By Abiodun Awe, Business Process Analyst

My name’ s Abiodun Awe and I’m a Business Process Analyst in our Funeralcare Business.

Since I graduated in 2011 from the University of Glasgow, I’ve had the opportunity to work in various organisations like Morgan Stanley, RBS, the BBC and now Co-op in different roles.

But if I’m honest, climbing the first rungs of the career ladder felt really tough. I went to lots of job fairs as a postgraduate as I decided what path I wanted to take in my career after completing my Masters degree. I was really conscious of how few of the organisations exhibiting had people of colour representing them. I tried to not let this deter me but it made me feel as though working for some of these companies was completely out of my grasp and affected my confidence.

Ultimately my hard work paid off and I got a role on a graduate programme but it just proves how important it is for companies to think about inclusivity and to represent our diverse society from the very start of the recruitment process.

Overcoming barriers

I’m originally from Nigeria and culturally there are some key differences between there and the UK – some which have been really challenging in both the interview and work environment.

In Nigeria as a Black woman, maintaining eye contact is deemed rude and disrespectful. I had to adjust to this at interviews and in meetings with people as it’s often seen as a lack of confidence here in the UK.

Growing up, I was encouraged to be modest when talking about my achievements and documenting them wasn’t even a welcomed idea. Even now, I struggle to talk about the things I’ve achieved and this can negatively impact things like performance reviews. Nine years on, I’m still working on this – part of this has been explaining cultural differences to managers so they understand my approach.

Unconscious bias is something I’ve experienced, in meetings my voice has been lost when I’ve made a point which has gone unrecognised – really frustrating when somebody else makes the same point afterwards and it’s acknowledged but I do believe this will get better with time.

Helping others

I’ve had the opportunity to have worked for great organisations despite these barriers. I really enjoy my role here at Co-op which has given me the opportunity to develop myself whilst maintaining an excellent work-life balance – I’ve got two young children to look after so time is precious.

Giving young Black people a route into the corporate environment and helping them to understand they can achieve things that sometimes feel unachievable is so important so I’ve mentored young boys and girls from the Black community in my local Church assembly to encourage this.

Our Co-op has recently partnered with BYP (Black Young Professionals Network) to help introduce more young black leaders to Co-op. This partnership will enable us to build a pipeline of talented people, along with our own internal development programme which is currently being designed to  help us shape the future of Co-op as part of our next generation of senior leaders – read more about it here.

This, coupled with helping internal Black leaders progress, will really help us achieve our commitment to double the representation of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic leaders and managers by the end of 2022, moving from 3% to 6%, and then to 10% by 2025.

I’m super proud to be part of an organisation that is committed to making sure we have an inclusive and diverse workplace – the recent Commitment to Racial Equality and Inclusion is pioneering and appreciated!

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Great article Abi.

    I’m proud to have worked with you during 2019/20. You have so much to offer the Co-op as you develop your career. I know you’ll make the most of it and make your voice heard!

  2. This is a great piece and really interesting. Everyone has a story to tell about their work life experience and some of those stories are heart breaking. However, there are also stories, such as Abiodun’s, which are truly inspiring! I think this is something that can be built on, profiling people in the organisation at all levels and allowing them to tell their story. I hope to be able to read about more colleagues in the future. Thank you Abiodun!

  3. Thank you Abiodun for your insights, I found what you said about the barriers you felt because of cultural differences especially helpful.
    Thanks too for appreciating the Commitment to Racial Equality and Inclusion statement, which Coop National Members’ Council was asked to comment on. I view it as an ongoing work in progress and so it would be good to hear any suggestions for improvements.

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