswomen panel led by a group of inspiring mums who have juggled global, and often multiple, businesses with family life. Discussions focused on how they got into self-employment, breaking from conventional careers in science, their role models, tips and skills needed to succeed in enterprise, and even the impact of Brexit on their business.

The panel (from L – R), along with chair, journalist Saba Zaman were:

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I caught up with one of the panelists, Zanib to talk about her journey into the world of writing and publishing. Zanib studied Molecular Biology at university and went on to become a science teacher. But she had always had a passion for writing and literature. It was after having her two boys, that she really noticed that often ethnic minority or other diverse characters would be linked to specific issues within books, and Zanib felt there needed to be better diversity in every day and ordinary stories in a fun and engaging manner that children could relate to. And so Sweet Apple Publishers was created, featured in CBeebies Bedtime stories and also praised in the Guardian for tackling lack of diversity in books. Her passion to promote diversity was further strengthened by the ugly racist backlash that followed the Brexit vote.

What I learnt from speaking to Zanib, and also the other panelists, are some golden lessons for success which I think are relevant for all:

  • Do what you enjoy and follow your passion
  • Build on your existing strengths and seek help for any areas of weakness
  • Have good people and roles models around to support and motivate
  • Don’t give up in the face of adversity and challenges
  • Be bold and open to unexpected opportunities through networking and social media
  • Being a parent isn’t a hindrance, and your skills and experiences can shape your business and career.

A huge thanks and congratulations to the organisers and all those involved in MLE – your stories and experiences are a source of inspiration to all.

Featured women panelists photo credit: MLE

Categories
Diversity

An evening of celebration, inspiration and the speech of my life

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of being the keynote speaker for a truly wonderful evening of celebration and inspiration organised by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

The 3rd BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) event, held in Manchester, aimed to celebrate diversity by understanding and embracing individual differences in ways that drive innovation, connect them more fully to the wider communities and make the company a place that is welcoming to all. An inclusive culture is central to the company’s ethos, and enables them to attract and retain the best talent in the market.

I’ve witnessed first hand Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s passion for and commitment to such values through their tremendous support and involvement in the diversity projects and initiatives I’ve delivered since 2003.

The BAME forum and event had some serious messages and objectives: creating a better awareness of the different faiths and cultures of their colleagues and customers, and the number one objective of attracting, recruiting & retaining minority employees and assist them to develop to management level, and in particular minority females.

Their success so far has been pretty phenomenal, with several national awards and accolades in recognition of their achievements. And since 2014, there has been more than a 50% increase in BAME employees, 40% increase in BAME management and significant rise in BAME female management.

Saturday’s event was about real and very personal stories of a group of individuals on their careers, and experiences of being an ethnic minority employee in the company.  Stories of breaking cultural barriers, challenging stereotypes, parental and community expectations, and juggling a career with family life – all shared with much courage, emotion and humour. I personally felt an instant connection with many of the stories, as there was much in common with my own background.

And then came my moment of glory – a chance for me to share my own career journey and experiences as a British born Muslim Asian female. It was a candid account of the challenges I faced growing up, and my career to date, and I’ve shared some valuable lessons for anyone regardless of background, race and culture.

I know many people have been very keen to read my speech, so here it is! I hope you enjoy reading my story – I certainly enjoyed telling it!IMG-20160306-WA0000-1

“It’s a real honour to be here this evening, and to be the keynote speaker at this wonderful event. When Sham told me about this initiative last year, I was extremely interested, for as you will hear, diversity and equality has been an important part of my career. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend on the last occasion, but delighted to be here today.

As you will see from my biography, I am a careers professional, and I’ve spent nearly 14 years in the higher education sector. Hard to believe it’s been that long really.

For nearly 10 years, I worked at the University of Liverpool as a project manager delivering various employability projects. My biggest achievement was running a very successful diversity mentoring scheme to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups across four universities. It was in the early years of this project that I first met Sham and the team at Enterprise Rent-A-Car and I am still to this day extremely grateful for the support they gave to that project. For the last four years, I have been working at the University of Central Lancashire with a mainly international remit, supporting international students and those who want to work and study abroad.

I am also a writer and blogger, I run my own personal careers blog, but I have also written for national graduate careers websites, an Islamic finance recruitment company and Muslim community magazines.

