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The Financial Services Compensation Scheme won WM People’s Best for Diversity and Inclusion Award 2022. Here Alethea Beharie-Campbell describes what their approach has meant for her.
Alethea Beharie-Campbell began working for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme in February 2020, just a few weeks before everything moved online and through the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.
The experience has shown her what a difference it makes to have an employer who genuinely listens to and engages with employees.
When everything moved online she was anxious that she had not had enough time to create a good support network. But by April she was delivering a big project which exposed her to senior stakeholders in the organisation. Their positive feedback made her feel more confident in her role. She was also becoming more immersed in the FSCS’s culture.
She attended a conference on women in finance around the same time and heard from other organisations who made statements to the effect that they knew more needed to be done when it came to equality. She was aware that the FSCS had signed up to the Women in Finance Charter and became conscious of the FSCS’ efforts to fulfil their commitment. Alethea was also impressed by the FSCS’s proactive response to the killing of George Floyd which included creating spaces where colleagues could openly discuss their experiences of racism and discrimination. Alethea was in touch with friends in other organisations and none of their employers were being as proactive. Some told her that their managers were fairly defensive.
That is not what she experienced at FSCS and she found that senior managers were actively listening and engaging with issues around anti-racism in these spaces. “People were responding in the chat,” she says. “It felt like a safe place. It’s the first time in my professional career that I have felt that, where I have felt that I could express myself and be listened to and not fear I would be misjudged.”
Alethea attended two sessions, attended by at least 200 people, including senior managers. “It was very impactful to know that people from all levels of the organisation cared enough to join and it was not just a tick box exercise,” she says. She found the first session she attended inspiring. “It was incredible to hear other people’s stories and not to feel isolated,” she says. In the second session she shared her own experiences of everyday racist stereotyping.
Alethea says she has always felt conscious about being perceived as ‘the angry black woman’ and has made it her mission in life not to allow anyone to put her into that stereotype. She spoke about an occasion at a post office at the beginning of the pandemic, at a time when some of the press were suggesting that people from ethnic minorities were spreading the coronavirus. A cashier in the post office told her not to come near him, shortly after serving a white lady within close proximity. Alethea couldn’t understand why he would say that and wanted to ask him why, but people started backing away from her as if she was being aggressive.
When she spoke about the incident, she received positive responses from colleagues, one of which was from the Chief executive, Caroline Rainbird, who emailed to thank her for sharing her experience. “It was an unreal moment,” says Alethea. “I never thought that that was something I would be able to share at work.”
Alethea then applied for the FSCS’s Black Talent sponsorship programme which aims to get more black employees into senior positions. Those on the programme are sponsored by someone from the senior executive team on a one to one basis. Alethea was sponsored by Rainbird and met with her once a month for a year. Through the programme she worked on a project, with the Aleto Foundation, which looked at how FSCS could improve understanding of financial products and FSCS among BAME people aged 14-19.
Through her sponsorship relationship Alethea was seconded to the legal team. She had previously studied to be a barrister, and was called to the Bar in 2017, but later that year her mum was diagnosed with cancer and she didn’t complete her pupillage training as a result. In December 2019 she was told that her cancer was terminal. “Everything changed,” says Alethea. She was contracting at the time in Crawley. She needed somewhere closer to home so she could be around for her mum and applied to FSCS. In April 2020 hospital home visits were cancelled and Alethea’s caring responsibilities grew significantly.
The FSCS had increased its dependents’ leave during the pandemic from three to 20 days a year – which it has made a permanent change since. Alethea didn’t realise at first that this might apply to her situation as she thought it was more to do with childcare. She had never spoken about her mum at work as she didn’t want colleagues to feel sorry for her, but she connected with People and Inclusion Manager Kathy Hoppins when she took part in a workshop as part of the RISE programme for women at FSCS. RISE connects women across the organisation. For Alethea it was another safe space.
Kathy told her that she could take dependents’ leave, saying she did not need to compartmentalise her home and work life. Alethea also told her line manager who was similarly supportive and told her family comes first. Although she didn’t take her full entitlement, the extra leave allowed Alethea to work more flexibly around caring for her mum without her salary being affected. Without it, she thinks she would have had to leave the FSCS. “It was becoming too much to juggle. I would not have been able to mentally survive without that extra time,” she says. “FSCS was incredible. Not only was I able to cope with looking after my mum, but I was able to progress at work.”
She says her mum is very pleased to see her back doing law. “She felt guilty about me not pursuing a career at the Bar. Now seeing me happy at work has made her very happy,” says Alethea. “I never thought I could make it back into law.” She has now been offered a permanent position within the legal and recoveries team.
Alethea says her experience at FSCS has been very motivating. She feels the organisation goes out of its way to engage with employees through a series of actions and questionnaires that “plant seeds”. “It’s so nice to have that engagement and support,” she says. “It makes you want to go much further in your work and to be a reliable employee who goes the extra mile. You believe in the organisation and you feel supported by it in turn. This organisation is worth 100% of my effort.”
*Profiles of all the winners of this year’s WM People Top Employer Awards will be published in our Best Practice Report coming soon.