Any company seeking to thrive in the current economy needs to consider the impact of their work and especially how relevant their business is in local communities and wider society in general. Customers are increasingly choosing to engage with companies which represent them and their values, forcing businesses to show how much they value and care about people -hence the need for businesses to show how they respond to diversity.
This year I was delighted to be invited to speak at this month’s Impact Summit, an annual event that brings together some of the brightest minds, giving a platform to the people shaking things up, changing the status quo, and using purpose-driven business models as a means of tackling global challenges. It was great to meet and hear from people from different parts of the world inspiring each other and discussing ideas that are changing the way we think and the way we do business.
Many years ago I was living in Uganda, completely unaware of Scotland as a country. Now it is 21 years since I came to live in the UK, 11 of which have been in Scotland. When I came to Scotland with my husband, we had 2 children and I was 7 months pregnant. All we hoped for was a future where our children would have the best opportunities in life. That hope would later be tested with a very challenging time. It would be 5 years with no recourse to public funds, no permission to work and or start a business due to immigration controls.
In this time, we would meet migrants from several countries who were living in dire circumstances because they had difficulties with visa situations. Some of those we met were asylum seekers, refugees, international studies and undocumented migrants. We were to find out what it felt like to be a migrant. We felt unworthy, something which migrants particularly those of colour still experience today. In a situation like this, the ‘you don’t belong here’ voice can be extremely loud. The system says it, you can feel it on the streets by how people look at you, you hear it when people ask, ‘why did you come here?’ and you internalise it. Immigration difficulties in the UK can reduce you to being ‘just an immigrant’.
The world is changing, more people are migrating to different parts of the world, British and indeed Scottish people are immigrants all over the world, whether it be Spain, Australia or Uganda where I come from. So why do we not see, celebrate or make use of the value of immigrants bring?
This question was really why I was at the Impact summit 2019. I had gone from ‘just an immigrant’ to an expert on diversity, sharing the value migrants bring to the Scottish economy. As a result of my lived experience, I have become an avid ‘scholar’ in why I found myself in such a challenging situation, why others did so before me and why other still do after me.
Increasingly, research shows that diversity drives innovation and increases productivity. Recent research done by the Federation for Small Businesses (FSB) showed that one in ten businesses in Scotland is owned by migrants and these businesses contribute £13 billion in Scotland, employing over 100, 000 people.
The Scottish government openly says ‘we welcome migrants’. As a country with an aging population, there is no denying what immigrants can and do bring to Scotland. Moreover, the world is changing and we all need to be more inclusive and representative of diversity. Diversity is not just a good thing to do, it is a necessity for all businesses.
For Scotland to continue as a global player, our systems need to reflect a warm and inclusive welcome. The structures need to ensure everyone is able to contribute equally, using their skills and abilities. Colour or where you are born should not determine whether you are allowed to contribute or not. Businesses will always need new and fresh talent. However, the best talent will be attracted to companies and places where they are welcome and able to contribute. With so much choice across the globe, people can now opt to go where they are most valued.
As the Ibo saying goes, no matter how beautiful and well-crafted a coffin might look, it will not make anyone wish for death.
More than ever, we need to create workplace environments which embrace and sustain diversity. I was reminded of this, at the Impact summit where people from all over the world were able to meet, share and learn from each other. We can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand and continue to ignore the benefits of diversity. The world is changing and if we want to remain in the economy as global players, ethnic diversity is good for business. People who come from different cultures bring with them new perspectives creating an environment in which innovation is able to flourish and bring new competitive practices.
When we finally got our residence permit to work and live in Scotland, we couldn’t find work because not only were we migrants, we had been unemployed for 5 years, another reason for employers not to appreciate what we could bring. After spending six months searching for employment, my husband and I decided we needed to do something. So we founded Radiant and Brighter Community Interest Company.
Radiant and Brighter provides workforce diversification programs and diversity training for employers and public sector organisations. We also provide services to migrants including business start-up support as well as orientation and integration programs as a pathway (for others who might find themselves in a situation like we did) to believe and reach for the dreams. We value everyone we meet and work with, shared learning and appreciating everyone’s uniqueness being two of our core values.
We have worked with Marks and Spencer for just over two and a half years, supporting 90 people into employment on our connecting talent and opportunity programme, which seeks to connect untapped talent within Black and Minority Ethnic Communities with available opportunities within the workplace. Not only has this increased ethnic diversity in M&S, it has also inspired staff members and candidates alike leading to awards and employee recognition, proving that diversity truly pushes up performance when you allow it to flourish. Our work has not only educated us but also enabled us to see and share with others the of value migrants in Scottish communities, the workplace and business sector.
If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go with others-African saying.
Coming from a position of having no permission to work to speaking about diversity and sharing the value of what it means to be a migrant is a great privilege. I would never have chosen this journey but it is one I wouldn’t trade for anything else. We all have the opportunity to do something, let’s choose to do something with a positive impact.
We have chosen Scotland, we hope it chose us too.
By Pheona Matovu