Share your story and empower the next generation

Sandra Kerr OBE, speaks of her commitment to progressing BAME people in the workplace and the need for role models, both in the workplace and in schools. 


Last week I had the privilege of speaking at the assembly of the Burntwood Academy for Girls in South London.  The big question was: how could I make a short presentation about myself to 1,000 girls aged between 11 and 16 interesting?

I thought about what I could share from my experience that would be relevant and empowering. Some interesting reflections were that I didn’t have to do anything but be myself.  I was brought up on a housing estate in South London that they could recognise as some of them still live there.  I have to say it’s the first time I received a spontaneous round of applause and cheers for disclosing that information!

I then went on to share the some of the same points that I present often to Employee Network Groups and individuals interested in progression. I call these ‘Five Points for Progress’. The first is not despising where you are but making the most of it and working towards becoming an expert. Then being prepared to learn what you don’t know and seeking to continually learn and improve and not being afraid of what I call the ‘mega stretch’ – those great opportunities that come along that you may not feel 100% ready for – just take them!  And then the last two points which are taking the advice of a mentor - something I am very passionate about because mentors and sponsors have had a definite role in my career and which is of the recommendations from our Race at Work report. And finally be nice, honest and professional.

One in four children in primary and secondary school in the UK are from a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) background and only one in 16 of senior leaders in the public or private sector are from a BAME background. Another key issue highlighted in our Race at Work research was the need for role models in the workplace.  Role models from the workplace are needed in schools too.

It was a great opportunity for me and a morning well spent. I would encourage all leaders to get out there – visit a school in your local neighbourhood or in the neighbourhood in which you were raised and share your stories.  Share what went well and share how you overcame obstacles and inspire the next generation so that they know if you did it, they can do it too.