"I certainly wouldn’t improve any diversity statistics; male, white, heterosexual, no disability and no free school meals. But to me diversity is about much more than that. Back in 1999 I had a choice, go to university or accept one of the three job offers I’d received. For a number of reasons, including having disabled parents that needed me nearby and the urge to earn my own money, I accepted the role at Grant Thornton. When I joined the firm 20 years ago, I didn’t see myself as a stereotypical employee (thankfully there's no such thing anymore). As well as being first generation immigrants from Italy, both my parents are deaf, and my mum is now pretty much completely blind. So I definitely didn't feel I had the same upbringing as the people around me. However, I'm a strong believer that our careers and working lives should not be negatively impacted by our lives outside of work. I'm proud to have recently been promoted to director, having initially joined as a school leaver. I hope my story can help inspire people who come from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds like myself to pursue their dreams."
Chapter 1: Unique perspectives
I was born, and still live, in Bedford, which has a large Italian community. As well as being first generation immigrants from Italy, both my parents are deaf and my mum is now pretty much completely blind.
In the 1950s thousands of Italians moved to England to work in the brickworks. This group included both my grandfathers, initially leaving behind their wives and children until they had saved enough money for family accommodation. As a second-generation Italian I often think about what it would have been like to leave your family behind to work in a country where you don't know the language or culture. I used to love hearing the stories about the tricks played and confused shopping experiences.
Back in 1999 I had a choice, go to university or accept one of the three job offers I’d received: a permanent role in the call-centre where I had been working part-time; a trainee accountant role in a local accountancy firm; or a tax trainee role in what was the Grant Thornton Bedford office. For a number of reasons, including having disabled parents that needed me nearby and the urge to earn my own money, I accepted the role at Grant Thornton. I'd have received more money for the call centre job, but that closed down within 12 months. I still think the loss of my dedication and hard work had an impact!
Having disabled parents has its own challenges and definitely forces you to grow-up quickly. Our experiences provide unique perspectives, like growing up with the subtitles on all television programmes. Who would have thought being allowed to stay up and watch Dallas on a Wednesday night with the subtitles on would help me with my spelling at school? For any parents worried about the amount of time their children spend watching television, YouTube, etc. I would definitely recommend making sure they at least watch with subtitles on!
'For me the true test of a diverse organisation is the availability of opportunities and consideration of views, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social economic background, or anything else.'
Chapter 2: Breaking the mould
So, white, no disability and no free school meals, but an awareness of ethnicities, disabilities and social backgrounds due to my childhood and family life. Now I'm a proud father of three children and I see the world through another lens. I don't want my two girls to have more opportunities than my son, just the same opportunities. The recent women's football world cup has been a prime example for me. I'll admit that historically I've always had a lazy view of women's football but, being conscious of how it would look if Dad dismissed the whole tournament, I sat down with my eldest daughter to watch the first Italy match. There's no reason why I should have been surprised by the quality of the football, it's just that my view of the game would have been different if I'd taken the time to actually watch it before. A last second win from the Italians resulted in the usual shouting and screaming at the TV (I even surprised myself at my reaction, but I won't lie, I wasn't as loud as I was watching the men's world cup back in 2006. We all have work to do)!
I recall having been at the firm for about five years, when I was in a room of trainees and they asked which university I attended. When I replied, "I didn't", the follow up question was "how can you train us on something when you didn't go to university"? Our culture as a firm was definitely not what it is today! I've read articles regarding the observation that those from "limited" social economic backgrounds can find it harder to progress as they don't have the initial network. This can be true, but I'd encourage people to identify what they can learn from their existing networks (families, friends, colleagues, etc.) and apply this to their own careers. I certainly observed resilience and problem solving in my role models and being a translator has helped my understanding and approach to communications throughout my career.
My children also help me realise that the world is constantly evolving, and the world I was brought up in no longer exists, so I need to raise them to be ready for the world they'll be adults in (easier said than done). It also means I'm up to date with the latest music, dance or game fads as they'll be playing away throughout the weekend! I had strong role models growing up, including hard-working immigrant grandparents and disabled parents raising their family in an able-bodied world, so I'm conscious my children will seek out their own role-models if I'm not up to the task (taking on the Kardashians, Tracey Beaker and Paw Patrol is a constant battle).
Chapter 3: Forward thinking
Those that know me will know I love to use our data as much as possible, but driving behavioural change requires action (just like taking the time to watch the football with my daughter). For me the true test of a diverse organisation is the availability of opportunities and consideration of views, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, social economic background, or anything else. I might not improve any diversity statistics, but that doesn't mean my behaviours or views are any less diverse.
Social mobility is the term used now, but effectively a legacy where people are confident enough to seek out opportunities and progress, regardless of background. I'm a strong believer that our careers and working lives should not be negatively impacted by our lives outside of work.
I won't lie and say I've never considered leaving the firm, however each time I have I discovered another opportunity to progress my career. Having the confidence and support to do so, regardless of background or anything else that makes us unique, is the true test of an inclusive employer. I'm proud to have recently been promoted to director, having initially joined as a school leaver. I'd recommend anyone to seek out available roles and discover what they really enjoy (the opportunities won't come and find you!).