Is fear standing in the way of diversity?

This week we have our first contribution from The Midlands, by Latisha Dhir, a Senior Consultant at Avison Young and Co-founder of Women in Planning, West Midlands. In her blog, she discusses how fear of what others think around us can prevent us from embracing the opportunities presented in our eyes. Latisha has overcome her fears in many ways, through starting a conversation with her peers and co-founding a Women in Planning branch in the West Midlands, which helped give her and others like her, greater visibility.

Latisha was recently shortlisted for Greater Birmingham’s Future Faces Award, for her commitment to diversity in planning.

Latisha Dhir

Diversity is a word embedded in our ideas and practices. Companies, networks and professional bodies have become increasingly aware of the importance of this word in creating inclusive and sustainable practices. Whilst there is much to be celebrated in recent years through the establishment of diverse networks (i.e. BAME in Property), I question 'is this enough to tackle the barriers for BAME professionals?'

It is commonly understood that a BAME professional has slower career progression than their counterparts. This is predominantly due to a failed understanding in recognising the value of diversity; you cannot innovate without diverse thinking and you cannot collaborate without being inclusive. From my personal experience, inclusivity can come in many layers, however is underpinned by three core strands: understanding, knowledge sharing and respect. It is often the ‘fear,’ however than creates a challenge, fear not just by the ‘other’ but also by us.

From my experience, I feared having the conversation. This is the conversation around cultural practices and becoming aware that I did not look nor act likes my peers.

“Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” - Verna Myers, Diversity and Inclusion specialist.

I grew up in a busy household with three generations under the same roof. I am the first of the generations to be educated within the UK, and am immensely proud to have grown up where English was not the first language. This pride however shifted once I became part of the office and working culture, as I realised I was alone, no one looked like me and that fear developed as I had nobody who would understand me and my experiences.

As I entered the planning industry I became acutely aware that I did not look like my peers nor could I go home and translate my role, because in our culture the ‘town planner’ did not exist. I ended up creating my own barriers, a barrier that stopped me from believing I could succeed in this industry. It was only until eight years later, I came to hear of ‘Women in Planning’; an independent and diverse network of which I went onto co-found the West Midlands branch. I realised I created a platform, that was visible for many.

Visibility for me was not about my story, but about our conversation. A conversation around shared knowledge and experiences, the idea that you are not alone; we are all diverse in our thinking and practice, so rather than hide it why not celebrate it. There is something quite powerful around becoming visible.