I am three months into my new job at The King’s Fund, and it feels as though time has just flown by. Between meeting new people, learning new things and being part of work that is meaningful to those inside and outside of the NHS, I am loving every second. Just a few years ago I was using the Fund’s sense-making content as part of my postgraduate training in Public Health, learning more about the architecture of the NHS and its supporting organisations. In 2017, I saw an advert for the internship on Twitter, and thought it would be an excellent opportunity given the Fund’s brilliant reputation in public health circles as it was a direction that I had wanted to take my career in. But the first time I saw the opportunity, I didn’t apply.
My hesitation came from multiple places. As a visibly Muslim black woman from an immigrant background, I knew that I would always be the only one like me in a room. The usual anxieties about applying for jobs and entering a new workplace felt more pronounced. This is not an unfamiliar experience for many from BAME backgrounds. Even before joining the service, the experiences of BAME staff in the NHS are often marred by unconscious bias, prejudice and systematic disadvantages during the recruitment process. Research shows that those with ethnic names were 29% less likely to get a positive response to job applications compared to their white counterparts. At entry-level, young people from BAME backgrounds without the social and financial capital to secure internships begin to fall behind their peers from more privileged backgrounds in the race to establish themselves in the job market.
Even at the best of times, the NHS can feel like a complex web of people and organisations. It struck me that many people experience tangible barriers hindering them from accessing health and care in a way that meaningfully impacts their lives. When I saw the intern position advertised again two years later, I applied. I felt a sense that I could help others understand the environment which they inextricably found themselves in, and this internship was the way for me to do so. What made the difference this time was seeing, in writing, that the Fund was focusing on recruiting people from backgrounds that are currently underrepresented in its workforce. It was encouraging to know that this job description called for people like me, and this gave me the push I needed to apply. Within two weeks, I found that I had got the job!
I arrived at a time when the Fund was doing the very important work of learning to unlearn – prioritising the multiplicity and diversity of experiences that those from different backgrounds bring. In my first week, I saw the efforts of the diversity and inclusion working group at an all staff meeting, starting discussions about the ‘invisible backpack’ and asking us to examine the ways our identity may have benefitted or disadvantaged us in wider society. I’ve since become part of the working group, with the hope to further contribute to the changing landscape at the Fund.
Reflecting on the last three months alone, this internship has provided me with invaluable opportunities to work not only on my career, but on personal development, too. I am certain that having this internship under my belt will provide me with opportunities I would never have otherwise had access to. Its paid nature meant that I could live and work in London, while building the career experience necessary to compete in today’s job market. I have also been able to build up networks through mentoring opportunities with people inside and outside of the Fund, which have helped me understand the job climate and prepare for a career within this field.
I think about other young people from BAME backgrounds starting out in their careers and wish that more opportunities that prioritise their learning and development like this, were widely available. After all, a workforce that mirrors the rich diversity of the people it serves is not only a celebration of our differences, but evidence also overwhelmingly shows that it makes us more productive, creative and successful.
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This blog is really interesting, thank you for sharing your experiences.
Being the only person in the room may be daunting, but it enables others to benefit from interacting with people with different perspectives and backgrounds which as you said, can improve our work for the communities we serve. I think as an individuals we cannot and shouldn't be a representative of all minorities, but by being there we can make the conversation more diverse and better reflect the the wider society we live in.
All the best for the rest of your internship and the future.