I’m different. I’m strange. I may not agree with you. Hire me!
Growing up in Tower Hamlets was… let’s say it was interesting. We had strong communities around us and the people were friendly. However, the neighborhood had its highs and lows dealing with crime, drugs and gangs. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows the area of Shoreditch and Whitechapel now will know that it’s booming and it’s not like what it was 10 years ago.
But one thing that largely remains the same, is how people from ethnic minority backgrounds can feel like an outsider. It is said that Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived areas in the UK with high levels of unemployment and people living in poverty. However, less than a few minutes away, we have the City of London and Canary Wharf where money was no issue. That said, only a small number of young people get the opportunity to see the city let alone get a chance to work there. It was the same problem 10 years ago and it remains the same now.
I hated the word “disadvantaged” when I was growing up. I didn’t want my friends or me to be dubbed as “disadvantaged young people who need help and handouts”. But rather “talented youths with a lot to offer”. So, I knew that I had to prove everyone wrong. Yes, some of our parents weren’t working, others were on benefits but most youths were trying to get out of the spiral and make something of themselves.
My parents were second-generation immigrants who both worked hard to give us an education. My dad hopped from job to job and grafted in restaurants, leather shops, manufacturing and is now working as a Project Manager for a Mental Health Charity. As for my mum, she works as a special needs teaching assistant. I was always taught the value of hard work and that we should give back. Neither of my parents went through the traditional education system but they fought all barriers and became successful.
Streets to City
The very first time I explored the city was when I was 17 and I applied for an internship scheme. I remember seeing glass buildings upon glass buildings. Everything looked polished and shiny but I loved it. Who wouldn’t?
I remember feeling strange about it all. Who would hire me? I don’t look like most of the people walking through these doors. White faces, fancy suits, and most from privileged backgrounds. I remember wondering whether I needed to change the way I walk or talk? I became conscious about everything.
My manager was a lady called Hind Naciri who – to put it simply – was “real”. She grew up in Hackney and came from a Moroccan Muslim background. She reminded me that it’s okay to just be me and that if I stayed true to my strengths that I would shine. And that I did! I also hit the jackpot when I started my internship during Ramadan. I was free from awkward conversations about why I even fast and how bizarre fasting for 12 hours was. I had a manager who was in the same boat as me and fasted alongside me. She helped others understand me and vice versa. Beyond that, she knew what this opportunity meant.
She plugged me into many meetings, introduced me to many seniors and kept pushing me to talk about the ideas I had. It transformed me (and hopefully them). I’d like to think we all learned from one another.
I was fortunate to work with people who embraced diversity and different perspectives. I was working for an organization that genuinely wanted to improve their culture and teams. Not for quotas but because they believed in people, the different backgrounds they came from, the experiences they can share and the ideas that they can bring to the table.
I could go on about my experiences but in short, I managed to turn 4 weeks into 4 years of credible experience. I earned a really good wage and kept thinking how lucky I was. Every day I travelled home, I thought how many others from my community could benefit from the experience I had.
The Big Idea – Route21
Since my time at the Bank, I knew my calling was to help others like me get into meaningful jobs. For 2 years, I worked to build a diverse campaign, encouraging businesses to recruit talent from local schools and colleges in East London and to create opportunities for them.
I am now working on something bigger and more digital – Route21 – a marketplace that would allow young people to find cool opportunities and connect with organisations who want to invest in diverse talent.
There is a huge issue with how young people gain access and awareness to the opportunities around them and we are hoping that Route21 provides a silver lining to this. We want to create a community of partners, people and institutions all working towards the same mission.There is a huge issue with how young people gain access to the opportunities around themClick To Tweet
The platform does three simple things: it allows young people to showcase their abilities by building a digital portfolio so they can celebrate their differences and skills, connect with organisations that they feel associated with and apply for opportunities they want to progress in.
We are now looking to launch the beta platform and partner with local schools in East London to create a better way for businesses and new talent to build relationships.
With everything I have experienced, in my opinion, there are 3 simple solutions to improve and embrace diversity.
- Provide more opportunities to young talent
It’s important that we allow young people to get their foot in the door because you don’t realise what inspiration you could provide them and how much they could help grow your business.
- Build relationships with local schools and colleges
It’s also crucial that we plant the seeds early. As a community, we need to start removing the divide between two areas (East London Streets vs City of London) and make youths feel as if they are the future of such places.
- Push diversity from within
And lastly, we need to make sure that we are championing diversity from inside our businesses. It needs to be a core part of the organisations we work in and the interactions we have.