Today marks the start of Black History Month, a chance for us to raise awareness of Black British History, Black role models and celebrate this being part of who we are as a community.
Yvonne Reid-Healy, Project Manager, talked to us about her inspirations in both life and work, and her take on the importance of a diverse and inclusive work culture.
My life inspirations encourage me to achieve and not to self-limit
First and foremost, my wonderful dad. Even though he’s passed he remains the biggest inspiration in my life. He always had funny stories of when he lived in Jamaica as a child and carried a permanent smile.
An amazing father ahead of his time. He was very hands on with his seven daughters and taught us all to be strong and independent women and told us we could do whatever a man could do. He was our advocate, and support in what we chose to do in life. I could go to him about anything and he would never shy away from giving advice. When I’m happy I miss him, and when I am sad I miss him more.
My mother is a retired vicar. She trained as a nurse when she came to England in 1962 and was a lay preacher in our church. At the age of 62 mum ordained as a vicar and ministered at a church in Nuneaton. She was also the pastoral care for Warwickshire Police. Today, at 87 mum is having a well-earned quieter life.
My six sisters are my forever stronghold. We have chosen careers that were not deemed the norm within our community at the time. A senior manager in mental health, a retired Police Officer (31 years’ service), 3 teachers, and a Sales & Marketing Manager.
At school my careers officer laughed when I told her I wanted to join the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF). She told me I could be a nurse or work in a factory…...that was it!
In those days you were profiled based on your sex, background and ethnicity. Having our parents’ encouragement, my sisters and I had other ideas and followed our dreams!
History teaches you to go for what you want, and what you think is right
I grew up admiring several historical figures, but the two I admire most are Mary Seacole and Lilian Bader.
Mary was a Jamaican businesswoman/nurse who was rejected by the British Home Office when she applied to travel to the Crimean war along with other nurses to care for wounded soldiers. She used her own money and travelled to the war zone. Here she set up a hotel with a makeshift hospital and started caring for the wounded to help soldiers rehabilitate.
After the war, the soldiers she cared for clubbed together funds to help her get home. The soldiers nicknamed her ‘Mother Seacole’.
For me, Mary was an amazing woman who followed through on her beliefs, doing what she saw as the right thing to do and giving something back by helping the needy and contributing to the cause at her own expense.
Many have heard of Florence Nightingale nursing in the Crimean war because it was taught in schools, but I learned about Mary through Jamaican folklore. Mary has recently been recognised and celebrated. There is a statue of her at St. Thomas Hospital in London.
I grew up wanting to be like Lilian after reading about her. Lilian was the first black woman to join the WRAF, but it wasn’t an easy journey for her. She was rejected by the British Army twice but showed true tenacity to achieve her dream and was accepted by the WRAF on her third attempt. An absolute inspiration. So much so, my dream was to join the WRAF and become an electronic technician, but it wasn’t to be.
I didn’t plan to go into Finance. I helped out at a friend’s business and fell in love with double entry bookkeeping… and so it began!
Talking Diversity & Inclusion
I started at National Grid (now Cadent) in 2000 for a development year, working in Network Strategy Finance in Warwick. 2020 is my 20th year so, what’s made me stay, I hear you ask…
Until I joined National Grid, I’d never experienced open opportunities to have a diverse career. By this I mean, I was encouraged to apply for roles outside my subject matter expertise to continually develop myself and transfer my skills and share my business knowledge. I’ve held several management roles in National Grid/Cadent and managed very different teams (Finance, Resource Management, Data Quality & Assurance). I can honestly say in my 20 years I’ve never felt profiled.
Discrimination at work
I’ve never experienced discrimination from my colleagues but I did once from Management when I worked for another organisation back in the 90s. I was the first person of colour to work in the Finance department.
I did not sign up for Trade Union (TU) membership as part of my onboarding and was approached about why I had not signed up. I stated that I did not want to join a union for personal reasons. I was summoned to my Finance Director’s office where I was met by the TU rep, Finance Director and my line manager. For about 30 minutes I was interviewed as to why I would not join the union. Seeing that I was not going to change my mind, the TU rep said, "That’s the problem with you people, stubborn and stuck in your ways." I disagreed, corrected him and pointed out that "I’m assertive".
My other colleagues who started at the same time and did not join the TU were not subjected to a panel interview to discuss why. They were asked by their line manager and the matter was closed.
I did not take the matter further as I was new, and I was told it would be construed as me "making trouble" or "being difficult" and I felt it might have damaged my career.
I was disappointed that my line manager did not step in during the interview but back then hierarchy was very important in my the organisation. Subordinates were seen and not heard! Thankfully the world has changed and improved for the better.
Celebrating diversity brings us together
We do a good job at Cadent, which is evident when I talk to my friends and compare what we do and what they do to celebrate diversity in their workplaces. My friends think I’m spoilt at Cadent!
I feel it is important to publicly celebrate our diversity and show the world that we discourage stereotyping, racism, discrimination and exclusion. Instead we encourage unity in the workplace and ensure that we are culturally aware, so no one ever feels excluded.
Where do we go from here?
I’d like to see us continue to develop our leadership, recruitment process, and talent pool to accurately reflect the communities we serve from the top down. That way, we can remove barriers where we find them and encourage progression for all our colleagues.