I began my career at the iTaukei Land Trust Board in Fiji soon after graduating from the University of the South Pacific. It was known as the Native Land Trust Board back then and we still had the Great Council of Chiefs. I started as an Estate Assistant II, then worked my way up to Estate Officer until I left the Board in 2012 when I got married.
However, my career progression wasn’t as linear as this when I arrived in the UK in November 2012. I started out by volunteering at the local YMCA until it got too cold to leave the house. Then I got my first paid job as a cleaner four months after arriving. Between Feb 2013 to August 2017, I worked at various jobs including Yeovil Hospital and at Sovereign Housing managing the housekeeping team.
My husband’s military service ended in 2017 allowing us to move to London so that I could take up the position of House Manager for a property management company there. I was also studying at this time and in 2019 I completed my MSc degree from De Montfort University in Leicester and made a huge career change to the finance sector where I am today.
Now I work as a Loan Officer for the Growth Company Business Finance (GCBF). I have just completed my first month in my new role, and I love the company and the work we do to support small businesses. Our team provides financial support to SME’s and micro-businesses in the Greater Manchester Area that are unable to obtain funding from mainstream sources.
Prior to this, I was a Loan Officer at the London Mutual Credit Union (LMCU). They offer financial services to key workers and households in seven London Boroughs. I have enjoyed working for both these companies because they provide a service that caters for marginalised people from these areas.
For me personally the biggest barriers were isolation and the absence of networks. The military bases are in small towns where jobs are scarce anyway and I had no network I could tap into to find work, therefore getting a foot into the job market was difficult for me.
After the fourth month of my arrival and still without a job, I took a punt and called up a number I saw in our local newspaper. The gentlemen asked when I could start and I said, “Now!” He gave me a job cleaning the local Beals shop every morning from 7 to 9:00am before the shop opened. I will never forget this phase in my career because it seemed that things weren’t happening for me on the outside but inside I was being shaped radically.
A study by the Centre for Economic Performance for the 2015 election series found that migrants were over-represented in two extremes - either the highly skilled sector or the lowest skilled sector. There is no easy in-between for us. We either start at the very top or start at the very bottom and work our way to the top. I did the latter and I don’t regret the career decisions I made.
I have always been the only Fijian in all my workplaces, so I bring my whole authentic self to work every day because I am representing our community and the God we serve. I had read how the reputation of ethnic minorities as workers can be tarnished by the act of a single person, so I hope this works in the reverse - that our good workmanship gets to define us as a community. Therefore, I inhibit these professional spaces knowing that I can positively influence it in some way.
However, there have been instances when certain spaces are more comfortable to exist in than others, so I have suppressed certain bits of me. I felt this profoundly in one of the wealth management seminars I attended in London’s Financial district. I was the only female and one of colour at that, so I found myself code switching throughout the seminar. I spoke deeper like the men, stopped myself from laughing like a Fijian and I drank sparkling water which I hate. At the end of the event when all the men made plans for the pub it was clear to me that this was going to be exhausting so I went home to my comfortable safe space. Also, I’m not sure if this fits in here as well but there were times I subconsciously downplayed certain aspects of me - like speaking good English or holding a master’s degree so that I met people’s stereotype of what a cleaner should be.
These are not my proudest moments, however, I am grateful that I can now navigate professional work settings freely in my whole self unapologetically. It took a lot of meandering to get here.
What do you hope to achieve by sharing your story today?
I hope that others reading this will know that career progression do not just happen, it takes a lot of hard work and a good support system. I hope our partners reading this realise how much their support means to our careers. We have followed you halfway across the globe to support you - it means a world of difference to us when you meet us halfway and support us in ours.
And to the ladies out there, I pray that you reach the top of the career ladder and once you get there reach down and help another up.