The importance of relatable role models for young people

04 November 2020 . United Kingdom

Zoey Sutherland, Finance Business Partner for Bupa UK and Global, on why diversity of role models is so important.

I graduated from Leeds University back in 2010 with a joint honours Maths and French degree. Having done a summer internship in an accounts department I swore blind that I would never go into finance, but lo and behold this is exactly what I ended up doing. After six months or so I decided I wanted to move home to Manchester and secured a role at Bupa as an Insurance Service Company Accountant. I initially came in on a fixed term contract and never expected to still be here nearly ten years later. 

I went on maternity leave in 2012, returning after only 4 and a half months off. This by far was the most difficult time in my career, trying to juggle working full time, being a new mum and spending my weekends in college studying for my professional exams.

Four years after starting my professional qualification, I secured my first management role internally as Deputy Finance Manager. Ultimately having to travel between Manchester and Staines on a regular basis with a young child at home proved difficult and I moved roles after a year to Finance Business Partner. I love the exposure that comes with this role and learning so much about the functions that underpin Bupa’s UK business.

I have never really considered myself a black leader. However, when I was travelling to London on the train last year I was sat with two young black men, it transpired they were law students on their way to a jobs fair looking to secure training contracts. They were asking me about my career at Bupa and how long it had taken to gain my professional qualification and what role I was working in. After I told them they said to me, 'Wow you've made it'. It wasn't until that moment I realised that the role I was doing would have only been a dream five years earlier. Not only this, but I also didn’t realise how much it could mean to a stranger to see a success story in someone from their heritage, and the hope it might give them.

I think it is important for young people to have role models that look like them, through all levels of industry and companies. To any young black person aspiring to leadership I would say that having a mentor is invaluable.

Before the events of this year, being black hadn't been something that I would consciously think about on a regular basis. I have experienced racism and discrimination but it isn't something I have allowed to impact my everyday life. It has become more important to me since having a son to ensure he is proud of his heritage and knows the history of our ancestors. Having spent most of my career at Bupa and achieved a lot in my time here I don't feel like being black has had too much of an impact on my career.

Moving towards a more diverse future, if we are developing more black leaders I think that it is important this goes hand in hand with Bupa’s diversity and inclusion agenda to impact meaningful and well thought out changes. I don't think anybody wants to feel like a box ticking exercise.