Can you tell us a little about your career so far with Leonardo?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had many highlights throughout my career at Leonardo. I’ve had fantastic opportunities right from the outset when I joined the company’s International Masters programme, a scheme that saw 30 students from 14 nationalities start their Leonardo careers in Rome, where I stayed for nearly four years.
Since then, my work has taken me across five Continents. I’ve been part of different successful campaign teams, providing me with opportunities to present to many customer groups and at several large conferences. I have also mentored a group of graduates for their deliverable at the graduate conference, which I really enjoyed, as there was both a UK and Italian team to work with.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working across the defence and aerospace sector for the majority of my career, but I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in campaigns in the Oil and Gas sector, as well as major events such as the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
My career path has also been a highlight. I started life in a bid team, moving on to Divisional Marketing, Line of Business Sales, Strategic Marketing, and Regional Marketing. The freedom of this job rotation has been helpful in allowing me to see things from other people’s perspectives, which is vital in my role now.
In my ten years here, I have never felt bored, which is a credit to the company and my colleagues. There is so much opportunity within Leonardo.
What challenges have you faced during your career?
The most common thing I’d say is dealing with people’s assumptions. I’ve been mistaken for Italian by UK colleagues, mixed race by other colleagues, southern Italian by northern Italian colleagues, Brazilian in our office in Rio and Malaysian in Kuala Lumpur! It’s nothing compared to what you might have heard in school or a football pitch when we say ‘challenges’, but it can still impact your personal identity and trying to understand where you might ‘belong’. This might be something that other colleagues might share. You may not feel that you see many people like yourself in certain positions.
I’ve always approached that as a positive, though, and even a challenge to overcome. It’s something that most likely helps in the international environment, and adds a certain uniqueness. I think it’s important not to try and lay blame on anyone, because people can be sheltered from certain sensitivities. However, the world is changing and is becoming a smaller place every day so we should all start to open up a little more.
We know that Diversity has proven to improve business performance: diverse teams perform better, and it encourages innovation, creativity, and many other benefits. But it shouldn’t feel forced. Positive discrimination isn’t a good thing, either.
I also think I’ve seen some instances of ageism, which can be hard to deal with. In my younger years, whilst trying to deliver a presentation, I was told that at my age, certain seniors were making photocopies. I also think some people can think that you are possibly too confident as a young person or maybe someone from a diverse background when in reality, you probably just have a different benchmark on what a tough time looks like, and are just appreciative of your environment and the people within it, or just a very open and personable person. As I say, I guess the issue is that people may be quick to judge, which goes for everyone of course.
Do you have any advice for someone going through similar challenges at work?
I have never found a closed door in this organisation. People who I can now consider friends were previously colleagues that helped me in difficult periods. I’ve had great managers, both in the UK and Italy, and there’s nothing I couldn’t have discussed with them. You might be surprised how open people can be if you ask.
Often, issues or negative discussions relating to Inclusion and Diversity aren’t in the presence of the person themselves. If you hear or see something that you don’t believe is right, I believe you should say so. It can go a long way. We also need to avoid excluding people who we don’t think of as being ‘diverse’, which would be counterproductive, because everyone has a part to play when it comes to inclusivity.
Black History Month is not just about acknowledging past challenges but also an opportunity to consider the future and what can be done to encourage change. What are your thoughts around this?
Once I knew we were going to have this conversation, I had to do my own research on the topic and I really liked the following quotes:
“Black History Month is a celebration of the magnificence of cultural diversity and the enriching value in peaceful co-existence.”: This explains how diversity is all about working together to create something which is greater than the sum of its parts, which you can readily translate to the workplace.
The other quote I like is: “Black History Month isn’t just about all the bad times we’ve been through. It’s about integrity, leadership, and determination. It’s about showing your true character.” – Brandon Fort
It’s interesting to think about diversity and leadership. We need to ask what it means for us; as managers, leaders and colleagues going forward, especially in the VUCA period we live in now (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).
One of my favourite aspects on leadership is the topic of ‘Authentic Leadership’, the idea that to be a leader, you have to be yourself, and that understanding oneself is one of the major building blocks of leadership. If we’re going to have more people being themselves and expressing themselves, then being more authentic yourself seems only right. A diverse workforce will require more empathy, respect, and ability to see things from other people’s perspectives.
Are there other challenges that you see now in the workplace?
There are all sorts of different challenges around at the moment, such as the merging of the physical world and digital world, the changes in population distribution, and the challenges of finding the right skills. We also have to consider generational diversity, and how to successfully lead across generations. We have to be aware of the trap of cognitive biases, thinking things aren’t right as they’ve not been done that way before. This year more than any we’ve seen the need to be flexible and accept new ways of working.
We need to keep having these conversations about these things, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable – that’s the only time things change. Not in comfort zones.
Things will continue to change and we should prepared for it.
Do you see more changes on the horizon?
There is visible and non-visible diversity to consider, of course. With regard to non-visible diversity, I think we might see more in the way of ‘mental diversity’, when we consider Autism, for example. There are people with great minds that can solve the most complex of mathematical models and problems, but can find it difficult to understand social cues or be in certain environments. I think this is something that might be considered more in the workplace in the future.
Do you have any advice for our young people at Leonardo?
You will not believe the number of times I’ve heard the phrase, “keep your head below the parapet,” given as advice. Don’t do that!
I’ve always enjoyed Richard Branson’s quote, which goes along the lines: “Say yes, and then figure out how to do it afterwards”. Don’t get yourself in trouble, obviously, but do make yourself available for things that might not be your core area of interest or expertise. Also, My father gave me a good piece of advice: “I don’t know,” is a perfectly good answer. There are plenty of good people here who do know, and can help you learn. So don’t be afraid to use it.
At Leonardo, we have a strong culture of teams. Every bid, most deliverables work in a team or Integrated Project Teams - very seldom are you not involved in some sort of team. I’ve found teams personally and professionally to be the place where “inclusion” happens.
I think that’s really the best opportunity to learn about each other and maybe we can be more proactive in using those teams for sharing of cultures, experiences etc. I’m still in professional teams from 10 years ago. Not formally, of course, but people that I can still call up at any moment for a chat or advice.
We are diverse as a business (from sensors to platforms to cyber security and even to space!), and we are becoming more diverse as a workforce, in our cultures and ways of thinking, and that is something that we should really celebrate.