Elle Prichard – a diversity & inclusion expert in People, Talent and Change – has been instrumental in bringing this Personal Journeys’ series to life. Here she shares her own experiences, how they shaped this passion project and her hope that the wisdom that lies within each story has the power to transform the mindset of each and every person who reads it.
If I were to give my younger self some advice it would be: “You’ve been told some stories. Stories about your worth, and stories of what being a grown woman looks like. They aren’t real and you will break the cycle you think you’re stuck in.”
A life of two extremes
Rewind back to the seven-year-old me. I’m an only child of divorced parents. I spend my time yo-yoing from one life to another. In term-time I’m living in a haven of loving stability with my mum, a modest life without frills. But every half-term and holiday, I’m flying to new places all around the world, experiencing a luxurious life afforded by an alcoholic father, which despite looking immensely privileged from the outside, feels deeply unsafe.
I would cry in the car as my mum drove me to the airport whilst she put on a brave face, but I’d know that as soon as I boarded that plane, she would be driving home in tears herself.
Going between these two extremes felt like whiplash.
Over the next couple of years, my relationship with my dad finally unravelled and it became impossible to continue seeing him. His addiction to alcohol meant he was rarely sober around me and was often intimidating, reckless and aggressive. Whilst that behaviour was sometimes directed towards me, more often it affected other people in his life, including women who I thought were his girlfriends. These women barely even have faces in my memory now, but I remember how they made me feel. They were deeply kind to me and cared for me throughout my father’s episodes. I found this remarkable; especially when I discovered later that they were not girlfriends at all but often escorts, from low-income backgrounds, without any of the privileges I was used to.
A lightbulb moment
Finally, a day of absolute clarity came for me. I was profoundly struck by how a person can be used and abused by another, and the extent of harm that can be done to women by men who are weighed down by their own toxic masculinity. I cut contact with my father.
This shift gave me space to focus on my relationship with my mum. I saw her in all her fullness – the well-accomplished, empowering and brave woman she was, not to mention an incredibly devoted mother. She was (and remains) my icon and demonstrated to me the strength of womanhood. My interest in women’s rights was deepening, and with it I began learning about the implications of the sex trafficking industry for women and the consistent violence they experience. I felt compelled to understand what could be done to break the cycle.
Testing out the holy waters
What started as an enthusiasm for women’s rights quickly snowballed into a wider interest in the diverse, lived experiences of all human beings.
Then, perhaps because of this, I began to experiment with faith. From age 14 to 19, I became a Christian - in a big way. I regularly attended church, led the music there and ran outreach programmes with Christian Unions. Eventually though, I moved away from the organised side of religion. It became apparent that there were certain Christian beliefs that, ironically, felt exclusive. In particular, the life choices of my godfather. He is one of the most important and certainly the most enduring male role model in my life, and he is also gay. It felt like the practicing Christians who surrounded me weren’t readily accepting of that.
However, I took so much away from that chapter of my life, and I still consider myself a spiritual person. It taught me about forgiveness, to withhold judgement and the teaching at the centre of the faith instilled in me a readiness to accept and love people for exactly who they are.
An ally for all
In this new chapter, I also let go of my “colour-blindness”. I could see the disparity and inequities that people from other ethnic backgrounds experience in this country. Especially coming from a predominantly white, affluent background, witnessing first-hand overt racism towards my best friend, who is half Guyanese.
Slowly, I was waking up to the rich tapestry of people in the world, and with that the entrenched “-isms” that affect so many people around me. And on starting my career, I moved to Peckham in south-east London – an area of rich ethnic diversity. Consciously, I was becoming an ally for all.
Getting straight on inclusion and allyship
Motivated to look beyond the issues of women’s rights and gender equality, I realised my vocation lay in creating safe spaces for everyone. It isn’t enough to only care about the inclusion and rights of women, as the lens which directly affects me. Real inclusion is the inclusion of people of all diversities and being diverse in the way we are inclusive – and Baringa gives me so many opportunities to do that.
Being an ally is about developing real relationships with people who might not normally be in your circle and seeking to understand who they are and hold conversations with empathy. You could say it’s like being an incredibly good friend. For an incredibly good friend you get to know them, show up every day, represent them as they wish to be represented, build them up when they need encouragement, and fight for them when they need an ally.
Stories have the power to transform
It’s not only about hearing their challenges, it’s about celebrating their stories too. That’s why I’m so proud of our Personal Journeys’ series. These stories have the power to make huge change and you only elicit the best stories when you’ve made people feel safe enough to be vulnerable. We’ve created those safe spaces at Baringa, and in doing so, I hope we will unequivocally change the lives of all who step into them.