Kelly Smallcombe

17 November 2020
HR Specialist

As we continue to highlight the importance of diversity within our company and further afield, we speak to Kelly Smallcombe, HR Specialist within Leonardo’s Cyber Security and Automation Division, about her career and the importance of creating an inclusive working environment.

Tell us about your role and your career highlights to date.

I’m part of the Human Resources (HR) function with a bias towards resourcing and helping people through their recruitment journey. In terms of career highlights, I’d say it is the opportunity to support our STEM activities, such as Unlock Cyber, which involves us working collaboratively with other organisations and government bodies to get young people excited about cyber security. We organise virtual and non-virtual cyber taster days, and it’s always good to see young people getting interested in cyber. It’s certainly not a career that I knew a lot about prior to joining Leonardo, and now it’s something I’m passionate about. 

Are there any challenges that you have experienced in your career?

Coming from a different background you have a different lens on life; I’ve experienced different challenges such as people questioning my appearance e.g. children asking about my hair as a young child. I’ve also had exposure to other cultures throughout my life as I have grown up with both a Jamaican and English family. It’s these experiences as a child of parents from differing heritages that has given me a different lens on life; my dad and I quite often talk about the struggles I’ve had as a dual heritage person which he hasn’t experienced as a white male. The cyber division is agile and fast moving, there is always a requirement to look at things differently and adapt to overcome challenges. As I have experienced this throughout my life, but usually in a different way to my colleagues, I thrive on being able to provide a different perspective and enjoy the challenge.

Can you tell us a little more about your background?

I have a Jamaican background; my grandad is one of the people that came over on a slowboat from Jamaica in the 1950s, emigrating to Bristol. He was one of the people who spearheaded talking about equality for people of different backgrounds in Bristol. His name was Bill Smith, and he was the chairman of the Bristol West Indian Association, leading movements such as the ‘On The Bus’ movement, which enabled people from alternative backgrounds to be bus drivers. He was known as having quite a diplomatic approach. He was often used as a liaison between the council and the local communities to bring their thoughts and feelings to the local council to enable them to take action. It’s something that gives our family great pride. He was also one of the first black magistrates (or Justice of the Peace, at the time) in Bristol, and subsequently got an MBE from the Queen for all of his positive work towards equality for people in the city. Having a successful grandad is something that has inspired me and given me a lot of drive. It pushes me to want to do more and follow in his footsteps.

What does Black History Month mean for you?

For me, it’s about opportunities to open the conversation. People can find it difficult to ask questions; they’re afraid to say the wrong thing, or upset you, so [Black History Month] opening the conversation is vital to letting people feel like they can ask questions, and that we’re not going to get offended. It’s about education and awareness as well; many people probably struggle with lack of exposure to different cultures. As a young child, there was little representation of myself in toys, books, TV programmes etc. In having more exposure as a young child to other cultures and having a representation of the diversity we have in the UK, I would hope that it enabled people to feel more comfortable to ask questions. I still don’t always get it right, as whilst I had exposure to some other cultures, it wasn’t all.

How do you think we can start those conversations?

People are often scared to ask questions because they’re worried they are going to offend you by using the wrong words. For instance, if you asked my mum what skin colour she is, she would say “I’m not black, I’m brown”. Whilst she doesn’t mind people referring to her as black, it’s not something she would describe herself as. I would much rather people asked, and gave me the opportunity to advise them on how I would prefer to be referred to when talking about my background. It’s really about just being open and not being afraid to ask questions. Most people will be happy to let you know their personal experience, and how they feel about things.

Thinking about the future, what else can be done to make society more inclusive?

For me, it’s about exposure. Having more exposure at a young age to people from different backgrounds is really beneficial. You get used to having conversations, and you naturally become more open. You become more attuned to the differences between a great variety of people in the world.

When I was younger, there weren’t many toys that represented me as a person, and I know that we’re much better at that now, but the more exposure you can have at a young age, and the increased number of different people that you can meet, the better. The UK is very diverse culturally and as a country, so it’s important to have representation across the board in all aspects of life. I would hope that it would make people feel more comfortable rather than there needing to be a divide between different backgrounds and cultures.