Showing: 1 - 2 of 2 RESULTS

‘I altered my personality to fit in at work’

Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, Funke Abimbola, Pavita Cooper and David Wallis
The BBC spoke to four diversity champions

The lack of ethnic diversity at the top of UK companies is coming under increasing focus, with calls for change from big business groups and investors.

Surveys continue to show that black, Asian, or minority ethnic (BAME) people are under-represented in senior positions.

But some succeed, and then turn their drive and passion to helping others. The BBC has spoken to four of them.

‘I had adapted who I was to fit the environment’

Pavita Cooper runs More Difference, a recruitment and consultancy firm that promotes diversity.

Working at blue-chip firms for more than 25 years she never felt discriminated against.

But after she left, she realised she had been altering her personality to “fit in”.

“I had adapted who I was to fit the environment,” Pavita says. “I presented a version of myself that would fit in with them.”

“I’m a Sikh, and faith is important to me,” she adds. “But I made an assumption I should be just like them.”

Despite under-representation, she says people with an Asian background tend to have an easier time getting to the top of large firms than black people.

“If you’re black, generally the experience is worse,” she says.

What’s more, there’s a “hierarchy of race”, she says, with “very black women” having the toughest time of all.

One way to solve this problem is to make ethnic minority pay gap reporting mandatory, to force executives to act, she says.

‘I had to put in a lot more effort to get my foot in the door’

One black woman who managed to get into high-flying jobs in the UK is lawyer, consultant, and campaigner Funke Abimbola.

She experienced discrimination working in the legal profession, even though she had what she describes as a “privileged” upbringing.

“I had to put in a lot more effort to get my foot in the door,” she says.

She refused to change her African name, even though she says she missed out on job opportunities because of it.

And she says she had to deal with micro-aggressions – everyday sleights and indignities – on a daily basis.

For example, a client once used a racial slur in a meeting. “When he said it, he knew I was black,” she says.

As she climbed higher up the ladder, she was criticised as being “too assertive” by executives.

“White male leaders can’t deal with it,” she says. “They say I am ‘over-promoting’ myself.”

She says black people in business face “systemic barriers” such as low expectations about their potential, and that because there are so few in top businesses, black people get scrutinised more.

You have to have “real steel” to progress, she says.

‘You don’t see a lot of people who look like me’

Entrepreneur Dawid Konotey-Ahulu is involved in initiatives to try to improve workplace diversity.

He started out as a lawyer before having a successful City career, but says he faced extra hurdles compared with white people.

Borderline personality disorder patient addresses stigma

Sarah Coulthard-Evans was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder 10 years ago. (Supplied: Sarah Coulthard-Evans)
Sarah Coulthard-Evans was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder 10 years ago. (Supplied: Sarah Coulthard-Evans)

A woman with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is keen to dispel the misconception patients are a danger to others.

Sarah Coulthard-Evans, 36, was diagnosed 10 years ago after doctors repeatedly dismissed her symptoms as depression.

Having self-harmed and even attempted suicide several times, Coulthard-Evans was eventually sectioned.

Years of therapy allowed her to “heal massively and make sense of what happened in her life”.

Read more: Self-harm more common among teens who start puberty early

Coulthard-Evans, who lives in Northampton, moved into supported accommodation in the community on 18 March, just five days before lockdown.

Now in a better place, Coulthard-Evans manages her disorder with medication, monthly calls with a psychiatrist and plenty of sleep.

Coulthard-Evans hopes to raise awareness of BPD, stressing patients are “more dangerous to themselves than anyone else”.

Coulthard-Evans' symptoms led to her initially being told she had depression. (Supplied: Sarah Coulthard-Evans)
Coulthard-Evans’ symptoms led to her initially being told she had depression. (Supplied: Sarah Coulthard-Evans)

Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders – a partnership between the University of Wollongong in Australia, the New South Wales (NSW) Ministry for Health and Local NSW Health Districts – has also produced work to dispel the “myth” BPD patients are dangerous.

“It is much more likely a person living with BPD will harm themselves, rather than harming someone else,” according to the strategy.

Coulthard-Evans struggled with low self-worth from an early age.

“My main problems were a very poor view of myself, instability – I struggled with relationships of any form, always really wanting to please but never feeling satisfied,” she told Yahoo UK.

“I self-harmed from a young age because of the pressure I put on myself.”

Parental neglect or abuse during childhood is a recognised cause of BPD.

“I experienced sexual abuse from a family member,” said Coulthard-Evans.

“It was a trusted relationship so straight away that messes you up.

“I was also not believed; I took that really hard.”

Read more: Two in five psychiatric ward patients had coronavirus at outbreak height

BPD can cause similar symptoms to depression, including prolonged low mood, self-harm and even suicidal thoughts in severe cases.

This led Coulthard-Evans’ GP to prescribe her antidepressants in her early twenties, which were ineffective at the time.

Several suicide attempts led to her being sectioned.

“I ended up in secure services, where there’s a lot more assessments done than in the community, where everything was with my GP,” said Coulthard-Evans.

These assessments resulted in her being diagnosed with BPD in 2010.

Watch: What is borderline personality disorder?

Coulthard-Evans spent four years at Rampton Hospital in Nottinghamshire, one of three high security hospitals in England and Wales.

“I had significant trauma therapy and intense CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy],” she said.

“Once my self-harm was under control, I could start tough trauma therapy, which allowed me to heal massively and make sense of what happened in my life.”

Coulthard-Evans was then transferred to a medium security unit via the charity St Andrew’s Healthcare, where