Black Women Minorities in the Workplace Interview: Tanimola G

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I as black woman working in the microbiology field rarely see minorities truly represented. Luckily for me most places I have worked in have been dominated by women with my last two lab managers being females but no ethnic minorities in a position of higher authority.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be shedding light on Black Females in different fields to show though we may not be seen we are there. First was Victoria in Accountancy, next is Tani who works in Health and Social Care.


Hi, for those reading give us a brief description of who you are and what it is you do?
Hi! My name is Tanimola, I'm 25 and I live in a place called Pinner in North-West London. I recently qualified as a social worker and I have worked as a care coordinator for Westminster Council for four months now. What this means is although I am employed as a social worker by the council, I work within a community mental health service in the NHS, managing the care of people with mental health and sometimes social care needs. I work in a multidisciplinary team comprising of a consultant, doctors, nurses, psychologists, occupational therapists and support workers. 


What attracted you to Health and Social Care?  
I've always wanted to work in the health or social care field. After studying psychology in my undergraduate degree, a personal experience steered me in the direction of mental health.  I began working as a support worker in a medium secure forensic mental health unit. This not only gave me valuable experience in this field, it also allowed me to take the time in figuring out what I wanted to do with my degree. I was given a role by my manager to work as the safeguarding lead alongside the social workers. I was immediately drawn to the role and did a lot of research. I liked the flexibility and degree of autonomy I would have in the role, I felt like I'd be able to make a bigger impact. I also took the traditional route (as opposed to the training schemes) as I would be able to switch to a role in children's or adult social care if I wanted to in future. I quit my job to do an NHS funded masters and although it was a very intensive and stressful experience it's been absolutely worth it. 

Describe a typical day in your life at work.
A typical day at work starts with our daily team meetings at 9:30. This meeting is a multidisciplinary attended by everyone in the team. In this meeting, we discuss any initial assessments carried out the previous day and the managers may also discuss referrals we have received. Importantly this meeting is also an opportunity for us to bring any clients we're unsure about for suggestions from other people on different ways of working. This meeting usually lasts 30mins to 1hr, unless it's a Tuesday when we have the extended meeting that can go for 2 and a half hours! 
After this meeting, I may carry out an initial assessment or spend the day on duty. We are required to volunteer ourselves for both at least once a week on a rota. An initial assessment is with potential clients who may be experiencing mental health difficulties and may be in need of the service. Being on duty basically means spending the day attending to queries and clients whose care coordinator may be away. 
Otherwise I spend the rest of the day managing my caseload of around 25 clients. I'll usually have appts booked in with clients and/or other professionals or carry out home visits. 
What I really like about my team is although We work independently, there is a big sense of team working and supporting each other so you never have to feel too much burden in the work. The daily meetings and helpful colleagues really facilitate that. 


In your department how many other minorities are there? How many other black females?
My department is as diverse as you can expect an NHS team to be. There are many other minorities, across each discipline. The other black women tend to be nurses and other social workers, although they're usually a lot older than I am. However one thing that did surprise me is that the principal clinical psychologist is a black woman. In every other team I've been in, the psychologists tend to be white male so to see a black woman who was also the principal psychologist was so great. Plus she's so fantastic at what she does the team is really fond of her. 


Working in Social Care do you feel that minorities, especially black people and black females are represented fairly?
I think we still have a way to go to make sure this is fair across the board and to make sure our views are heard and taken into account. I've worked as a student in teams where I've been the only black woman and although I know it was not their intention, I felt really uncomfortable. I suffered micro aggressions about my name being mispronounced, my hair being touched, made other inappropriate comments about me getting married young and was told in feedback that I was 'too professional'. Sharing the office with only older white women made me feel really out of place and uncomfortable I didn't feel able to speak out, especially as a student and ultimately I know this affected my practice. However I was able to speak to my practice tutor a black woman who understood and supported me. I also applied for a bursary scheme with the organisation but was unsuccessful and felt at the time this may have had something to do with it. Thankfully I got a much better position. 


