How can a white Welsh girl be the leader for Origin?


By Cris McGuinness, Chief Financial Officer

On joining Riverside, as a lesbian, I half expected to be a role model for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) staff group Spectrum.

I never in a million years expected to be asked to be the Executive Sponsor for Origin, the staff network for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) colleagues.

It felt incredibly patronising, in my mind. I was white and couldn’t possibly lead my BAME colleagues. I spoke to two of my friends who are Muslim. I explained what I had been asked to do and why I felt uncomfortable and they pointed out something I couldn’t see.

That my experience as a minority group member, my successful career and (most importantly in their mind) I was more than capable of supporting and leading a group to deliver its objectives – I was not afraid to speak my mind and get the job done. Even if it was difficult at times.

I grew up in a sleepy place in Wales. A place where being different was rare. There were two non-white families in my birth town. Both struggled to thrive in a predominantly white environment. So did I.

While I can never empathise fully, I do know what it is like to walk into a room and know you are different. I know what it is like when all heads turn. I also know what it is like to have to consider if my physical appearance is impacting my ability to get a job. I know what a glass ceiling feels like.

While my journey can never be the same, I once read that a true leader leaves the ladder in place that other people can climb it next (rather than lifting the ladder after you). I want all our colleagues to know that I am firmly footing that ladder for your career to progress at Riverside.

In particular I am dismayed at the lack of diversity across our leadership community. We do our best work when we best collectively represent our customer base. At Origin, we are working on measures to change this.

I personally champion Origin because I have been fortunate enough to have a number of doors and opportunities open to me. Doors that others have not been aware of or even if they get through don’t know how to stay there.

I know some of the hang-ups, insecurities and feelings of being an impostor that some cannot empathise with or understand. Some ride the storm on their own, others need a helping hand and that’s where Origin comes in.

This championing is important for me. So for those who think it is racist or divisive, try to come to one of Origin’s events. Watch our BAME and non-BAME staff work together to improve the future for us all.

Try talking to those who run Origin. Try understanding the narrative as to why Origin exists. Understand why it is needed and champion our cause.

In the meantime I will keep on championing.