As part of our Black History Month celebrations we are talking to role models from the UK BAME community to offer insights into their lives and advise candidates and employers on how best to represent and encourage equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Loraine Martins MBE FRSA
Director of Diversity and Inclusion
“Always be the best that you can be. Work hard. Be authentic, be true to yourself and the values you hold.” Loraine Martins
Can you tell us a little bit about you?
I’m a Londoner - I grew up in North West London to African-Caribbean parents who came to the UK in the 50’s as part of the Windrush generation. I am the eldest of three children who were born and grew up in and around Camden Town, in a working-class family. My Dad was a printer and my Mum a midwife. I went to an all-girls grammar school where I was one of a handful of black girls. In my second year, my school became a large mixed comprehensive with the majority of children from first generation African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds. When I left school, I was part of a small cohort of black kids to go to university, who were the first to do so in their families. I studied Comparative American Studies at the University of Warwick, which is an interdisciplinary degree encompassing history, sociology, economics, politics, art and literature in North and South America, the Caribbean and African diaspora. I chose my degree because I was interested in black history which was not part of the school curriculum.
What were your experiences growing up as a young black girl in London?
As my parents were very conscious of issues of race and racism and because of where I grew up, as a child I became interested in social justice. My parents made it clear that I’d have to work doubly hard if I wanted to succeed because I was both black and female. Having arrived here in the late 50s, my parents faced explicit racism. They were welcomed with the ‘no Blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ signs. As loving and intelligent parents they wanted to prepare us for a world that would not be automatically accepting of their children. They prepared us by providing a strong work ethic and confidence in our own abilities. This equipped my siblings and I with the resilience and tools we needed to succeed. These were important foundations.
I remember in my primary school we had a campaign to get a wall dividing the playground knocked down. The wall separated boys and girls at break-times, which meant we could not play together. The boys had a bigger play area so they could play football, and the girls had a smaller area for hopscotch and skipping. However, I was a pretty good footballer back then and I wanted to play with the boys. Anyway, we got the wall removed. Then at secondary school when free milk was being stopped by the then Secretary of State for Education and Science Margaret Thatcher, we campaigned to keep free school milk and chanted: “Maggie Thatcher the milk snatcher!”. These events were among my early memories of campaigning which were formative and to some extent have resonated ever since. At university, I honed my social justice sensibilities through meeting people from different backgrounds and learning about the struggles of people all over the world – feminism, anti-racism, Troops Out, Greenham Common, I joined a number of causes and groups, whilst also being a keen Netball player playing for Warwick!
What did you do after you graduated university?
My first job was as a clerk in a hospital and I had no idea what I wanted to do. My parents instilled in me a strong sense of social responsibility, the importance of giving something back to the community. As a working-class kid, I knew that I had been fortunate enough to go to university, so what could I do to help others? I volunteered in an adult literacy project, where I learned how to teach adults and then trained to be a trainer of adult literacy tutors. This experience led me to work in the voluntary sector. One of my most fulfilling jobs was being a paid activist for the Newham Monitoring Project (NMP) in the East End of London. NMP campaigned against racist harassment and police harassment which was prevalent in the mid-80s. I helped people to navigate the system, working with local and police authorities and Newham was the first borough in the country to evict the perpetrators of racial harassment.
Working in the voluntary sector increased my access to a wide range of opportunities. I joined the management committees of several organisations. I recruited and managed people; managed buildings and facilities; made successful funding applications; chaired large public meetings; lobbied authorities; learnt about regulations, governance and how to be transparent and accountable. I was acquiring the skills and knowledge to run a business. With such a broad exposure to how things worked and indeed didn’t work, I was being equipped for my journey.
I then turned from ‘poacher to game-keeper’ when I joined a local authority during the introduction of community care, in the early 90s. I was able to bring a unique perspective to the role as I was tasked with the development of care services to support for black, Asian and minority ethnic. I introduced around 14 new services from day care provision to reminiscence classes. I then went on to head up a national voluntary organisation for eighteen months which led to me becoming a management consultant, advising on leadership, organisational structures and development; whole system events; stakeholder and user engagement; and interim management.
As the new Millennium approached, I joined the Audit Commission, which was a regulator overseeing the use of public resources. This was my first head of diversity and inclusion role. The position allowed me to work with local and, health authorities, fire and rescue services and housing associations. The Audit Commission inspected these public bodies and my role gave me an insight into their respective structures so that I could advise on how best they could fulfill their obligations under the then race equality, disability discrimination and sex discrimination acts.
Then I worked for the Olympic Delivery Authority in the construction of the Olympic Park in preparation for London 2012. I was head of equality and inclusion and employment and skills. I used my management consultancy and regeneration experience to make a success of this huge investment in the East End of London. Working with our supply chain to ensure they were employing best practice in diversity and inclusion, and that they were also building the skills and qualifications of local people, not only for the construction of the Olympic Park but also for future large infrastructure projects including Crossrail, HS2 and Thames Tideway. It is for this work that I received my MBE.
I had a stint working for myself with clients like BP and ARUP before joining Network Rail, where I am now.
