Temi Nelson

Blimey… I’m a bit overwhelmed by this!

Firstly, a bit about where I came from. I grew up on a tough South London housing estate. It was a place where limiting beliefs drove the narrative, and very little was expected from the young multicultural residents. Whilst in my own home there was an overriding message of education, education, education (with a ban on the word ‘can’t) – beyond my front door hostility and mistrust were the norm, as was teen pregnancy. Therefore, I need to start this off by saying that I am proud of all that I have accomplished, and that I am far from where I grew up (except for my awesome South London accent!).

After finishing my BTEC in Media Studies, and my HND in Business and Finance, I started in IT (25 years ago) as an AS/400 operator for a retail company. Feeding those tapes, day and night. It wasn’t my planned career, I wanted to go into Music Industry Management but was too scared to leave the beauty of multicultural London and go to the only university (in Durham) that ran the course. I didn’t want to risk being the only black girl there and, sadly, didn’t feel brave enough to stand alone in that situation. On top of that, I had a real fear of exams (hence going the BTEC route) so, eventually, I decided to abandon the music management route and explore other things.

Anyway, after recognising my enjoyment in computing, I quickly realised that I had an aptitude for Microsoft Access and really enjoyed project delivery. I decided to look online for a new job and saw an advert for a high paying contract role as a Project Coordinator in one of the UK’s largest Investment houses. I showed a colleague and he quickly told me that he had been in IT for 20 yrs and wouldn’t go for that job. So, I went for it… and got it!

I then went on to cement my project career in a few investment banks, whilst at the same time becoming interested, and successful in, web design and development.

As I got older I decided that I wanted to start a family and could only see evidence of women having children and never returning to the investment banking environment. That made me realise that there probably wasn’t going to be a place for me either, so I began looking for a new sector. I also found the investment space to be permeated with evidence of racism (at times blatant) and lots of microagressions that sought to almost dehumanise many of the black people within the environment. I knew it was time to leave when we were taken over by a company who had racially insensitive master/servant paintings on the walls of their head office. Yup, defo time to go!

So, that’s when I found Local Government. I knew that there I could display more of my passionate personality (and social conscience), and not be penalised for wanting/having children. So, off I went.

The process of getting a Local Government job was much harder than expected so I took the first thing that I could find. I had to take a £10k pay cut but I went in knowing that I could shine once there. Within 18 months I had recouped my £10k (plus some) and been promoted from an IT administrator, to a Project Manager/ Senior PM (the role that I belonged in), and then onto being a Principle IMT Manager. My role was the running of multiple services (mobile phones, Councillor IT, HR and Payroll Systems, Management Information), and Project and Programme management.

As there is never any spare money in Local Government, I accepted that my development would be self funded, so I saved for and sought out certifications that would support my growth. This included a Diploma in Life Coaching (I’ve been a life coach for 20+ years), alongside Agile Project Management and ITIL. The irony is that all of the certifications required me to do exams and I got to the stage of conquering my fear so much that I now look forward to them!

I remained in Local Government for 10 years and had the best time. I was responsible for the recruitment and introduction of 10 IT Apprentices (aged 16-24) and am in contact with many of them now. They have all gone on to do great things and I am so proud. I was nominated for Manager of the Year but, more importantly, my favourite apprentice (who stayed with me the longest) was given an Apprentice of the Year award. Within four years of joining me he went on to match the grade (and pay) that I left on. Truly remarkable.

I then left and joined PwC in 2005. I joined as a Portfolio Manager and then moved back to my beloved project management. I then upskilled further in Group Coaching, Agile Programme management and Scrum, and met a great man called Jon Passmore. Jon was someone who believed in my abilities, whilst always motivating me to do more. Eventually a role came up in Jon’s area (IT Consultancy) and, although advertised at a grade above my own, I got the role and have used it as a stretch-role to support me with my promotion aspirations. Under Jon, and with the support of my other allies,  I have thrived and quickly moved from being the team’s Scrum Master, to the Service Lead. IT Consultancy is seen as a great success and an agile service exemplar within UKIT. I am really lucky to be amongst great people, doing great things.

I am not sure how best to wrap this up other than to say that the real journey for me has been in being able to be myself within the workplace. Anyone from an underrepresented group can understand the challenges that can come from being in an environment where you are a minority, or where there are a lack of role models above you. However, my steely and determined single-mother taught me that it is ok for me to be strong, bold, passionate, direct, caring, confident and every superlative under the sun. More than that, it is ok for me to be a proud black woman who can authentically shine in a room where I am often one of one. I am no longer the scared girl. I always strive to be my best and, through my life/ group coaching workshops, and the diversity and inclusion initiative that I set up (WeUKIT), I empower others to do the same. Be you, for you!

Thanks for making me write this. It’s been great to reflect on the achievements of this working class girl from one of the toughest housing estates in South London. This girl did good!

(Mum, I hope you’re proud – RIP)