Do you ever feel that being a black female has ever stopped you from speaking out at work?
Training as a social worker really makes you very sensitive to social justice issues. You are constantly being taught the importance of anti oppressive and anti discriminatory practice, and the importance of empowering others. Although I went into this profession to do just this, I realised during the training that I would have to grow the confidence and be empowered in order to instill these values into my practice. This means although I am very aware of my identity as a black woman, I try not to let it get in the way of speaking out on what I believe in. Having other black women represented on the team really helps me feel able to speak out and I consider myself extremely lucky to work in a team that's as socially aware and supportive as the one I work in. Although I have struggled in my confidence at the beginning, being newly qualified and one of the youngest (if not the youngest) people on the team, I have felt very supported and listened to. 


Do you feel that you get overlooked for career progression or opportunities at work due to being a black female?
Fortunately I do not feel this way. My line manager is an Indian woman and in the team upstairs, a black woman and a Filipino woman. One of the managers who interviewed me was black and she was instrumental in making sure I ended up on her team because she really liked me although she has since moved teams. So I really don't feel such positions are out of reach for me as a black woman. Although I am at the start of my career, I feel I will be able to progress when the time is right. I am on a mandatory programme for newly qualified social workers in their first year of practice called the ASYE and I have regular supervision from my manager who has also highlighted professional development and opportunities for progression after this programme. In fact during one of our supervision sessions, she made a passing comment on my skills and how she could see me as a manager which not only surprised me but also made me feel as if it was something attainable. 


Does lack of representation in your field motivate you to succeed?
Again I am lucky to say there is representation in my field which motivates me. However at the corporate induction, I noticed that the higher you look in the organisational hierarchy, the less you see other black people, much less other black women. So while we're represented in the lower managerial positions such as team management, the managerial positions above them such as community and service management have a lack of representation. This is something that made me realise that I must never get complacent, the sky really is the limit. 


Who is your inspiration?
My biggest inspiration will always be my mother who has overcome every single obstacle life has thrown at her to be the amazing woman she is today. She is the inspiration behind me going into mental health services in the first place and she has always been a very supportive driving force in my education and career attainments. Although she works in social services herself, it was only after I qualified she told me of her wish to be a social worker herself and it really made me realise how similar we are.  


Do you have any words of encouragement for girls who are looking to join your field but may be discouraged by the lack of representation?
We are all well informed about the over representation of black people in the mental health services, a complex problem, due to many different variables. Lack of representation in the workforce means harmful attitudes and ideas will continue to go unchallenged. This has been apparent in serious case reviews such as that of Victoria Climbié's death. 
I will never forget going to a recruitment day as a student and seeing a black female social worker say how happy and proud she is to see other young black women going into the profession and how much we are needed. This is exactly what I will say to other girls wanting to join the field. It is definitely not easy to train or work as a social worker and working in mental health services may not always be so rewarding but it starts by being the change you want to see. 


In this day and age lack of representation not only happens in our workplaces but in our day to day lives, e.g. TV shows beauty industry, politics. What are your thoughts on this?
Like I mentioned earlier, I would say I was blissfully unaware of issues such as lack of representation in our every day life. Since I developed an awareness to it, I have realised the importance of representation to a black girl like myself. My masters research project was about the experiences of young Nigerian immigrants in London and so many participants spoke of the importance of representation in the media. It does something to your confidence that I can't quite explain, when your race or culture is represented and your experience validated, it really makes you proud to be who you are. I now find myself actively seeking and supporting other black girls like myself in movies, TV shows, politics etc. 


What can be done towards change?
I think educational really is the key. As young black Brits, are in a lucky position to have the tools a lot of our parents and grandparents never had growing up and to also have their cultural values instilled in us so it is up to us to use those resources to further our advantage. We can effect change by constantly learning, becoming more aware of the barriers and challenges we face, recognising the ways in which the lack of representation contributes to that and beginning to challenge them. I recognise the impact of lack of representation and also believe as black women we should always support and encourage each other. Like I said earlier we need to be the change we want to see and support others to do the same.  



Be sure to check out previous interview with Vicky 

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