What advice would you give to Black, Asian and minority ethnic job seekers, students or candidates looking to pursue a similar career trajectory?
Always be the best that you can be. Work hard. Be authentic, be true to yourself and the values you hold. This isn’t easy and you will get better at it over time. Be open to new opportunities, as they often present themselves in ways that we don’t always recognise. Don’t be shackled by other people’s prejudices or narrow expectations; have a go at new things. Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone.
What advice would you give to employers or recruiters looking to improve D&I in their organisation?
Again I’d say be open. Be open to new talent and ways in which you connect. Challenge your recruitment streams, really look at the talent you want in your organisation and at how you can grow by taking a fresh look at building a richly diverse workforce. Go the extra mile to demonstrate your commitment to engaging with diverse communities - and talk about it, share it. Let the world know your intent on making sure you have the best and most diverse people in your employ. Review the images you have so that they are match what you say. There is a wealth of talent out there which we do not tap into enough, sometimes because we can be a little lazy and not spend the time needed to invest in better ways of engaging a wider range of excellent candidates.
So what do you do within your role at Network Rail in order to tackle some of the aforementioned issues?
I have been the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for seven years. It was a new role when I started it, which suits me as one of my talents is initiating and shaping things. I’ve developed our strategic approach covering everything from how we bring people into the business, to the physical, built environment and how we make it accessible; to how we influence our supply chain to deliver on diversity and inclusion. It’s a great role because of its breadth, expanse and influence. From the Board to operatives through to the wider rail and engineering sector, I work to create change. This integrated approach supports us as a business and sector so that we collaborate, share best practice and learn.
Network Rail has over 40,000 employees. We are responsible for the rail infrastructure. We have 20 managed stations, 800 retail units, as well as many other facilities. We are an aging population and have a skills shortage which is sector wide, so we really want to make sure we are attracting talent to support us in delivering big developments in rail. There are many exciting challenges and it’s a great place to work. I encourage anyone reading this who is looking for a new opportunity to: click here. I would love to see more people from diverse backgrounds join us. If relevant, check out our graduate and apprenticeship schemes. You don’t have to be in engineering, we need people across many skill sets including HR, communications and project management, finance - do have a look and see if there is something for you.
Why is Black History Month important to you?
It’s an opportunity to showcase the contributions of black people throughout history to today. I think that because traditionally our efforts have been hidden in the telling and recording of history, it’s an important to highlight those who have been forgotten and celebrate the range of influence we have. It’s not just to this country, but globally. Nor should it just be a month. Black history needs to be part and parcel of what we and our children learn. I don’t think the necessary changes to the curriculum will happen organically. It needs to be deliberate, embracing the contributions of all people and asking the question why we haven’t identified certain people, and why have they been hidden from our collective history and the fabric of our society. We need to shift the biases that people may have and give greater confidence to young black kids that they are valuable and valid, and that their efforts are equal to everyone else. It’s so important for people to see themselves reflected positively in history and in contemporary role models.
Which BAME figures, historic or contemporary, have inspired you?
I think of people like Angela Davis, Malcom X and Claudia Jones. Also the writers bell hooks and Maya Angelou, and of course Nelson Mandela. I think about what it is that influences me; and it’s seeing people be successful. My parents are a great example, they were incredibly influential on us kids growing up. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my upbringing. My environment has been incredibly important. Having successful black people around me is a given, which is as it should be. Yet I know that not everybody has such strong affirmations, and examples of success are important. I’d like to see a normalisation of positive and successful representations of black, Asian and minority ethnic people as professionals.
Were there people who inspired you on your professional journey, or was it your passion for social justice which provided you with the drive you needed to succeed?
I’m not naturally a planner. I didn’t have a clear, step-by-step career plan in place. I’m strategic and will adapt to whatever circumstances or challenges I face. The thread that has helped steer me to where and who I work with, is the social values of the business or organisation; where there is a synergy between their values and my own. I’m also driven by the desire to make an impact. It’s vital for me and it doesn’t have to be a big impact, nevertheless I need to be able to contribute to make a positive difference. The organisations I have worked for have afforded me the opportunity to fulfil these needs. I feel fortunate that I have had this consistency. It’s important that you have a sense of clarity when striving forward with your career.
There have been some notable figures along the way who have encouraged me and I’m grateful for their support. At school, my History teacher Pam Kernaghan recognised my ability and high expectations of me, which mirrored my parents’ ambitions, though at the time those expectations may have been greater than my own. Pam helped to increase my confidence and sense of self, and she believed in and recognised that other black kids were not encouraged to be academic. She saw our potential and pushed us all to achieve. In my career someone who inspired me was Sir David Higgins, he stood out as a Chief Executive at the Olympic Delivery Authority. In my first week at the ODA, I remember him saying, “You’ve come here to do a job, you are really important and if there is anything that’s in your way you need to let me know.” His belief in me and the importance of what I was doing, not only for the project but for the community and beyond, was empowering. It was particularly affirming and enabling having the CEO behind the push for equality, diversity and inclusion on a project of such a large scale.
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