A diverse panel of speakers came together at Ideas Fest to discuss the importance of representation in the workplace, in order to create a better, more diverse society.

When we look back at our younger selves and think of what we wanted to be when we were older, it’s likely you would have picked a role that inspired you, excited you and one where you had seen someone who you would consider a role model in the same industry. But what if you couldn’t see anyone who looked like you? Or there was only a particular group of people doing everything? 

Role models are crucial to the development of a child’s life and allow them to think positively about the future, and have someone to look up to. In a world that has seen huge impacts from the inequality of certain races, religions, and genders, it is now more important than ever that businesses, schools, media outlets and every other aspect of society is striving to be diverse, and represent everyone. 

If people are able to see themselves being represented in the real world, it opens doors for so many opportunities and paves the way for a far more diverse and inclusive world. 

A diverse panel of speakers came together at Ideas Fest to discuss the importance of representation in the workplace, in order to create a better, more diverse society.

Karly Arber, Founder and Creative Director of Lenny London and Co-Founder of I am Arla kicked off the conversation by discussing the importance of making the workplace a safe space in order to be able to represent everyone: “It’s vital to create a place where people feel they can be open and honest with someone that they feel understands them. Whether it be about sex, race or whatever it may be” 

“Representation is entirely subjective and can mean anything to anyone, it’s about creating space where everyone can be seen and heard. It’s really important to be a role model to the younger generation – to show children that anything can be possible, and having representation is a crucial part of this.” 

“When I was younger I didn’t have a huge group of friends or people to look up to, and I got caught up in the wrong crowds which could have easily dictated where my life was going. It wasn’t until I actually got into working that I felt inspired and felt like I had positive role models for the first time.”  

“There are not enough people who are open and honest about their journey and I want to be that voice that tells you, no matter your background, where you come from, or how you were raised – if you have the drive you can get anywhere.”

Agreeing with Karly about the importance of role models, Dr. Tru Powell Personal Brand Strategist & Publicity Coach said:  “I didn’t have any positive representation when it came to business – I didn’t know anyone who looked like me or that was successful. I was lucky that my mum pushed me to go to uni and do all of these things that have ultimately led me to where I am today. I now make it my mission to be that positive representation for the next generation, who may look like me and be from a deprived background.”

Huma Shah, director of Science at Coventry University added how important it is for people to believe in themselves in order to push the motive of representation. There is always the first person to do something, so be inspired by the person who represents you, and keep striving to achieve that. “Don’t listen to people who tell you you can’t do this or that, if you want something try it and find people who have a positive nature and encourage you – don’t get trapped in the can’t dos,” she said. 

Tru Powell discussed how although we are doing more as a society to create a representation, there is still so much more to be done. “Black business women only get 0.4% of business venture capital – and this is something we need to particularly work on. Companies should be setting up employee resource groups, and developing a pipeline for more black talent.” 

So, how can businesses ensure they are creating diverse workplaces that effectively represent everyone – without it being a tick box exercise. 

Tru Powell explained that the key to representation is through your recruitment process, and ensuring that your workplace is a safe space for everyone. 

“Firstly make sure that you truly are a safe space for black talent – and think about where you are putting out your job roles? Try sharing your available job roles at colleges or unis that are populated by predominantly black talent, or reach out to black-owned recruitment companies etc – you need to put yourself in places that have credible access to diverse talent.”

The group often came back to the fact that to truly have a diverse workforce, your workplace needs to be a safe space for everyone. So, how can you create a truly safe space? The key is to be open and understanding – create an environment, and make your employees know and feel that they can come to you with any problems they may be having, and actually come up with solutions for them. 

For example, if an employee was being racially discriminated against by another employee, that employee should be able to come to you and express their situation, and you as the employer should do whatever it takes to stop that situation. As the employer, you should also be hiring the right people, and setting boundaries in place, where everyone should to be treated with respect, value, and understanding, by both managers and employees. 

Want to hear more valuable talks from experts? Ideas Fest is the place to be – book your tickets for next year here.