“The realisation that being seen as ‘different’ was holding back my career came as a huge shock. Others in the same position should not let it defeat them.” This is a guest post from Jahanara Rajkoomar, Director of Community Investment at Metropolitan Thames Valley and Leadership 2025 participant. A version of this article first appeared in Inside Housing on 4th September 2020.
There’s a well-recognised lack of diversity in the built environment profession, with a narrow talent pool entering the sector. For ambitious, driven individuals who are from a BAME background or have characteristics that make them ‘different’, it can be a huge shock to realise that those differences might be barriers to achieving your career goals.
This realisation can act as a positive driver to break through those invisible barriers with sheer determination, and many of us who are different succeed in progressing through our chosen careers.
But for others, defeat creeps in as the voice in your head that says “what’s the point?” gets stronger. You consciously and unconsciously decide to just accept the covert discrimination and work to live.
I want to tell all of you: do not fall into the latter category. Applying for development programmes like the Emerging Talent Programme are one way to help strengthen your voice against discrimination.
The Emerging Talent Programme
Working closely with specialist housing consultancy Altair, and a group of housing association and developer co-designers – Network Homes, Peabody, Catalyst, Southern Housing, Sanctuary and Hill Group with support from the GLA – Future of London will target BAME individuals to offer an inclusive entry point for a greater diversity of talent into London’s housing and regeneration sectors.
The aims of the Emerging Talent Programme are to:
- attract greater diversity into sector
- fast-track potential leaders
- increase understanding and awareness of the range of career opportunities in the sector
- offer a 21-month programme of rotations through partner organisations
- create a unique experience working across housing associations, local authorities, consultancies and private developers
- support innovation and diversity of thought, leading to the better performance of host organisations and the sector overall.
Programmes like this don’t exist because you lack the skills to progress in your career. Instead, they help quieten the voice in your head that – fed by the overt and covert affirmations from those not affected by the same difference as you – says you’re somehow not quite good enough to become a senior leader in the sector.
Held back from progressing
I’ve been lucky in my career to do work that’s been closely aligned to my passion for tackling the inequalities that affect so many people in our country. But this love of my work blinded me for many years to how I was being held back from progressing, and not being rewarded in the same way as others who weren’t from a BAME background or a woman.
The first time I realised this came as a huge shock. I remember going home crying because the person who’d let my difference become an issue was a manager I’d hero-worshipped, someone who I thought recognised and valued how good I was.
I had gone to him to apply for a role that was a little bit more strategic, which would have resulted in me working with important stakeholders. But I was told that I was not quite ready for that type of a role and shouldn’t apply.
After the tears, my determination set in. I set out to prove to him that I was capable of that role – and more. And I got a better role within two months of that conversation. But I can’t tell you that I lived happily ever after from that point on.
Above: Jahanara was one of the panellists at FoL’s Making Equality the ‘new Normal’ roundtable in July.
Invisible manifestations of discrimination
Over the next decade or so, I came across many almost-invisible manifestations of discrimination which slowed me down and held me back.
At appraisals, for example, when it was obvious that the standards I was being held to were that much higher than my ‘non-different’ colleagues. My mistakes were held closer to the light to unpick and link to something that I could have, or should have, done better to avoid the mistake.
Or when colleagues looked at me as if I were speaking gobbledygook, but then when the same thing was said by someone white it was ‘transformational for the organisation’! I could go on, and I’m sure many of you who are ‘different’ will recognise some of this and will have suffered your own instances of discrimination.
My advice to all of you is:
- don’t keep your head down
- recognise what’s happening to you – both the obvious and the hidden transgressions
- stand up to it
- call it out
- show it out.
Schemes such as the Emerging Talent Programme will give you the confidence to use your voice and talent to aspire and achieve what you already know you’re capable of.
Future of London and Altair are currently looking for public and private-sector organisations to offer six- to nine-month placements to candidates on the programme from 2021. For more information, please contact Nicola Mathers.