The Importance of Representation and Positive Role Models
I was born and raised for the first 10 years of my life in Battersea, South London in the early ‘80s – a Battersea that was very different to the more developed and richer Battersea that exists today. I grew up in a mixed heritage household, my Mum is St. Lucian and my Dad is Nigerian. My early experiences of culture and community were very rich, deep and broad! One of the benefits in growing up in the area was the exposure to a variety of cultures, cuisines, and languages – celebrating a variety of independence days, religious events and other cultural events outside; it was very much a cultural education. I have ‘Uncles’ and ‘Aunties’ (family friends) that originated from all parts of the globe. Although I’m not fluent in all of their languages, I knew a few insults in each!
My family (Mum, Dad and younger brother) moved to Croydon just before I started secondary school. When I first moved to Croydon, which at the time I thought was the ‘countryside’, it felt very plain compared to what I was used to. My environment of council flats and community centres were replaced with ‘proper’ houses and large green fields. I completed my secondary education in Croydon, which itself became more culturally diverse during the time I lived there; I then moved to an even plainer location in Canterbury, Kent where I lived for four years until I completed my Masters. Fast forward a few years, I now live in Kent with my wife and three children and I always think about the differences in their upbringing compared to mine in terms of community and cultural diversity.
One of the constant themes in my life has been positive role models. My parents exposed my brother and I to an environment of aspiration and inspiration – whether that was learning about historical figures, or through engagement with people we met in everyday life. My kids will grow up in an area that is not as diverse as the area I grew up in and as a result, they have less access to diverse community-driven programmes. This means my wife and I have to make an extra effort to expose them to role models that look like them.
The importance of identity was a consistent theme growing up. My parents’ message to my brother and I, as young black boys navigating different spaces from education to employment was, “know yourself and understand the value that you can bring to every space you decide to occupy”; they reminded us that everyone has an important story and it’s our choice how we tell our stories and use our journeys to inspire others.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to work for, and manage teams in, organisations that recognise the value they can bring to their neighbouring communities. I’ve participated in many community outreach and mentorship programmes and became a school governor through another programme. I have also volunteered personal time in similar activities including more recently visiting my old primary school to talk to the students. Speaking to under-11s about the ‘sexy’ parts of accountancy, finance, audit and risk is not easy! However, each of these activities gave me an opportunity to tell my story, speak about my journey and answer questions, all in the hope that I can inspire whoever is listening in some way.
Unfortunately, in my career to date, I’ve not sat in many meetings where I look across the table and see people that look like me. There is a stark contrast between my experiences inside and outside of the office, particularly when I travel for work, where I am often reminded of the feeling I had moving to ‘plain’ Croydon.
I think Black History Month is really important for the communities I know best, it shines a spotlight on the importance of the contribution of black people to the UK, which sadly, is not widely known. It is an opportunity for everyone to recognise the positive influences that black people have had and are having on our communities. Even more importantly, I think it’s a great way to foster an environment of aspiration and inspiration for young black children so that they know, understand and embrace that they can also be a part of Black History whilst holding on to, and being proud of, their identities.
Many of the children that are currently growing up in the areas similar to 1980’s Battersea, may not necessarily be aware of all the opportunities that are available to them and may not have the confidence to go after what they truly want, so I make it my mission to be visible so young people can see someone who looks like them. In addition, being present so young people can leverage my life experience to overcome hurdles is important to me.
I also believe it’s important to keep telling my story in the hope that my children and their generation can break down barriers, smash those glass ceilings and excel in corporate spaces, if that is their wish!
Marvin Fihosy is the Head of Internal Audit at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. He is a Chartered Accountant and he also has a Masters in Management Science and Computing from Kent Business School (University of Kent). Marvin has eight years of experience both being a School Governor and over 10 years of mentoring experience. Outside of work, he is married and a father of three, loves participating in sponsored charity sporting activities and is mad about football and basketball! LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marvin-fihosy-400ba0ba
This article was recently featured in ‘Reflections From A Community’, a Herbert Smith Freehills publication to mark Black History Month 2020. It has been reproduced for the Forum @ Greenwich with permission from the author.