So how did I become a careers professional and writer? It’s perhaps an unlikely career choice given my background and upbringing. My educational and career journey since I started high school 27 years ago, is a story of many themes and challenges: family and community expectations and their vision of success, a privileged education, family and cultural values, and the struggle to create an authentic career and identity as a Muslim woman growing up in the UK.

I grew up in a community of Asian doctors, so there are no prizes for guessing what career options I was faced with.  Educational and career success was defined in very specific terms: going to the best schools, universities and sailing into a high flying job preferably as a doctor, but at least a dentist, lawyer, accountant or a career with ‘status.’  As was the norm, I went to a private school for girls here in the North West. To be fair to my parents, they accepted early on science was not my forte and that I wouldn’t study Medicine. From a young age, I had a natural interest in and excelled in the Arts.

When I was 16, I wanted to be a journalist. A fashion journalist to be precise. I had this grand vision of becoming the Editor of Vogue magazine, travelling the world, and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. But two weeks of work experience with a local newspaper quickly made me realise that journalism wasn’t all that glamorous! At A-Level, I focused on subjects I had a passion for – English, French and Politics and soon developed a strong interest in the latter subject and current affairs.

So it came to university choices, and being a city person I opted to move away and study in London. My privileged education continued and I was offered a place to study International Relations at one of the top universities in the UK, the London School of Economics and Political Science. My university years were amazing. With its history and reputation, LSE definitely offered a unique educational experience.

But what did I want to do? To be honest, I had no idea; here I was studying at one of the best universities in the country, and I felt lost and confused. The greatest irony is that despite spending most of my professional life working in a careers service, I never visited one at university! Not a great example to follow.

Against all this, I had family to consider too. My parents valued education and wanted to see me excel academically. But culture, religion, family life were equally important to them too. It was their desire that I would return to the family nest once I had completed all my university education. This expectation was not the norm for my community, and pretty much nearly all the people I grew up with never returned home after university. I admit I struggled with this at the time, but felt I would return eventually.

Coming to the end of my time at LSE, and I wasn’t ready to go back to the North West. I needed more time to figure out what I wanted to do with my career and was enjoying the London life. So I did the obvious thing people seemed to do when putting off the job search, and that was to apply for a Masters (I applied to do International History at LSE).

Graduation from LSE, and life worked out differently for me. I ended up getting a 2:2 in my degree, which meant I didn’t get onto the Masters course at LSE.  This seems very dramatic, but I was devastated. What was I going to do now? I had no job plans and by this point had my heart set on doing postgraduate study. And nearly everyone around me had achieved top grades, and had their plans firmly secured.  My family were still so proud of what I achieved, and tried to console me, but looking back I was influenced by what others would think, and was very hard on myself at the time.  Anyhow, I decided to look for other courses and universities. So I ended up studying Middle Eastern Politics at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

I know we often hear the cliché when one door closes, another one opens, but this is exactly what happened to me. My year at SOAS changed me forever.

On a personal level, I really started to reflect on my life, faith and identity as a Muslim woman growing up in the UK. I didn’t wear the headscarf (hijab) at this point, but deep down I was really thinking about it. I was seeing a lot more women wear it. And I was so inspired. These female students were proudly and visibly expressing their religious identity but still pursuing their educational and career ambitions. They completely challenged the stereotypes people often have about women in hijab.  If they could do it, why couldn’t I? But it took me some time to make the change.

It was also whilst I was at SOAS that the seeds of my career inspiration were firmly planted. A BBC World Service Journalist came to talk to us about the work of The Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading independent race equality think tank.  He spoke about a report published in the late 90s on Islamophobia in the UK, and the discrimination that Muslims experienced across different areas. When I think back, it was ground breaking work, especially as it was pre 9/11. I was totally inspired by this work, and started to think about what I could do to make a difference. A career in promoting diversity and tackling discrimination totally resonated with me.

I went on to complete my Masters, but in line with family expectations returned home. But the next two years after graduation proved to be tough. In my heart, I wanted to pursue a career in diversity/race equality, but that kind of work was not easy to come by in my local area. I had to think practically and just get any job, but this was much harder than I thought. I was faced with that predicament of being too qualified, but with no work experience. I applied for graduate programmes, graduate level jobs, but didn’t get anywhere. So I joined a few agencies, and spent the next 2 years in endless low paid jobs with no prospects.

