Reflecting on the racial diversity and richness of culture in my team

Leona Awoyele

I joined the Civil Service back in 2019. It was a jump into the unknown, but I was very excited to start a new chapter in my career. I settled into the team well, getting to know my colleagues, both professionally and personally, and I soon realised that my team is wonderfully unique - not only do we have a richness of culture, but we are also a racially diverse team. 

Now, before I elaborate, it’s important to bear in mind that there is a difference between culture and diversity. Diversity is commonly defined as the differences between people and is linked to protected characteristics. For the sake of this blog post, I’m concentrating specifically on racial diversity. Culture, on the other hand, according to Kim Ann Zimmermann, is ‘the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, which encompass qualities such as language, religion, cuisine and social habits’.

My team is wonderfully rich in culture and we’re so open in sharing different stories and practices from our respective backgrounds. Be that, hearing about Christmas traditions in Poland, sharing Italian recipes, learning about the importance of Diwali to even attending informal French lessons over lunch. I love it. 

When it comes to diversity, particularly race, my team is truly diverse. Almost half of my team identify as non-white and we’re not afraid to challenge thoughts and opinions. In fact, approximately only 1% of managers, directors and senior officials in the UK are Black. Yet our Deputy Director is a Black woman. In fact, my line manager is a Black woman too. Our working relationship is incredibly unique and something I am very grateful for.

Back in May, following on from George Floyd’s death, I had the opportunity to have an open conversation with my colleagues about his death and institutionalised racism, within the UK during a team meeting. My colleagues listened and respected what myself and my other Black colleagues had to say. Although the topic of our conversation was heart-breaking, it was refreshing that my colleagues wanted to listen and understand. I truly believe that the diversity and richness of culture in my team contributed to their openness and willingness to sympathise and share.

Our senior management team discussed looking at further actions we could do across the profession. This is why, in my opinion, it’s so important to have more Black and Brown senior members in teams, to really represent the voices and opinions of more junior members of staff. Senior management has the power to really make a tangible change. However, another challenge is creating pathways to allow this to happen. But this is, perhaps, a topic for a different/another day.

Nonetheless, it appears that the racial diversity and mix of culture in my team is a rarity, but I am very grateful for it.

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