Introducing Nicola EllisWebb, Co-Senior Sponsor of Acacium Group’s Race and Ethnicity Network
International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women – and a fantastic opportunity to introduce our new Race & Ethnicity D&I Network Co-Senior Sponsor, Nicola EllisWebb.
As a senior leader in a global business, Nicola has some valuable insights to share from her career journey.
I look back on the first 18 years of my life in the Caribbean with fond memories. The outdoor play with my friends, tree climbing, picking fruits from trees, constant sunshine and clear night skies were the stuff of dreams. My favourite pastime was daydreaming with my friends about our future. I don’t recall a time during those day-dreaming teenage years when I considered the possibility that there may be systemic barriers that could limit how far I could reach in life. I use the word reach deliberately as I have a natural propensity for constant reaching sometimes to bewilderment of those closest to me.
In my high school, there were Black students of African descent (majority), many students of Indian and Chinese descent and a few White exchange students mixed in for good measure. There was no doubt in my mind as a teenager that to get ahead of my peers, all I had to do was out-study them. If I put in the work, I would be rewarded with better grades and better job prospects. I now have the vocabulary to articulate my childhood view that I lived in meritocratic society. While I now have enough lived experiences to know that my wealthy classmates and those with societal connections may have had unfair advantages, the point I must make is that to raise aspirations, fairness must be the cornerstone of every aspect of civil society.
Diversity & Inclusion
I vividly recall my first meaningful conversation I had about ‘diversity and inclusion’ some ten years ago. I was speaking to a Canadian friend of Vietnamese descent who was temporarily residing in the UK. She was in law school in London and had made the decision to move back to Canada to get a ‘fair shot at being a lawyer’. I too was studying law at the time and had just won prestigious summer internships at two Magic Circle law firms thanks to the Sponsors for Educational Opportunities (SEO) London Corporate Law Programme. This programme helped talented candidates from ethnically diverse and low socio-economic backgrounds to launch their careers in law. My friend didn’t want to rely on a sponsored programme to make it in law. She wanted to succeed because she out-performed her peers and won the right to placements ‘fair and square’.
Many years later, the phrase has changed to ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ (DEI) with the formation of an entirely new industry, as experts in bias, discrimination and organisational design, set up consultancies to help companies and government departments improve DEI performance. I still have mixed feelings when I hear the term. Like my Canadian friend, I want to live in a fair society that gives each of us equal opportunities for socio-economic advancement and so the phrase is a reminder that we are not where we need to be.
Still, there is also cause for optimism as DEI initiatives are an opportunity for organisations to gain greater awareness of the importance of building diverse teams, sharing different perspectives, and granting employees fair access to opportunities.
When the opportunity arose to be a Senior Sponsor for our Race and Ethnicity network (REN), this was important to me because I know first-hand that representation matters. It is incredibly difficult to be what you cannot see. Therefore, if shining a spotlight on my ethnicity and my unique journey helps to raise the aspirations of people who look like me or have similar journeys, then that is a good result.
What I hope to bring to the role
Helpfully, we already have the main structures in place to optimise our DEI agenda which means we can gather metrics and set KPIs to ensure we are tracking our performance in the coming years. I will bring my own unique story to this role, coupled with curiosity, energy, and a good dose of humour. If I am to be of any value to the REN network and the DEI journey, it is important that I can demonstrate that you can bring your whole authentic self to work without fear.
Career lessons to share with you
It is important to have a healthy amount of self-belief. You must first believe in your ability to learn, develop and thrive when the conditions are favourable but even if they aren’t. While my employer is responsible for establishing favourable conditions for all, I have always made it my business to focus on my own development by seeking out opportunities for growth. I think that is because of self- belief and the propensity for reaching I spoke about earlier.
Secondly, we all need sponsors. Sponsors are those people who will say your name in rooms which you do not yet have access to. I have always been blessed to have divinely appointed sponsors along my journey, but it is perfectly reasonable to seek out sponsors. The value of mentors and coaches cannot be overstated especially if you are facing systemic barriers or other professional challenges and you need help to navigate these.
Lastly, always fail forward. We all make mistakes along our journey. Learn your lessons, improve where you need to and grow towards future success. Even the most polished, accomplished executives all made mistakes along their journey. Acknowledging this is empowering.
Sadly, qualitative data suggests imposter syndrome is reported more often by women. As women, we often compare our journey to someone else’s and surmise that we don’t quite measure up. Maybe if I take another course I will be qualified enough. Perhaps in a few more years I will be experienced enough. Our male counterparts just don’t do this to the same degree we do.
My word of advice to all women, but particularly to women from ethnically diverse backgrounds is this – you must trust your journey. External validation is always helpful, but you must believe you have immense value to add whatever your journey to the table.
We welcome, celebrate and embrace talent from backgrounds – You can learn more about more about Acacium Group’ opportunities and culture here.