Every moment of our existence has shaped the people we are today. Those moments will then intertwine with our next experiences to form the people we are becoming. Beyond transforming ourselves, these moments, if shared, create a butterfly effect that can transform other people too. By telling the stories of the path we’ve walked, we have an opportunity to create change all around us.
We are beginning a series of reflective pieces, where brilliant people from within Baringa will share their personal journeys as individuals and members of our company. Their stories will reflect the diverse lived experiences we have had and consequently, the diverse individuals we are becoming. We will also bring light to Baringa’s wider journey to weave diversity and inclusion into the fabric of our people and our firm.
We hope amongst these stories, you will find wisdom and community. That they will be another moment of existence for us all that shape the people and organisations we are becoming. Creating change, if we might be so bold, to more diverse and inclusive ends.
Introducing Katy Mirzaie, Baringa’s D&I Sponsor
I am an Iranian woman, who emigrated to the UK with a limited grasp of colloquial English. So, when I joined the Baringa fold and was asked to lead the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) agenda, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I would naturally jump at the chance.
In reality, it didn’t happen that way at all.
An illuminating upbringing
I had a ‘normal’ and happy upbringing on the outskirts of Tehran. My family wasn’t rich, but we weren’t hungry either. Looking back, I vividly remember neighbours running to our house to shelter from bombs during the Iran–Iraq war. This experience gave me an inner resilience and ability to deal with uncertainty that I might not otherwise have had. I developed a ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ perspective.
In a family of boys, my father – one of my greatest role models – instilled in me the importance of standing up for myself and to be nothing less than my brothers. This gave me the courage and determination to excel in my Computer Engineering studies and then my early career. But I started to crave more mental stimulation than seemed possible as a woman in Iran and felt the restrictions placed on me in my society. Inspired by another role model Anousheh Ansari – fellow Iranian and first female ‘space tourist’ – I became ready to break from these restrictions.
It was then that I came to the UK to do my MBA. Although people were welcoming, I was floored by the language. With the help of a dictionary, I could get by reading English, but trying to navigate the nuances of accents and high-speed talking totally dented my confidence. I think I must have cried myself to sleep for the first six months.
Despite feeling like a bit of an outsider, I drew on my inner resilience and worked hard to get my MBA – doubling my efforts to learn English at the same time – and going on to become a successful senior consultant. I decided I had a choice, I could either be a winner or a victim in this scenario. I chose not to be a victim, but instead focused on the positive impact I could have on others.
Yet, as I said, I took some persuading to get involved in Baringa’s D&I agenda. Although D&I is something I am incredibly passionate about, I was uncomfortable getting the role in case others viewed it as positive discrimination or tokenism.
As I became more senior, I started to experience how different it was as a woman and particularly one of a minority race. It became clear to me that I needed to get involved. But if I was going to do this, it needed to be done right. Not for PR reasons. But to make big, tangible differences.
D&I is everyone’s business
D&I is incredibly complex – it’s prone to misunderstandings and misinterpretation. For instance, as I touched on before, some think that D&I is linked to victim stories. Far from it. It’s about creating awareness and giving everyone the opportunity to be their best self and to flourish.
I’m particularly proud of our Reverse Mentoring scheme. It’s encouraging authentic, open and sometimes confronting conversations between our leaders and less senior members – raising awareness and understanding of D&I issues through education and straight talking.
I no longer believe I can change the entire world. Prejudices and marginalisation are issues for all society. But if I can change just one person’s life and do that as often as possible, then that’s success for me. And the way, I believe, all D&I initiatives should measure success.
In fact, it’s only by the sum of every single one of our actions, that things can change. We must do our best to be the positive force that changes the narrative. Diversity and Inclusion isn’t something that just I can change. It will be the sum of us all.