University Graduate Management Trainee, Tara Nadi, welcomed four alumni to the discussion on Tuesday evening. She was joined by:
- Dr Ozak Esu (PhD Electronic and Electrical Engineering, 2016) – Technical Project Manager R&D at Hilti Group; recipient of the ‘Young Woman Engineer of the Year’ title in 2017.
- Tobi Ogundipe (BSc Economics, 2017) – Founder of Diverse, an organisation supporting BAME young professionals in securing jobs and progressing in their careers.
- Ashlea Smith (BSc Sports Management, 2015) – Head of Delivery at Living Sport; Co-founder and co-host of podcast Melanin and Me.
- Sumeet Vermani (Politics with Communication and Media, 2007) – Global Vice President of Marketing at Global Processing Services; member of the University’s Alumni Advisory Board.
The panellists began with advice for their younger selves. Ashlea, of mixed Caribbean and British descent, commented on mixed heritage.
She said: “I didn’t realise the importance of identity before I came to Loughborough. One thing that I did find, and this probably wasn’t until the last year, was colourism.
“There is a multi-layer and complexities within racism within the mixed community.
“So for me, in terms of how I could have maybe had a more positive experience in that sense, is to seek mentors of mixed heritage, and support groups. Somebody that looks like you has experienced challenges like you.”
Addressing challenges faced in the workplace, Sumeet talked about how he has often been the only non-white person in the room. Striving to reach the top and gain a senior role, Sumeet said he is determined to support others to ensure there is more diversity at senior level in organisations.
Tobi encouraged people to make the most of the diverse campus experience, saying “you won’t get that again”. His organisation Diverse is aiming to help young people from BAME backgrounds to access the resources needed to succeed and provides job opportunities.
He talked about how peoples’ perception of you is a factor in building relationships – particularly in a work environment. Tobi shared how he has often considered how much authenticity he brings to the workplace, but encourages the people using his platform to remain authentic and see the opportunity to bring diversity to work through a positive lens.
His comments led to a discussion amongst the panel on code-switching. The panel talked about fitting in, considering hair choices, altering language, names and clothing.
Ozak, who came to Britain from Nigeria to study at Loughborough, recognised that her experiences differed from other panellists. She shared an insight into learning about black people in the UK, talked about visas, and working especially hard to maintain her position in an organisation, determined to prove herself.
Ozak referenced her passion for working hard as a student, too. Reflecting on advice she would share with her younger self, she said: “Part of going to university is that added layer of the overall experience, so try new things. Relax and enjoy the entire experience.”
The panellists also discussed entering the job market, sharing practical tips with students, encouraging confidence, networking, and learning.
This event was the first of a new series called Voices of Diversity: BAME Speaker Series. The sessions will be open to students, staff, alumni and the community, and aim to support the University’s work around race equality.
The University is working on a number of anti-racism initiatives, including membership of the Race Equality Charter, surveying staff and students to better understand how racism shapes work and study, improving reporting of racism and hate incidents, and the BAME Staff Network has developed the ten Guiding Principles for Race Equality Work.
For those who were unable to attend, a recording of the event can be watched here.