My story is one which I hope demonstrates the importance of acting on your feelings when things don’t feel right, and the power each of us have to drive change.
I joined the civil service in 2012, having moved from my home town of Cleethorpes to do so. I was struck by how different the people around me seemed, and I felt like I didn’t fit. I didn’t talk like them, I didn’t sound like them. Working with people who are different to yourself isn’t a bad thing, but when I joined the civil service it didn’t feel good. I felt different in a bad way, and this resulted in a lack of confidence.
A couple of years in, learning the rules to get by, I moved to work in Melanie Dawes private office. Melanie was the civil service gender champion at the time. I’d go to events and hear senior women talk about what it felt like to be a woman at the highest positions, and how being in a minority in meetings made you more conscious of your gender. I’d think: that’s interesting, I don’t feel like that at all about my gender. But what they were describing was exactly how I felt about my background, my class. I ended up sharing how I felt, and how I thought there was a big gap in the work that the civil service was doing on diversity and inclusion, with no mention of social class yet the stereotypical civil servant people spoke about was the white middle-class man. To cut a long story short, I went on to co-found and lead the Cross-Government Social Mobility Network.
The Network grew rapidly, and we supported the creation of many new departmental social mobility networks as well as the first regional hub. I supported the Network to develop and implement our first and second year strategy, and we brought staff voices into the work to develop the now-launched social economic background data as well as other HR polices. On top of this I was able to use my voice to speak at events such as International Women’s Day and SCS Basecamp, and behind the scenes to support others to find their voice and see the value they too brought. It was a life changing chapter of my life.
So that’s what I was nominated for – helping to get the social mobility agenda on the diversity and inclusion map, and driving forward action to affect change. Knowing someone has taken the time to put in a nomination for you is incredible. Winning is something else.
'I believe wholeheartedly in the power of an individual to change the life of others, and to change the civil service.'
I did not for a second even think I could win the diversity and inclusion award. Not a second. And I regret that. I wish I could do the whole thing again and back myself a little more: experience the hope, the nerves, the anticipation I should have had. I wish I had taken my sister – I told her there was zero chance I would win so there was no point her coming as my guest. I wish I could do this whole year again and really feel it. I wrote myself off. Never write yourself off.
So what have I done since? I had passed on the baton of being the network co-chair by the time of the awards, but I have got back involved with my departmental network, which is having a bit of a refresh. I’ve supported and advised many more people setting up social mobility networks in other departments and even other parts of the public sector – people who spotted me online after I won the award. I’ve done events back at my old local authority, I’ve done speaking events here in London. I have lots of ideas I’d like to take forward and I’m fortunate that my day job – the beyond Whitehall project – has social mobility running throughout.
The experience of driving forward the social mobility agenda has changed me and changed my career. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of an individual to change the life of others, and to change the civil service. No matter what your grade, no matter what your department, no matter what your background – don’t wait for others to change things that you don’t think are right. And if you see others changing things for the better, thank them. Nominate them.
If you see others changing things for the worse – challenge them! There’s much more to challenge but I am beyond grateful for the support I’ve had over the past few years to change so much already. To me, my award is a permanent debt to repay, a reminder that I must keep going. I started on this journey because I felt like I didn’t fit. Perhaps I still don’t fit, but I’m absolutely sure I belong.
The Civil Service Awards are accepting nominations until the 26th July. For more information please visit the site here.