Leading with Purpose to Bridge the Black Leadership Gap – Reflections from The LEAD Conference 2020

From left: Chris Brown, Dennise Hillman, Sean Adams Monterero, Sandra Kerr & Caleb DeSouza

How does one bridge the gap between the education and the private sector in terms of providing skills, training and opportunities for a young black work force to progress in the corporate world?

This was the question at the heart of the Conference organised by The LEAD Curriculum in association with IBM Black Employee Network on 6th February 2020 at the IBM Centre in London.

The Conference was held to mark Black History Month USA, which is celebrated in February.  Members of the BLACK Employee Network invited Dennise Hillman, Founder and CEO of LEAD Curriculum LTD, a top education services company, to facilitate discussions amongst a group of educational, management, youth and business leaders.

Ms Hillman, a former Associate Head Teacher, VSO Science Teacher Trainer and Principal Examiner for the Oxford and Cambridge Exam Board (OCR) advocated developing a service leadership mind set amongst young people as a sure way to changing perceptions and self-belief .

In her introduction to the conference, she reflected on her many years of experience as an educational leader in different capacities. She realised that the knowledge gained reinforced her belief in valuing people, recognising their contributions as individuals in order to motivate them to achieve their best.

“The essence of service leadership,” said Dennise Hillman, “is that it inspires people to use what they already know, their contacts, skills, experiences and talents to add value to others. …I learnt when people feel valued, they give value.”

Education and information forms the basis of her mission to change perceptions. Not only in non-white communities but black communities as well. She gave an example of an incident when she was invited to a leadership conference to speak as a consultant but was barred entry by a Black security guard because he thought she didn’t look like a consultant.

She reiterates that “perceptions determine behaviours which can be transformed by changing mind sets.”

Keynote speaker, Sandra Kerr, the National Campaign Director for Business in the Community’s Race Equality campaign, called for participants to introduce and sign up to the Racial Work Charter at their places of work. A key point of the Charter is to capture data on ethnicity. Sandra Kerr maintained that poor information on demographics is one of the reasons for a lack of diversity in management roles.

Panellist Caleb DeSouza, an accountant working in the private sector agreed that data collection is important. He asked why the current figures of management positions held by (BLACK and Ethnic Minority) BAME professionals remained low at less than 7%.

Fellow Panellist Sean Adams Montero, President of the African and Caribbean Society at Loughborough University cast doubt on the wisdom of ‘lumping people together under the banner of diversity’ which in his opinion, had become a mere buzzword. His reservations sparked a conversation on what Black people should call themselves and whether by accepting the BAME label, the Black community had done itself a disservice?

However, Sandra Kerr, an advisor on diversity and policy issues on race, gender and disability warned against “getting too bogged down on names.” She would rather focus on outcomes that facilitated the progression of disadvantaged groups in employment. One of her recommendations was always to get credit for the work you do and to ensure your voice is heard.

Chris Brown, an IBM Executive Partner, reminded participants that things had moved on considerably since the ‘1950’s perspective and attitudes towards work’. He was optimistic and mindful of the achievements gained over the years. He supported holding more conversations like these that pushed the boundaries.

At this point, group activities were undertaken by members of the conference. Their task was to come up with practical solutions to form closer links between industry and education. Several suggestions were made including creating professional networks between industries and education, offering mentorship programmes. On one table, Jan Sinclair, the Global Immigration and Business Development Leader at IBM came up with the idea to provide to maps facilitate navigation up the corporate ladder.

The closing remarks were left to IBM Associate Partner, Rudi Sellers who saw the need to create a critical mass of leaders, thinkers, professionals. He urged the audience to think outside the box and address the pain that would lead to creative solutions.

Rudi Sellers thanked The LEAD Curriculum for posing the challenge and bringing together leaders from the two sectors to innovate and form partnerships. He urged participants to put into action some of the considerations raised in the conference.

Dennise Hillman rounded up with a call to action to the participants to keep influencing and making a difference in the communities they serve. She concluded, “I am passionate about bringing the two industries together to collaborate on the design of curriculum programmes that change leadership mind sets and perceptions through contact, conversation and challenge. This conference is just one of our programmes.”

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