By Danielle O'Sullivan
The next wave of graduates are starting their careers with an unfair reputation: this is the 'snowflake generation' - in other words, we melt as soon as things start to heat up.
This however is not the case. Our generation is one of the hardest working; the more adversity we face from earlier generations, the more we can demonstrate our resilience.
Resilience is like a muscle. The more you are forced to use this muscle, the stronger you will become, and the more equipped you will be to overcome tough situations.
This is the advice of James Uffindell, CEO and Founder of Bright Network, who hosted their very first Diversity & Inclusion event in the City of London on March 27.
A few weeks after submitting an application, I was notified that I had been successful and I was one of the lucky few (hundred) invited to participate!
James, alongside a whole host of excellent speakers, offered students some sage advice on how to kick back against the naysayers and prove what we all know: that generation snowflake have a lot of fight in them. Here’s how to do it.
Stay On Track and Always Have a Plan
One of James’ top tips to stay on track is to "Always have a plan, even if that plan is to have no plan!"
James set up his first business in his final year at university, which he later sold to a Private Investor. In 2013, frustrated by the lack of careers support for graduates, he started Bright Network which intended to 'help bright graduates make smarter career choices'.
Bright Network now employs 20 full-time staff at its HQ on Regent Street and connects over 120,000 members with over 200 potential employers. In the last 6 years, James has helped over 1,000,000 students with their applications to leading universities and employers.
James also reminds us to keep up with our personal brands and be aware of our strengths and weaknesses; to always be open to learning new skills. "You're always going to have to sell something, even if it's just selling yourself!"
Discover Your True Strengths
When looking into your past experience, you should take careful note of what you excel at (both soft and hard skills) and what you enjoy learning about most. It's important to nurture these strengths, as they are what you will inevitably be known for; and could most likely be what you build your career from.
So says Geoff Godwin, UK Chief Operating Officer of AIG (Premier Sponsor of the event) who delivered the Keynote Speech.
Geoff joined AIG in 2008, has worked in the General Insurance market for over 24 years, and has held his current role since 2014. While his main responsibilities include providing strategic insight for the UK business (including Customer Operations, Facilities, IT, Transformation & Change, Customer Experience, Complaints and Data Privacy), he also supports the UK CEO and Executive Team.
In furthering his dedication to AIG (and across the industry as a whole), he is a senior sponsor of Diversity & Inclusion and is co-chair of the LGBT Employee Network. What's more, Geoff has made the Global Financial Times Top 100 LGBT Executive List for 2 years running, as well as being shortlisted in the British LGBT Award as Inspirational Role Model in 2016.
In his speech, Geoff put across some important points that not only set the tone for the rest of the day, but should be taken on board by anyone looking for their first, second, fifth, or even final job:
- Be yourself - Of course, strive to be better, but always stay true to yourself. You are unique and that's what makes you stand out on paper, in an interview and at the job itself.
- Privilege - It's crucial that we level the playing field so that everyone, no matter who they identify as, are treated as and have the same fundamental rights as other human beings.
To kick off the first panel, The business case for diversity - What companies do to promote a diverse culture, Anu Manthri (co-host for the day) asked the speakers how an individual can stand out in the application process, as well as what each of the panellists' respective companies do to promote a diverse culture.
The most reiterated point was that a candidate should be authentic to themselves, because when you're in the job market, it's not just about building your skills and experience (although these are important), but about who you are as an individual.
Lynne Dalgarno (Insight Investment) in particular expressed that graduate interviewing is her 'favourite time of the year' because she gets to see so many surprising talents from so many unique applicants, and it's inspiring how driven this generation is proving themselves to be. This just goes to show that we should no longer be branded as the snowflake generation.
Panellists (From Left to Right): Anu Manthri (Bright Network - Host), Lynne Dalgarno (Insight Investment), Sarah Baker (London Stock Exchange Group), Monique Breen (BP), Hayley Golden (Zurich), Claire Jamieson (E.ON).
Diversity in the workplace does not just refer to ethnicity or background, but also to mindset and expertise. It makes "perfect business sense" according to Sarah Baker (London Stock Exchange Group), not only because it's fair, but because it's more profitable to have a range of minds at the table. From a business perspective, it makes more sense to reflect the customer or client base, since individuals are naturally drawn to organisations that they can relate to, whether that be class, ethnicity or otherwise (think in terms of privilege).
Lynne went on to talk about one of the many initiatives that Insight Investment has in place - one of the more prominent plans being pushed for is a 'Female Senior Pipeline' to encourage and grow the female talent at the higher levels of management. In order for this to be successful, Monique Breen (BP) adds that we need to "break the perception that [women] don't care as much about money than men". Women are just as driven and ambitious, if not more so, and the work that the many women's professional networks do helps so many women reach their career goals.
After a lengthy but insightful discussion, the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions to the panellists, one question being:
How can someone succeed in showing off their unique and diverse personality?
Claire Jamieson (E.ON) says your best shot is to tailor your CV to the company - navigate through each career site to see how your experience fits with the specific company culture. Don't just send off a 'one-size-fits-all' application, the talent management want to see who you are and why you'd be a great addition to the team!
Should a candidate rule out certain companies based off reputation or bad publicity?
Many of the panellists agreed that you shouldn't rule out an organisation based upon their current reputation(s), especially if a job suits you. If you are worried, you should be thorough in reading through the CSR and Annual Reports (Sarah recommends a simple Ctrl+F if you don't want to read the whole document!) as they outline the company's aims for the future. Monique also added in, that at the end of the day, one of the most effective ways to change a company is from the inside.
