What do I bring to the table? SCS leaders reflect at BAME into Leadership

Fri 13 May 2022

What do I bring to the table? SCS leaders reflect at BAME into Leadership

A look back at the BAME into Leadership conference in Birmingham sheds light on the inspirational messages that will resonate with the agenda of upcoming events in Leeds, London, and online

by Murielle Gonzalez

"It is wonderful to see so many people who look like me, aspiring to be more than they are today," said Cheryl Samuels, speaking at the conference BAME into Leadership Birmingham, conveying in her words the very purpose of the event.

She noted that learning to navigate an environment where you are the only one in the room is the lived experience of a few senior civil servants who have made it to the top ranks of government organisations. While still a minority, they are the role models that colleagues from a Black, Asian and ethnic minority background look up to. BAME into Leadership is the conference that gathers them under one roof for a full day, allowing you to meet them and ask the pressing questions you have around progressing in the civil service.

Samuels, Deputy Director of Workforce Transformation for the London region at NHS England and NHS Improvement, shared a panel discussion with Justin Placide, Head of Home Energy Retrofit Enables at BEIS, and Mel Nebhrajani, Director General, Employment with Economic Recovery and UK Governance at Government Legal Department. They shared their thoughts on the journey people must take to leave behind self-imposed barriers, such as the impostor syndrome, gain confidence, feel empowered to move on in whatever direction they want, and become the leaders they aspire to be.

Looking back at the Birmingham event, one can recognise key takeaway messages that still resonate and are likely to be discussed at the upcoming events. Organised by Dods, in partnership with trade union FDA, BAME into Leadership tours the country, with dates in Leeds (6 July) and London (20 October) and a virtual conference (9 June) for those who prefer the online experience.

Drive, determination and commitment

Speaking at the BAME into Leadership conference, Placide told us that as a kid, he wanted to be a DJ. It was his passion, but he only had two records to play — one of them was his father's. He got a Saturday job to earn some money, but his parents and people around him kept telling him that he would never be a DJ. 

Placide followed the advice of his parents and went to university. "But no one told me what you can do when you get a degree," he noted, adding that after graduation, all he wanted was "a job where I can wear a suit."

The anecdote found laughter in the audience, but it quickly turned to a reflective mood when he said: "Where's the ambition? Where's the dream?" In sharing his experience, Placide highlighted the importance of thinking about a job in terms of how it helps you build a career. "We all need to understand that our motivating factors are also the things that give us the resilience to continue," he said.

Placide also reflected on what it means to be the only person in the room. "If you're the only person in the room, you don't have a privilege but a right to represent," he said, nodding to the opportunity to lift others as you climb. "If you're already in the room, how do you empower others to come in?" he asked.

The question echoed in Nebhrajani's presentation. She reflected on her intersectional characteristics and how being a woman of law played out while holding leadership positions. "As a young Asian woman, I saw that intersectionality of the protected characteristics can be a real problem — lots of sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment, racism, and on one occasion, violence. I thought enough is enough," she said.

Looking at the delegate list, Nebhrajani reflected on the group of people gathered at BAME into Leadership. "The work that this collective group of people is doing with this great nation is quite extraordinary," she said, noting that whenever you fall into the trap of the impostor syndrome, think about your organisation is lucky to have you.

"I have never been in a room with so many people, and what I learned was to get the possible, not impossible. You replace impossible with resilient, hardworking, talented, dedicated, skilled, and you begin to see where the empowerment comes from."

Samuels agreed. Reflecting on the path from impostor to empowered, she said: "There is something about what we do and how we do it, what we say and how we manage our inner voice. Part of that has to do with accepting that if we're going to keep aspiring [to leadership roles], we are going to see a white senior management team. At my grade, there might be 2% of people that look like me. So, we've got to work out how we're going to get there."

She said she often goes to a meeting where there is rarely anybody who looks like her or is remotely similar. "But this is one of those things you have to work with. And you need to learn to navigate it, and you need to work your way through it."

As an HR professional, Samuels encouraged the audience to be intentional about their actions, thinking about what is that they want to be doing. "Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of toxic environments, don't waste your energy or time trying to find a system. Do something different. Don't go where you're tolerated; go where you're celebrated," she said.

Inevitably, this attitude is not exempt from risks. Reflecting on her career, Samuels explained that failure is part of that journey to success. "I've taken quite a bit of risk. I quit a permanent job as executive director of HR for a big hospital in London because I didn't have a great time there. So, I left and took fixed-term contract posts – and I've never been out of work."

Samuels pointed out that something about your reputation, credibility, and personal brand plays a part. "Think about how you use social media, build networks with different people, and make connections. And there's a great opportunity here, at BAME into Leadership. You've got drive, determination, and commitment. Believe in yourselves."

Join us for another uplifting day at BAME into Leadership. Register to attend the upcoming events.

  • BAME into Leadership Online on 9 June
  • BAME into Leadership Leeds on 6 July  
  • BAME into Leadership London on 20 October

Agendas will be announced shortly. Secure your place today!



Murielle Gonzalez, content strategy manager at Dods Diversity & Inclusion, is an experienced journalist and editor. She can be reached on murielle.gonzalez@dodsgroup.com.

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