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Donna Herdsman, alumna, BA Business Studies

Business transformation executive Donna Herdsman (BA Business Studies, 1994) explains why she believes role models are the key to increasing diversity

Donna Herdsman’s career has included senior roles in public finance and as a partner within IBM’s Global Business Services and Client Director at Hewlett Packard.

The London South Bank University (LSBU) alumna (BA Business Studies, 1994) was named in the Financial Times as one of the leading BAME Executives in the US, UK and Ireland in May 2016.

Now, as a consultant, speaker, coach and mentor she is drawing on her experience in business change and transformation to help promote the diversity agenda.

"I don’t think you can overestimate the importance of authentic senior role models, especially women. They are such a tangible indication that it’s possible to succeed. I remember in one of my previous roles sitting down with senior leaders to look at why we weren’t attracting graduates from more diverse backgrounds. The feedback we were getting from students was that the colleagues we were sending to the recruitment fairs quite literally didn’t look like them. Faced with that it’s easy to think: this organisation doesn’t support people like me, so I’ll pursue my dream elsewhere.

"That definitely resonates with me personally. There have been lots of times in my own career when I couldn’t see anyone further up the ladder who looked like me.

The way I dealt with it was by creating my own composite role model, by looking at the people around me and finding elements in each of them that I admired and wanted to emulate.

Donna Herdsman

"I’d watch them, make sure I grabbed any opportunities to work with them and in some cases ask them direct if they’d be interested in mentoring or coaching me.

Helping others get ahead

"Now that I’m the one in the more senior position, I want to do what I can to help. It’s not that I think I’ve made it, or that I know all the answers – far from it! But I know that we all have our own story to tell, and that if you can help just one person pursue their dreams, then you should step up. I’m involved with a couple of mentoring schemes at the moment, one with a big City law firm and another with a charity in Hackney. There’s nothing more rewarding than working with people and seeing them grow. I’m delighted to have been voted on to Audeliss’s EMpower 100 list of BAME role models and leaders, too. Initiatives like this are a great way of showing the next generation that anything is possible. Initiatives like this are a great way of showing the next generation that anything is possible.

"In my own working life, the lack of role models remains an ongoing challenge. There have been times when I’ve felt discriminated against because of my ethnic background and my gender. Age is a factor too.

Lots of organisations are doing some great work to increase diversity graduates and apprentices, but there’s still a huge gap at middle and senior management level.

Donna Herdsman

Diversity's impact on bottom line

"It’s great to see the debate about diversity gaining traction, backed up by hard evidence to show that it really does have an impact on the bottom line. It stands to reason that if you can create an environment where people are enabled to progress, and where they feel they can bring their whole self to work, you get more diversity of thought, more ideas and more innovation. You’re better able to understand your customers, too. If everyone comes from the same background, they tend to think the same way, and that’s no way to survive in a disruptive marketplace."

Find Donna on LinkedIn for more information about her work or to make contact.