As hard as it is, try and stay true to who you are. You spend most of your time at work so putting the work into finding the right organisation is important.
It is so important to have people of mixed cultures in HR. If I’m applying for a job or going into an interview, I always try and do a bit of background research into what the HR team is like.
“My name is Lisa Leach. I’m half Nigerian and half English. I grew up in Nigeria until I was about 17. I was back and forth a lot when I was a kid. For work, I’m Merchandise Manager at a marketing company. I also model on the side and run my own events company as well.
I grew up in Nigeria and I think my dad made a priority very early on that I was put into an international school with a lot of teachers with mixed backgrounds. I had friends that were Malaysian, Nigerian, Cambodian, Indian. We created this bubble of, ‘This is what the world is like. Everyone’s accepting and everyone’s mixed up’. That was a great start for me. It wasn’t until I moved to England that I realised my ethnicity played a factor in achievement or the way I was viewed in the world.
The world outside of me made me aware of my ethnicity. I think, going into the workplace, straight out of university, I didn’t think about it at first. I was applying for all these roles and it was fantastic. I was trying to decide what I wanted to do workwise.
Then I applied to a company who, I think, because of my name and the way my CV is written up, assumed that I was a white female who had parents that lived abroad and came back to England. Lisa Leach is a very English name, I think. So, I went for the interview, and I remember the security guard was a black guy. He gave me a look of, ‘Are you in the right place?’. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. I sat down and he said, ‘Who are you here to see?’. I said it was for HR and he asked me to sit down. This lady came downstairs; blue eyes, blonde hair, and looked all the way around the room but completely looked past me. She said to the guy at reception, ‘I’m looking for Lisa Leach, she’s here for an interview’, and the guy pointed at me. She looked round and was like,
‘…Oh! Oh okay. Come with me then’. It was literally that reaction. It was a group interview, and everyone else in the room was white. It was just me. That’s when I thought, ‘My background and how I am perceived definitely plays a part in what employers want’.
I’ve had it on the flip side, and I think I fit a quota. If it’s an organisation that prides themselves on having people of mixed heritage or black heritage or diversity, they see me as a ‘get out of jail free card’. It’s like, ‘If we put her in front of a client on the phone, she sounds white, she’s got a white name, this works for us’. I tick the box internally of someone of mixed heritage or black heritage. Sometimes it does play a negative role but sometimes I think there are opportunities that are given to me because of it. That’s something I’ve always felt unsure about, because it’s great that I get the opportunity, but do I get them off my own back? Or do I get them because I make life easy for you and I tick a box? I think that’s my experience so far. Quite a long-winded experience! Going from, ‘It’s not played any impact whatsoever!’ to, ‘Oh! Now it’s something I need to be very aware of’…
After my first experience, when I would then apply for jobs, I was aware of what my CV said of me. I started to look at my CV, like, ‘What is this saying about me?’ Because before people even speak to me or get a visual representation, this is what they see. This is what I’m judged from. I went through a phase of, ‘Do I edit it? Do I want to appear more black? Do I want to appear more white? What do I want to do with this?’ Then, I think I got to a point where I was like, ‘If an organisation is going to judge me based on these factors, do I actually want to work there anyway?’. So, I just stuck to,’This is who I am. Take me for what you want or don’t!’”