Why it’s essential for future leaders to see themselves reflected at the top

Michael Sherman, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, BT

Recently, I was invited by our Ethnic Diversity Network to attend an event about inspiring the next generation of leaders taking place in our offices. It was being co-hosted by the Aleto Foundation - an organisation which promotes the development of young people and helps them to achieve their full potential. As any senior executive will tell you, one of the best parts of our jobs is meeting young professionals; their energy and drive are contagious while also bringing on a severe case of nostalgia!

Entering the room, I knew immediately that these young professionals meant business. Over 70 faces greeted me with bright eyes and the same focus that I had when I was starting my career. Talking with them and seeing the mentors from BT and Aleto running workshops, talks and intensive coaching sessions, one particular observation struck me: I saw how crucial it was for the young people to have role models they can relate to throughout their careers.

Being able to relate to the leaders around us is an essential part of recognising our own potential – we see that our hard work, our contributions and who we are, are welcome in the workplace. Leadership events like the BT-Aleto one, which will mentor over 70 young professionals from Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities over three days, are so important because they inspire the leaders of tomorrow. They show the execs (is that the right word, execs?)who are just starting their careers that they can succeed and become leaders within organisations, just as their mentors and people similar to them have.

And I know my colleague Jackie Beer, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at BT, has some great insights in this space. In a recent conversation, she told me that “it's crucial that workplaces and leadership teams reflect the diversity of people around the world. Different ways of thinking drive creativity and innovation – which is critical at senior leadership levels. Problem-solving and exploring solutions is much more productive when different groups of people get together and approach things uniquely, which is why we need to inspire people from all backgrounds get involved.”

Speaking to the Aleto leadership team, they are also clear on their purpose and vision for the future. Veronica Martin, Chief Operating Officer at the Aleto Foundation, told me that "for the past 8 years Aleto has been committed to widening the diversity of the world’s leaders by identifying and supporting tomorrow's leaders. Thanks to the support of BT's Ethnic Diversity Network, we've been able to serve more talented young people through our highly acclaimed, life-changing annual leadership programme. We are delighted that our partnership with BT will enable us to continue sharing our success with a new cohort of talented young people."

After spending a few hours attending the BT-Aleto leadership programme, I returned to my day job energised and inspired. As a leader myself, I have always recognised that coaching young professionals can be critical to shaping their future careers and achievements. I believe that individuals will only push themselves as far as they think they can go. And thanks to partnerships like the BT and Aleto’s young professionals are seeing that there are no limits to their aspirations.

To learn more about Diversity & Inclusion at BT please visit- https://www.btplc.com/Careercentre/lifeatbt/diversityandinclusion/index.htm