Roxi Jahanshahi, Programmes Manager at You Make It, speaks about her workplace experiences, ethnic diversity, and empowering other women to seize the career opportunities that are right for them.
Being a woman of colour and feeling at home in an organisation can be hard when you’re underrepresented and at times unappreciated. The glass ceiling lingering over your head is one that’s not always formally addressed, but becomes apparent when your leaders don’t look like you, speak like you, or even make the effort to relate to your experiences. As we near Black History Month, diversity and representation in the workplace are as important as they have ever been. These issues need to be more than a topic of discussion – they need to have practical outcomes.
As someone with a history of serial career hopping, I’ve previously found myself having to justify my inability to commit to a long-term relationship with an organisation. The truth is, being an occupational nomad was hard, exhausting and at times anxiety-provoking.
Throughout my career in the charity sector I’d near the 12-month mark in a role and start searching for somewhere that I would be able to develop my career without feeling overlooked. I’d shift between small and medium size organisations in search for the perfect balance of diversity, support and grassroots impact, but it never quite worked.
I only had to look at the ethnic make-up of my workplace to realise where I fit in professionally. I recall one of my managers, an extremely talented, experienced and qualified black female being told that she didn’t have the right look for a high-profile project. I soon realised that I would either have to give up on my hopes of career success, or find a place where my ethnicity didn’t prohibit my progression.
After completing my Masters in 2015, I applied for two roles. One was with a large financial services foundation, and another with a smaller grassroots charity. The former seemed to offer the professional status that ethnic minority parents like mine often favour, while the latter aligned with my values. I went with my heart and in 2016 I began my role as a Programmes Manager at You Make It, a female empowerment programme for young, marginalised and unemployed women of colour. The organisation was founded by Asma Shah, a woman of colour from a non-privileged background, whose management style is underpinned by a strong set of values.
Working under her leadership has been a breath of fresh air for my career, and has put an end to my search for professional belonging. Not only is our work powerful and rich in social impact, our focus on empowerment, development and sisterhood is also upheld within our team. Just as we encourage those in our programme to realise that they are capable of advancing their careers, I have been encouraged to seek autonomy at work and have my voice heard.
At You Make It we take pride in encouraging organisations to recognise and harness the brilliance and resilience that our women have to offer. Our 6-month long programme enables graduates to transform how they see themselves by providing practical employment skills and through wellbeing and self-reflection sessions. We also ensure that that they emerge from our programme with a new sense of their ‘right to the city’, recognising that the opportunities around us are theirs to seize and maximise.
Since 2011, You Make It has worked with over 200 women, 96% of whom are from ethnic-minority backgrounds. To date 82% of our graduates have gone on to gain paid employment, access formal education or to develop their own start-ups. Earlier this year Lynette, a mother of two, was appointed as Talent Acquisition Coordinator at creative agency Publicis.Sapient. She attributed her success to the way she had been empowered to view herself professionally. She says of her time with us: “I never imagined that this opportunity would have come my way or that I would have had the confidence to put myself forward for it without You Make It”.
Just as we try to instil a sense of worth into our graduates, our working relationships comprise of more than targets and performance. They’re holistic and take into account the things that foster true satisfaction at work. At You Make It, our hiring process doesn’t just take into account educational attainment, but uses a combination of work and life experience, competencies and values. Our core team of 3 is diverse and comes from a range of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. We have varied life experiences but are unified in our passion for social change and empowerment. It’s this combination of holistic work relationships and development opportunities that’s made my career one that is both flourishing and fulfilling.
I often wonder if I’m just ‘lucky’ to have found my home in an organisation that is truly diverse. I’ve realised it’s less down to luck, and more about having leaders whose values match mine. Retaining diverse talent really isn’t the cryptic puzzle it’s made to seem, you just have allow your employees to grow, shine and feel part of the fabric of their organisation. I now understand that when searching for a new role, it’s vital to identify the values of the organisation to see if these match your own.
At You Make It I have found a role that speaks to my heart and values and am finally somewhere that I intend to stay.