The hardest part of these two years was dealing with the attitudes of the ‘community’ and people looking down on me. My close friends were very supportive and encouraging, but I couldn’t help but feel inferior as friends and peers were in well paid and established jobs, travelling the globe. And here I was, a graduate from one of the best universities, doing nothing significant. It was a very dark period in my life.

But I didn’t give up. I heard about a graduate development programme being offered by the University of Liverpool to support local graduates. So I joined, and took part in their summer course. And it was whilst I was on this programme, I found out about a role to run a diversity mentoring scheme for BME and disabled students through the Careers Service. I was so excited, it was totally up my street. But I had very low self-confidence and doubted if I would get the job.

I went to apply, gave up, but then three days before the deadline I gave it another shot, completely not expecting anything to happen. I then got called for an interview (my worst nightmare hit me as I had to do a presentation in the interview), but I honestly thought I didn’t get the job.

But then around 4 pm that afternoon, I got the call to say “Monira, we would like to offer you the job.”

I just couldn’t believe it. After two years of struggling in horrendous jobs, I finally got my break.

So on the 23rd September 2002, I started my life as a careers professional in the higher education sector. What started off as an eight-month project developed into more than a decade long journey of the most fulfilling and amazing experiences and accomplishments.

It was a year later in October 2003, that I finally decided to wear the hijab. It wasn’t an overnight decision, it happened after much soul searching and reflection and encouragement from my sisters.

Of all the life-changing decisions I’ve ever made, wearing the hijab is probably there at the top. Everyone of course knew I was Muslim, but I was now publicly expressing my faith and identity in a way I never imagined I would. As a fresh graduate looking for work three years before, I thought long and hard about the hijab, but was always worried about the impact on my career. What would people think of me? Would I be able to get a job?

I never told anyone at work I was going to start wearing it. I just turned up one Monday morning wearing it, but feeling incredibly nervous. I hid in my office all morning, hoping no one would come in and speak to me! I didn’t feel ashamed, but just felt very self conscious as I looked totally different.

Naturally some people were curious and asked questions (many thought I was wearing it because of Ramadan), but not in an offensive manner; in any case it was an opportunity for me to share my faith with others. My colleagues were so amazing and it was never an issue.

How have I balanced my faith and religious identity with my professional life since then? To be honest, I’ve been very fortunate and blessed – wearing the hijab never posed any problems when it came to my career, and I always received total respect and support from colleagues. I always remained firm in my values and religious practice – praying, fasting during Ramadan, and I got to visit Makkah 3 times. Whenever I attended conferences, meetings, events, I always made sure there was a place for me to pray, and no one ever had a problem with this. But I also made a conscious decision that I was still going to be the same person – I was still Monira who could have a laugh and share the same jokes. I didn’t want people to feel that they couldn’t approach me or talk to me like before. So I behaved just normally with people. This is the balance anyone needs to strike and practising the faith doesn’t mean shutting ourselves off from people either. Being open to discussion and sharing our stories is vital in developing understanding and awareness. I continue to share my religion with others, and it gives me great joy.

It’s been 20 years since I left school and life has turned out very differently for me. I admit I was unhappy at first at having to return home after graduation, but I haven’t regretted that decision to do it. I came to really value being with my family again, having that support and being there for them when they needed me. Yes, I didn’t follow the typical career path of my community or friends, or have the six-figure salary, travelling around the world or reach the top of the corporate ladder. But I’ve ultimately been able to create an authentic career and my own vision of success where I have balanced my professional role with my faith and family life.

I want to leave you all with three key lessons that I’ve learnt and my hope is that you will share this with the younger generation too:

  • Defining your own vision of success and embracing your unique journey – we are still too often expected to conform to a particular view of success, but as individuals we need to take control, and create the life WE want to lead. We are all different with unique visions, talents and strengths. Who was anyone to tell me I haven’t been a success? At the end of the day, I’m leading a life that makes me happy and fulfilling my goals. And that’s what matters to me.
  • Setbacks and struggles are lessons and opportunities – getting that 2:2 was probably the best thing that happened to me; it took me down a totally different path, and opened up opportunities which has led me here today. I came to value my two-year struggle in finding a job after university; I developed a great deal of skills, resilience and strength of character, and learnt so much about myself.
  • Having the right people in your life – I’ve no doubt put in a lot of hard work and dedication with my career, but I’ve not done it alone. Support from family, friends, colleagues and others over the years has played an integral role too. We all need mentors, role models, people of inspiration to help us along the way.

