Don't hold back!

Published: 12 October 2020

When Nigel Gay joined a pitch led by talented STEM undergraduates from African and Caribbean heritage backgrounds he discovered there was a lot he wanted to say to his younger self.

When I joined a financial institution's graduate IT training programme back in the 1990s it was clear that nobody else looked like me.

In the UK at that time I didn't come across many people from a black heritage who were studying computer science or aiming to become computer engineers. For people from my background engineering tended to be defined as something that had tangible outputs you could see and touch like a bridge or an engine, not computer programmes and applications.

I didn't have peers, and role models were scarce so there was hardly anyone to follow in terms of forging a career path. I was inclined to just keep my head down, get on with my training and not stand out.

Fast forward to September 2020 when I joined the Get Ahead Programme we ran in HSBC Technology. It's part of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Workstream and 48 undergraduates from African and Caribbean heritage backgrounds studying STEM topics joined us for the two-day event.

We covered the HSBC graduate recruitment process, assessment workshops and Q&A sessions and the programme concluded with the participants splitting into eight teams to tackle the #Inclusive innovation challenge developed by the 2019 intake of HSBC Technology graduates.

The teams were asked to devise and pitch innovative ideas about how HSBC can improve on the delivery of digital customer experiences to people with visual or physical impairments, or who are on the medium to high-functioning spectrum of neurodiversity.

I was genuinely blown away by how much they put in for the event, their hunger to learn and their questions on the opportunities and pathways HSBC could offer. I was also filled with pride at the number of students from ethnically diverse backgrounds interested in pursuing a similar path to mine.

Listening to them made me reflect on the start of my own career and what kind of advice I might give to my younger self from two decades ago.

I'd tell him to be confident, be bold, show no fear and be yourself. Don't hold back.

I'd tell him to speak up and share those great ideas and don't wait for permission to experiment and put them into practice, either by yourself or with people who share your motivation.

And because I'd be speaking up, I'd have told my then employers that embracing diversity in your workforce means being better-able to understand and meet the needs of your customers - because that workforce will reflect the customers and communities we serve.

It also means embracing diversity of thought – bringing different perspectives to solve problems in new and unique ways.

Finally, I'd warn them they need to expand the pool of potential new hires because they will be in a war for talented technologists. And once that talent is on board, create an environment in which they can achieve their full potential, with clear and long-term career development paths.

I'm proud to work for an organisation like HSBC that's making these things a priority. As HSBC Group CEO Noel Quinn said in July when he announced specific actions we're taking to improve opportunities for black and ethnic minority employees "I want us to be judged by the concrete, sustainable actions we take."

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