Black History Month Interview: Celebrating Safer London’s female Black leaders
This year’s Black History Month’s theme “Saluting our Sisters” is all about recognising the amazing contributions, achievements, and unwavering strength of Black women throughout history and today. By saluting our sisters we are shining a spotlight on the incredible roles that Black women have played and continue to play in shaping our world.
At Safer London we are proud to have some incredibly strong Black women working across all aspects of the organisation. Across this month we will be sharing interviews with some just of Safer London’s inspirational Black female leaders.
Second up in our series is Racheal, Head of Corporate Services at Safer London. Leading a small but mighty team, Racheal is a highly valued member of the Safer London team and undoubtedly an incredible leader. Carry on reading to learn about her inspirational journey.
The values, skills and knowledge that my mum instilled in me would later help me to become the woman that I am today.
Tell us a little bit about what you do at Safer London. What is your role?
My role at Safer London is Head of Corporate Services. In a nutshell, I over see both the Finance and HR functions. I am responsible for the organisation’s financial oversight, reporting and compliance working collaboratively with the Senior Leadership Team. I also manage the HR function, focusing on employee relations, processes, policies, and systems, as well as recruitment. Within my role, I line-manage the Finance officer and the HR officer who handle the day-to-day business-as-usual activities and tasks. I also oversee and hold some external stakeholder relationships including the Auditors, HR consultants etc.
What made you want to work with children and young people?
My history wasn’t always in finance and HR. I actually earned a degree in health and social care because I wanted to work as a young people’s advocate.
Growing up, my mum ran a nursery, and during holidays, our house was where everyone’s children came. They were brought to our house so my mum could tutor them during the holidays. I guess seeing that and how she was helping those young children and their families, it was always in the back of my mind. I thought, “Oh, that seems like a really good thing to do.”.
At the beginning of my career, I joined the Children’s Society because I wanted to work for an organisation that supports and advocates for the rights of children and young people so I could learn more about it and then apply for roles within that area. I joined the Children’s Society as an office manager, but I didn’t realise the role was 10% office management and then 90% finance. I had no experience of working in finance beforehand, but this was a pivot moment in my career, but I love a challenge and I thought why not! As I settled into this new role, I found out that I enjoyed working in finance, and I was good at it, so I started focusing on that.
Although my role doesn’t require me to work directly with Young Londoners, there’s still that element of responsibility to ensure our resources are expended responsibly and we have a great workforce. So even though I’m not involved in the day-to-day delivery, I feel like I’m still making a difference.
Tell us about yourself! Where did you grow up, what was life like, and how has your upbringing impacted your journey, influencing where you are now?
I came to this country when I was 17 years old. It was quite a challenging time because I was very young, and everything was very different, especially school. I was the girl from Africa with an accent. The students would ask questions like, “Where did you learn English from?” I was taught English back home in school. I could read and write English, so it wasn’t a problem. However, when it came to the IT side of things, I was struggling a little bit because I hadn’t had a similar experience for example, I hadn’t used computers before to the expected level.
My head teacher, I think, just saw something in me. We used to talk, and she suggested that I do a vocational BTEC instead of A Levels because I said I wanted to work with children and young people. So, I changed what I was doing and started doing the vocational course, which I was good at, and I started making friends at school.
The values, skills and knowledge that my mom instilled in me would later help me to become the woman that I am today. From my first job in this country as a checkout assistant at Sainsbury, to working as a PA, a Mortgage Advisor, an Office Manager, a Finance and Contracts Manager, a Commissioning officer, to now a Head of Corporate Services, I have had to work very hard. I have also met many influential people along the way who have believed in my potential to achieve great things.
I live for challenges in my personal life and professional life, I believe this is how you allow yourself to grow, I can give many examples of this, but we haven’t got all day, I will save this for my book one day!
What has been your biggest inspiration? What motivates you?
I have had many people who have inspired but to name a few I would start with my mum. She instilled certain values in me like working hard, and she provided a lot of insight. She taught me to be open and to not close myself off. When I became a parent, I wanted to be what my mum was for my children.
Besides that, I worked at the Disability Rights Commission as a PA for the Director of Learning at the time named Mike Adams. Mike was an inspirational leader and manager. After working together for two years, he said to me, “I really like you. I like working with you, but you’re wasting your talent. You need to be doing something else. Tell me what you would like to do.” I told him I wanted to work with children and young people, and he asked me how I was going to achieve that goal. He encouraged me to apply for an Open University course and look at other opportunities that would help me reach my goal. Unfortunately for him, the first job I applied for, I got. But he didn’t stop there; he helped me negotiate my salary and terms which included a university sponsorship, something I had never done before because of lack of experience, and a very important skill I would later rely on!
Finally, my family is an even greater motivation especially my husband who is my biggest supporter in many ways. I am a mum of two (girl and boy). My husband and I have worked very hard to provide for them to ensure that they have life experiences that we never had. We work hard to set good examples and be their role models as they grow and choose their path.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
I have mixed feelings about it.
The positive aspect is having a space to learn about and reflect on Black stories that have contributed to history. The negative, for me, is that it shouldn’t have to be just one month. It should be embedded in our daily life and in the curriculum. My kids don’t get to choose to be Black only in October. They are Black, and they would want to celebrate all the stories that have impacted history all year round.
Do you think there is enough being done to recognise Black voices?
It depends on the context and where you are.
Let’s look at Safer London as an organisation. Our Senior Leadership Team is very diverse, more so than you would see in a lot of other organisations, especially in leadership roles. From that perspective, I would say that it has been a positive experience for me. I know that as an organisation, it’s something we are consciously working on. The diverseness of our workforce has meant that the organisation has benefited from a ray of skills, experiences, and knowledge.
I don’t think that enough has been done, but I would say it is very nice to see the inclusivity of black voices on different platforms including films, sports, books etc. From my personal experiences I still think that there is still work to be done especially when you see stories like the young Irish gymnast who was skipped by an official handing out medals to a row of girls!
This year’s theme is “Saluting our Sisters,” all about recognising and celebrating the contribution Black women have made to history and our society. Who would you choose to salute?
I know it sounds cliche, but I’ll probably say Michelle Obama because I’m just so inspired by her. When she’s talking about parenting or she’s talking about relationships, whether it’s her relationship with Obama or other relationships, or if she’s talking about her general experience, she is still very personable and relatable. It’s not just from the angle of being the first lady and having everything covered. She’s still that woman who could go out and do fun things but can also be serious.
I would also say my mum. She’s the one I’ll salute all the time.
What message do you have for your younger self?
I would don’t change a thing! No am joking, I would have told my younger self not to be as stubborn. Through adulting, I realised that I can be very strong minded and stubborn. This has been both good and bad depending on life situations. I would encourage my younger self to listen more perhaps! But most definitely tell her to continue diving into challenges!
What message do you have for young Black women (and men)?
I would say we’re never going to change who we are. If you’re a Black young man or a Black young woman, you’re always going to be that. So, it’s always good to believe in yourself and believe in your strength. Work to your potential, enhance your limitations and don’t stand in your way! Embrace challenges, if you’re offered an opportunity, believe in yourself. Imposter syndrome isn’t exclusive to young Black women and men; it can affect anyone, so it is important to focus on your accomplishments and remind yourself who you are instead of explaining away your success as luck!