I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my experiences and my career journey. I want to end by giving my heartfelt thanks to Enterprise Rent-A-Car for giving me this opportunity to speak today. I also want to particularly thank Sham. I’ve known Sham nearly all my career, he is extremely dedicated and motivated, and I’ve valued his support, enthusiasm, professionalism, and above all, his friendship over the many years.

Thanks for listening to my story, and here are some photos from the event!

Categories
Diversity

Faith, family and a recruiter’s approach to diversity

It was October 2003, and as normal, I boarded a train to work. Just a usual day lay ahead of me with meetings to attend and careers events to organise. But there was one big difference on this particular Monday morning. For the first time in my life, I was going to work wearing a headscarf.

Of all the life changing decisions I’ve ever made, wearing the Muslim headscarf (commonly known as the hijab) is probably there at the top. Everyone of course knew I was Muslim, but I was now publicly expressing my faith and identity in a way I never imagined I would. As a fresh graduate looking for work 3 years before, I thought long and hard about the hijab, but was always worried about the impact on my career. What would people think of me? Would I be able to get a job?

But being already in work and then deciding to wear the hijab was still a huge step for me, and on that first day, I was full of nerves as I prepared to face my colleagues and the world.

Wearing the hijab never posed any problems when it came to my career, and I always received total respect and support from colleagues. Naturally some people were curious and asked questions, but not in an offensive manner; in any case it was an opportunity for me to share my faith with others.

Of course not everyone has a positive experience, and outward expression of religion has often been a contentious issue. There was the famous case of a British Airways worker who was prevented from wearing a cross in work. And most recently, US fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch have found themselves at the centre of a legal battle following accusations of not hiring a Muslim woman because she donned the hijab. From the body of research and reports on religion and belief in the workplace, there is growing evidence of increased discrimination and negative attitudes towards some faith groups, with particular challenges for British Muslims (at the end of this post I’ve listed a few reports for those who want the finer details).

It’s easy to be cynical about how “diversity friendly” employers really are. But there are organisations doing a massive amount to reach out to different groups, and I’ve seen many have established internal staff networks, especially around faith. I spent many years managing a mentoring programme for disadvantaged students, and I worked with some top blue chip firms and graduate recruiters right across different sectors who genuinely wanted to engage with a wider pool of talent.

One particular organisation was Enterprise Rent-A-Car, who have an impressive list of accolades for their tremendous work on diversity. Some of their achievements include The Times’ Top 50 Employers For Women in UK, Race For Opportunity Benchmark Top 10, Opportunity Now Benchmark Top 10 (for gender equality), TARGETjobs Best Diversity Recruiter 2013 and much more.

Their work has included a BME employee mentoring scheme and focus group who meet once a quarter to discuss ideas and innovations to make a more welcoming workplace. They have a dress code that is appreciative of religious beliefs, and facilities in offices and breaks to allow for prayers, including Friday prayers. And there is a “No Fuss” policy to allow time off for religious observances / holidays.

But Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s work goes beyond compliance and legal obligations, and what really stood out was their work surrounding the cultural pressures and expectations that many BME, particularly female, employees face. One initiative was a recent dinner that encouraged employees to bring their family members to meet the managers and understand what the company does and how they can accommodate their particular needs.

Why does this matter? It matters because I’ve realised that the relationship between religion, culture and professional life is complex. When we talk about employment challenges and barriers facing some groups it’s not just about discrimination, but also “what the family and community think.” Despite some changes in attitudes, many BME women still face strong resistance from parents, husbands and in-laws when it comes to working outside the home. Being a Muslim/Asian woman and having a career is frustratingly seen as a contradiction in terms and many are held back from achieving their potential. How this is tackled is a separate issue in itself, but the fact that a major recruiter is taking such bold steps shows an appreciation of the issues that do exist.

