Kelly Vuta is a Programme Manager for Engagement & Inclusion within our HR department.
She’s also a mentor on our Mutual Mentoring programme, which pairs members of staff from a minority ethnic background with senior managers. Mentors like Kelly, offer mentorship and insight on social and racial issues in exchange for career mentoring and support from their mentees. Here, she talks about some of what she’s learned around privilege and allyship in discussions with her mentee, and how the programme is empowering her to create better outcomes at work and in her personal life.
Understanding the impact of privilege
“Taking part in the mutual mentoring programme at Capita has been an insightful journey for me.
So far, we’ve covered three of ten topics, including ‘What is racism’, ‘Privilege’ and ‘Microaggressions’. Privilege is the topic that has impacted me the most, and it’s been eye-opening to explore how this links into equity and allyship.
The material covered in this topic has given me more clarity around what privilege is, as well as the advantages and disadvantages it can bring, and it’s helped me realise we all experience some form of privilege (some more than others). It’s really made me think about how privilege shapes us, and how this can evolve and change throughout our lives.
Many privileges we hold are very often outside of our control, inherited from our upbringing and background. I’m privileged in many ways that provide me with certain advantages. I’ve been to university. I drive a car. I own my own house. I’m entitled to free healthcare. I’m not discriminated against because of my sexuality or faith. But I am a mixed-race woman. I’ve experienced racism, discrimination and microaggressions because of my ethnicity. And I’ve had to work extremely hard to be where I am today.”
Sparking important conversations
“I watched a video with my mentee which showed a number of students standing in a line as they were asked to respond to a series of statements. Where the statements applied to them, they were asked to take two steps forward. Where the statements didn’t apply, they were asked to remain in place. The statements asked were:
- Both parents are still married
- Grew up with a father figure at home
- Had access to private education
- Had access to a free school tutor
- Never had to worry about phone being disconnected
- Never had to help parents pay bills
- Never had to wonder where your next meal came from
- Didn’t have to pay for college/university
While watching, we each made note of how many times we would have stepped forward as a student or young adult. The results that followed were quite surprising to my mentee. I was only able to step forward on two of the eight statements, whereas his number was much higher. This experiment demonstrated the head start many people in society have over their counterparts. It opened up a great discussion about our backgrounds. And it brought awareness of the privileges we each had (or didn’t) at that age, and how we feel these have shaped our early careers.
It’s important for society to acknowledge that the privileges many people have as young adults are circumstantial and out of their control. We can’t judge another person just because they were lucky enough to go to private school, never had to worry about where their next meal was coming from or how to pay the bills each month. But what we can do is recognise that some people experience greater advantages. We can encourage those who have the head start and opportunities to recognise why others are a few steps behind – and help bring them forward.”
Seeing the power of allyship
“This is why I believe allyship and mentorship is so important. It’s about using power and privilege to advocate for others by understanding the barriers, challenges and disadvantages they face, due to privilege.
This year, I began a new role where I found an increased passion to support and help others. Coming from an IT and project management background I was keen to pursue an opportunity within Capita’s Engagement and Inclusion team. In this role I’m responsible for managing and delivering projects not for clients but for our people, delivering change initiatives to the organisation that benefits underrepresented groups and increasing employee engagement. I’m currently leading on the Black Lives Matter programme on actions that will improve our culture, awareness of racism and increasing representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues within our business. I’m listening and learning, so I can be a champion and ally. I’m showing how to positively and effectively help others realise and reach their potential. The Mutual Mentoring programme is giving me the tools, knowledge and understanding to build on this, as part of my daily role and responsibilities. But it’s not only at a personal level – it’s also helping me to help my mentee.
Being an ally in the workplace can bring so many benefits – to us as individuals and the whole organisation. By joining forces, people are stronger and more empowered to achieve a common goal. This is how we’re creating better outcomes for one another. Bringing together different assets, skills, perspectives and diversity of thought. It’s allowing each of us to lead by example. For the next generation of our workforce and beyond.”