As the panel was drawing to an end, Sarah gave an analogy of why diversity is important: "There are two kinds of people in the world. When assembling IKEA furniture, there are those who read the instruction manual first before any assembly happens; and those who tip out the contents of the box assembling as they go, only to discover they must have been sent 'spare' pieces. For any company to be successful, they need both these kinds of people to have a thriving workplace."
Overcome Imposter Syndrome With Self-Appreciation
Imposter Syndrome is the phenomenon commonly found among high-achievers, where individuals are often unable to internalise their achievements, and instead attribute their positive outcomes to luck or other people; and many will work extremely hard to avoid being ‘found out’. Unfortunately, the most affected people are often women as well as people of colour. The panel gave the following advice to help sufferers take ownership of their successes:
- Be aware and raise confidence - Karina Govindji, Vodafone
- Learn where to utilise and grow your core strengths, and develop your soft skills with your peers to grow confidence in yourself - Jamie Wright, London Business School
- Encourage constant positive (self) affirmations and have open and regular conversations about confidence and self-worth - Emma Bartlett, Charles Russell Speechlys
- Learn about yourself and learn to love yourself internally, through meditation or otherwise - Katie George, AIG
- Remember your skill set, you've made it so far for a reason! - Abidemi O-Thomas, Accenture
Panellists (From Left to Right): Tom Pilley (Bright Network - Host), Karina Govindji (Vodafone), Emma Bartlett (Charles Russell Speechlys), Katie George (AIG), Abidemi O-Thomas (Accenture), Jamie Wright (London Business School).
Discover what you’re passionate about
The format of the second panel, Why Diversity Matters, followed very similarly to the first, with more insights into company culture and their approaches to diversity and inclusion.
Again, one of the most discussed points was that if a company wants to be at the forefront of its industry, they're not going to achieve that by working with people that all “look, sound and think the same”.
Abidemi was highly vocal throughout the panel, offering unique perspectives; it was as though he embodied the culture of inclusion in the way he encouraged people to believe and push themselves. Abidemi also advised candidates “[not to] read from a script”, because if you're passionate about something, speaking from the heart will show your genuine enthusiasm and “that glint in your eyes will naturally sparkle”.
Similarly, Katie clearly motivated the audience when she said, “Don't ever feel you don't have the skills to apply in the first place”, which is advice that everyone should keep in the forefront of their minds. Don’t ever give up - you may receive many rejections at first, but you must keep practising your resilience, keep exercising confidence in yourself, and approach every new application with the same resolve as your first.
"The concept of diversity is a reflection of the world we live in. No matter what background you have, if you are willing to work hard, you can succeed." - Abidemi O-Thomas
The panel expressed some of the key traits they look for in candidates:
- Great communication
- Someone who can respect their team
- Someone who is true to themselves
It may be obvious to some, but interviewers have a very fine tuned sense when someone is trying to be something they're not, so it is always better to be yourself - after all you will be much more genuine when selling yourself, since you know yourself the best!
The last piece of advice was that once you secure your place: become a sponge! Absorb everything you can and learn from every opportunity. Always be proactive in order to progress your career, so don't be afraid to ask questions. You are the one in charge of your future, so once you get your foot in the door, it’s all up to you after that.
Of course, it’s not entirely about just trying your hardest. Thinking about privilege, companies are promoting diversity through a range of means. AIG offer student mentoring from less well-off areas to help families who haven’t necessarily got access to tutoring or other means of personal development. Similarly, Charles Russell Speechlys regularly visit local schools, where the schools have over 50% of the students eligible for free school meals, to offer their support in career development. Accenture and Vodafone actively pursue charity days, where employees take days off their normal schedule to give help to those in need.
Network, and Do It Fast
Undoubtedly the busiest part of the day was the Speed Networking section. The way this worked, each attendee was given a group and a company booth to begin the session, each group then had 5 minutes to network with the company representatives - asking questions and learning about each individual company - before having the move to the next booth. The 25 firms that were present were: AIG, Accenture, American Express, Baillie Gifford, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Bank of England, Bloomberg, BP, Charles Russell Speechlys, CII, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, E.ON, Frontline, HSBC, Insight Investment, London Business School, London Stock Exchange Group, Oliver Wyman, Pinsent Masons, S&P Global, Salesforce, Teach First, Unlocked and Vodafone.
To wrap up, the Bright Network team partnered with some of the organisations to present outstanding individuals with awards. These awards recognised the incredible effort and dedication each person had put in towards their personal development.
- AIG presented the Innovation Award to Alice Ly.
- Insight Investment presented the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award to Kelsey Robb.
- Accenture gave the award for Outstanding Achievement to Eugene Teo Hou Han.
- The BP Skills Award went to Raja Khan.
- Charles Russell Speechlys gave their Dedication Award to George Aubrey.
- The CII award for Community Champion went to Lucia Slater.
- The Leadership Award presented by E.ON was given to Elizabeth Oladunni.
- London Business School award for Impact went to Hayat Mohamed.
- London Stock Exchange Group presented the Stewardship Award to Vanessa Odunsi.
- The Vodafone Commercial Awareness Award went to Benjamin Obinali.
Once again, a huge congratulations to all award winners!
As the day drew to a close, all participants left with more enthusiasm and confidence in themselves and their futures. Always stay authentic to yourself, believe in your passions and learn from every experience and opportunity you can take.
Thank you to Bright Network for organising an incredibly insightful event. Below are some of the photos that were taken throughout the day.