Ima represents many Fijian women who have left behind a thriving career to join their husbands here in the UK. She spent 3 years starting a family as a full time mum. She entered the UK workforce as a domestic cleaner. She took up voluntary work with the local council to help build her CV and secure a reference. She moved onto entry-level administrative work in her camp. And then she joined the civil service at entry level. It took her 10 years from when she came to the UK to joining the civil service in 2019.
Her journey is exemplary, as she demonstrates a real commitment to her personal and professional goals. She recognises the importance of voluntary work at community level to gain confidence and help her to settle in the UK. She is not restricted to her current circumstances and she is taking intentional steps towards her own development.
Joining the UK civil service is a big deal. And she rightfully earned her place. Shortly after joining, she made an immediate impact. She single-handedly led on 3 projects that transformed work processes, created efficiencies and synergy within the department. One of her initiatives was applauded as best practice and adopted by headquarters. She seized any opportunity to utilise her skill set and become an effective team player.
Her sterling work boosted her confidence to apply for promotion. However, in two instances she was not successful. This was mainly due to a lack of line management support. She was blatantly discouraged to not apply; the she had not completed her probationary period or that she should be grateful for the opportunity to work in her current role. Both of which were discriminatory and bullying comments, she didn’t need to fulfil probation requirements if she was applying on promotion and she was hired into her role based on merit.
Some of the structural barriers she encountered are indicative of the research surrounding BAME women at work, including discrimination and unconscious bias. The common mistake here is we take it personally, and lack the confidence to question line management rhetoric or seek further guidance. And perhaps more importantly, we also feel that we are alone, that no one else is going through the same situation. It takes a lot of courage to work in a hostile environment, and also to prove yourself or try to fit in at the same time. But Ima persevered.
Her faith kept her grounded and strengthened her resolve to not give up. She brought her whole self to work, she showed up and she was steadfast in her faith. The power of prayer helped her to overcome a difficult work situation. She spoke of how she always made it clear from the start that she was a believer. She knew that the way she portrayed herself at work was crucial. And she shared a key insight, by presenting your entire self, it gives you the chance to educate others about your culture and faith – to change preconceived ideas or breakdown the stereotype characteristics around BAME women. For instance, loud laughter is viewed as being loud and aggressive, but in actual fact, it’s our sense of humour and infectious laughter that makes Fijian people the friendliest.
In a recent BAME Leadership conference she attended, she discovered that there has been a leadership shift in that leaders recognise that being culturally intelligent bypasses emotional intelligence, as the workplace is fast-becoming diverse and multi-cultural. For BAME women, we are multi-cultural and have always been, which places us in a unique position. To become a true leader, means to tap into this form of intelligence to be able to create the influence and make the impact they seek. It is no longer the case of BAME individuals to educate the workplace on their culture and country of origin. The responsibility lies with leaders but also everyone.
The situation with her line manager described above is a good example to highlight here. As a believer we respect authority. I can’t help wonder if this situation presents an opportunity to stand up for yourself and your faith, if you know that this person is clearly in the wrong i.e. it is bullying in the workplace. Did the line manager expect not to receive push back from her because of her beliefs? Perhaps being stereotyped as passive caused the line manager to feel indifferent? These are questions we can reflect upon with the hope to change behaviour next time it occurs. I believe Ima dealt with it in true humility and as a woman of faith, she surrendered it to God.
Ima’s spirit is not disheartened by the setbacks faced. It has been a huge learning curve for her and she knows now what to do. She is even more determined to work harder towards her goals. She has made a 5 year plan, envisioned where she wants to be and is making headway towards them. God’s hand is moving.
1 John 5:14-15 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.
Its Ima’s intention, by sharing her story, is to make known that we are not alone on this journey. Shared experiences can only encourage one another. Keep pushing with every ‘push back’ you encounter. Bring your faith to the forefront of your work. It will make the biggest difference in the lives you come into contact with on a daily basis. She also emphasises the need to connect to your local community, to bring to light our own ethnic community. This is an invaluable point in overcoming BAME barriers, starting local and gaining that confidence to take it to the workplace.
Confidence thrives on honesty, on honour, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. – Franklin O Roosevelt.
Thank you Ima for sharing. And for anyone interested in joining in the conversation, please get in touch. A problem shared is a problem halved!
And lastly, I never know what kind of content to deliver each month, but I believe that God is instrumental in guiding my steps, by bringing the right people at the right time to me. And all I have to do is show up with a willing heart to do the work He has prepared for me.
Ima touched on a lot of key issues that BAME women encounter. It is important that we break down every stereotype and barrier by sharing our own experiences, because we not only educate and empower each other by doing so but we get to change the narrative completely. One story at a time.