There is no one solution to address the problems I’ve talked about. Yes there needs to be a zero tolerance approach to discrimination in all forms, but we also need to look at cultural attitudes and perceptions. Change won’t happen overnight, but this kind of dialogue between recruiters, employees and communities is valuable. It allows employers to develop their own understanding and awareness, but also gives communities the opportunity to learn more about careers and the world of work. It might not be a process that all companies can take part in, but I certainly hope we see more of this kind of forward thinking.

Do you have a personal story to share on practising your faith in the workplace? Please get in touch if you do would be keen to hear more!

For more information on religious discrimination, faith and career matters, here are some interesting pieces of research and articles:

Equality and Human Rights Commission Consultation on Religion and Belief (2014) – largest ever public consultation reveals confusion and misunderstanding on laws protecting freedom of religion and belief. Respondents came from different faith groups, the largest being Christians, as well as secularists, humanists and atheists. One of the themes was that many employees felt pressure to keep their religious identity hidden at work.

All Party Parliamentary inquiry into ethnic minority female unemployment (2012) – inquiry found unemployment rates of Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have remained consistently higher than that of white women. Discrimination is certainly one factor in explaining this, and evidence shows Muslim women faced discrimination in interviews due to wearing the hijab. Furthermore, recent article by The Independent highlights that British Muslim women are 71% more likely to be unemployed compared to Hindu and Christian women, with workplace discrimination being a significant factor.

Religious discrimination in Britain: A review of research evidence, 2000-10 – research commissioned by Equality and Human Rights Commission and discusses whether religious discrimination is increasing or decreasing, and also the differences that faith groups experience.

Categories
Diversity

Inequality, diversity and why mentoring matters

Race inequality hit the headlines this week as alarming figures show the number of ethnic minority youngsters who have been out of work for more than a year has risen to almost 50%. Inevitably, we see the usual political debate over who has made the most progress on equality of opportunity. But nevertheless, it is an ongoing concern.

A few years ago, there was an All Party Parliamentary enquiry into BME female employment, and this showed how in particular Black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women consistently faced higher levels of joblessness than those of white women.

And back in February, there was the Aiming Higher report by the Runnymede Trust which looked at inequality and diversity challenges in the HE sector; across the board from student admissions and experience to staffing levels, there is certainly room for improvement in British universities. Again, we see ethnic minority groups likely to experience higher levels of unemployment, even if they have a degree.

So this got me thinking why, despite our rich history of immigration, integration, equality legislation, record numbers of BME people going to university and various positive action programmes, are we still witnessing this sorry state of affairs?

We’ve seen lots of different theories and explanations for BME disadvantage in the job market, and each are equally valid, but I think the most crucial is the lack of networks and role models. Contact with professionals, experts and people in influential positions is undoubtedly one of the most important ways of finding jobs and opportunities.

And this is where mentoring comes in. We all hear about the benefits of having a mentor; boost to confidence, clarifying goals, insights into careers, but the key for disadvantaged groups is access to opportunities and networks that people wouldn’t normally have.

The power of mentoring shouldn’t be underestimated. As I mentioned in my personal intro, I ran an award – winning careers mentoring scheme for several years, and BME students were one of the groups I worked with. I could write a post just on the difference having a mentor made to these students’ lives. Mentoring was not just a “nice thing” for employers and businesses to do, it radically changed lives and career prospects. I couldn’t ever forget one of our star mentees, who stood up at our annual awards event and practically reduced the audience to tears, as she emotionally spoke about attitudes she faced towards her race, disability and being a single parent. With low confidence and self – esteem, she went on a journey to become a much more positive focused individual having realised her full potential. And it was her mentor that played a part in that journey.

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To be fair, we do see that mentoring programmes have and continue to play a crucial role in helping to break down barriers for disadvantaged groups. Certainly across HE, there have been a number of very successful career mentoring programmes. There is also the well established Mosaic programme which uses mentors to raise the aspirations of young people from deprived communities.

However, some mentoring programmes can unfortunately be short lived, funding often being a big issue. We definitely need to see more organisations provide effective and structured programmes with a focus on long term results, and not just short term solutions. But there is much individuals can do to seek their own mentors, and I’ll be exploring this in future posts.

If anyone is considering setting up a mentoring scheme and would like any tips and advice, please feel free to get in touch with me, I’d be happy to share my expertise and experience!