“When opportunity knocks, open that door. If it doesn’t open, create your own opportunities and build a door.”
Donna Fraser is a former sprinter, who competed at four consecutive Olympic Games for Great Britain. She has developed a wealth of experience within the field of equality and diversity communications since her retirement from competitive athletics in 2009.
From the track to the boardroom, Donna has created a career synonymous with all the characteristics that you'd attribute to one of Britain's greats. An expansive profile filled with medals, podium positions and significant accomplishments that tell the story of a European Junior Champion from Croydon that rose to become one of our most fearless world class Olympians.
But the aforementioned accolades only scratch the surface of Donna's armoury. To characterise by her sporting achievements alone is to do a great disservice to the inspiring woman that she is today. The woman that battled her way through Breast Cancer to then go on to achieve a qualifying time to compete for trials at the 2012 Games. Wow!
We were lucky enough to speak to Donna and have her tell us a little about what Black History Month means to her and how E,D&I shapes her professional life.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
It reminds me of all those black pioneers who struggled through racism to pave the way for me to have a better life in society – those who persevered and achieved great things despite the colour of their skin. Although Black History Month is for one month only, everyday I’m reminded of the individuals who are our history, for example Windrush Day, seeing Trevor McDonald on TV – the list is endless.
Which BAME figures from history inspire you?
Martin Luther King Jnr, Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph. All of them overcame adversity to be successful in what they set out to do.
Which contemporary figures inspire you?
Firstly, my mum and sister; they have been my positive female role models throughout my life. Encouraged me to be the best I can be and not to allow any barriers to get in my way.
Karen Blackett OBE is a successful business woman and Dr Samantha Tross was the first black female orthopaedic surgeon in the UK. Both these women inspire me to excel in all that I do. Intersectionality is the common denominator between me and them, and this is why I commend their achievements and strive to be the best I can be.
What has been your experience in education and the workplace?
Looking back, I would say that I was seen as ‘Donna the athlete’ and I worked hard to remove that label but leverage it at the same time, as many of the skills held by an athlete are transferable into the world of work. I am extremely proud of what I achieved as an athlete, however I have so much more to offer as a business woman.
I am the first to hold the role of Equality, Diversity & Engagement Lead at UK Athletics. This was a positive step for the organisation as they recognised the need to have a clear focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. Working with Vercida has enabled us to hold up a mirror and view ourselves so we can address the areas we need to improve. We have identified that although we have a para side to our sport many disabled people are not attracted to work for us because it is not visible. This is a picture we are trying to change, as we welcome everyone with the relevant skills to apply for available roles.
Has it been a positive experience working with Vercida?
Absolutely, our partnership has been successful and Vercida have linked us with other organisations with the same objectives as us, so we can learn from each other and improve. Collaboration is key and in working with Vercida we have delivered some amazing diversity and inclusion events.
What advice would you give to other employers/ recruiters/ business owners, to make life better and improve opportunities for BAME candidates?
Communication is key. Look at your advertising material and language used. Use imagery of people within your organisation from all backgrounds so that potential candidates can see they have a workforce that looks like them.
What advice would you give other BAME candidates entering the job market in 2019?
Don’t be afraid to apply for any job – get out there and get out of your comfort zone. When opportunity knocks, open that door and if it doesn’t open, create your own opportunities and build a door.