In a nutshell
April marked our Ethnicity Month, where we hosted a series of events to better understand how matters of race, ethnicity and culture impact those working at Newton.
This personal reflection from Agnes Fung, Consultant, gives a first-hand perspective on what it's like to be a Hong Kong national living in the UK, and how it felt moving country to start at a new job during the height of the pandemic.
It is the middle of the coronavirus lockdown in January 2021. I stand on an empty stretch of the Piccadilly line platform at Leicester Square, clutching the spinach and mushrooms I have just bought from a Chinatown supermarket. There isn’t another soul in sight, apart from a distant figure at the very end of the platform. I glance up at the display board: the next train is in 8 minutes. I sigh, thinking of my family back home in Hong Kong - I moved to London alone in the middle of a pandemic to start a job in the UK.
Something moves in my peripheral vision, and I snap back onto the underground platform. The figure from the end of the platform turns his head towards me. He is whistling a tune, slightly off key. The sound bounces eerily off the empty cavern of the underground tunnel. He’s staring. I can’t help noticing I am wearing a face mask. He is not. He starts walking towards me, clenching his fists open, closed, open, closed. The display board says the next train is in 4 minutes. He is still walking towards me. Close enough now, I can see his face. This is a man - I catch myself - a white man. Images of beaten up, bloody-nosed Chinese people from the news swim across my retinas. I’m Chinese too. I shrink on the spot, still clutching my groceries. Display board flashes. 3 minutes. He is close enough that I can make out his teeth. He catches my eye. There is a grin on his face that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. He is now a few paces away. My heart threatens to jump out of my rib cage. Suddenly, my feet find their purpose again, and I run, back up to the empty ticket hall and onto the street, gulping large breaths of air through the condensation on my sweaty mask.
I tell friends I’m lucky - “nothing happened”. “I’m fine”. I got out of what could have been a violent situation. We may never know why that man approached me, a young, Chinese woman, on the opposite end of an underground platform. It’s unnerving. And it’s unfair. My white friends in London would never have to think, “Will I be the victim of a racist attack today?” That is the reality of being an ethnic minority. I grew up in Hong Kong, a vibrant melting pot of culture, where incidents like this would be few and far between. It takes getting used to, being an ethnic minority. Adopting the ingrained caution and fear is a learned behaviour.
My apprehension starting a consulting job in the UK
That was the reason I had worries about starting a consulting job in the UK. My excitement to finally join the workforce was laced with concerns I’d be the only one with my skin colour. I joined Newton in January 2021 and vividly recall flicking through the employee guide the night before my first day, looking for faces that looked like mine. There weren’t many, but I’m grateful for the ones that were there, and the ones that have joined since, who have supported me throughout my time at Newton. Through my apprehension about joining a consultancy in the UK, I found solace in Newton’s Ethnicity Network.
Newton’s Ethnicity Network – bonding with people who have shared experiences
The Ethnicity Network was set up in 2019 to support ethnic minorities at the company, focussing on four key initiatives: increasing diversity in recruitment, diversity in leadership, supporting minorities and improving inclusion and belonging. The Network is, in many ways, my family at work. The bonding opportunities have ranged from a day out to Thorpe Park, to monthly chance chats connecting with colleagues, to a hotpot dinner celebrating Lunar New Year. I’m indebted to the overwhelming amount of support from this group of kind people who truly understand what it’s like working in the UK management consulting industry, where the perception of success remains a suit-and-tie-wearing, straight, white male.
Progress made, and the journey to be travelled
As a company, we have made big steps towards our recruitment targets. The Network has doubled in size since I joined. The increasing numbers of ethnic minorities normalizes representation in the consulting body and elevates some of the issues we face. We have come so far, yet there is a journey ahead to be travelled. Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives are not only for the underrepresented. EDI benefits everyone. In a fast-paced consulting industry with the constant challenge to deliver more, to deliver quicker, and to deliver at lower cost, we need to be leveraging the full range of talent and traits within our teams. True progress comes when we consistently recognise diversity as a strength, a benefit to our stakeholders and clients, something that elevates our work to a higher standard.
To embrace and leverage diversity, we rely on the invaluable support of allies who understand the importance of ethnicity and culture, and indeed other intersectional diversity characteristics, to building better, more diverse teams. A great example of this was when Rosanne, one of Newton’s Directors and an active ally to the Ethnicity Network, joined our company’s East Asian consultants in our Lunar New Year hotpot dinner earlier this Spring. Having a business leader show a keen interest in understanding experiences of those from underrepresented backgrounds gave our group the courage to further share our stories. When we feel comfortable being our true, authentic selves at work, we focus our energy on better delivery to our clients and developing our people. The change we need at Newton, and indeed in the industry, is for more allies like Rosanne: we need everybody in the company to embark on this journey together to embrace and leverage diversity.
My involvement with organising Ethnicity Month
“Be the change you want to see” – the Ethnicity Network has supported me a lot to personally, which motivated me to get involved with the running of its initiatives. Every year, the Network hosts Ethnicity Month, a focus month bringing issues of race and ethnicity to light within the business. Last year, with the help of many others, our team put together Newton’s first International Evening. A colourful, whole-company event featuring cultures across the world, put together by colleagues volunteering their time, the night comprises stalls representing different regions of the world, to share and celebrate history, fun facts, snacks, art, and music. Walking in and seeing fellow colleagues dressed in a qipao/cheongsam, shalwar kameez, chitenge and more, made me feel a sense of pride for all my colleagues bringing their authentic cultural selves to a company event. Last year’s International Evening was a key milestone in our EDI journey - I felt a visible shift in the atmosphere around ethnicity in the workplace - conversations feel more open, more curious, and there is an earnest vigour to creating inclusive spaces across the business.
This year’s Ethnicity Month aims to do that, and more. Aligning with the company’s EDI theme of intersectionality this year, we set out the month as an inclusive journey for everyone to be excited about the value all forms of diversity add to our business. In particular, the intersectional nature of ethnicity and race with religion, gender, socioeconomic status and many other diversity characteristics have been highlighted already through the company’s reflective discussions. Irrespective of race, we all have much in common. Understanding our differences unites us and allows us to build inclusive spaces. The organising team this year have put in so much effort to organise all the activities to engage the business on our journey together. I am incredibly proud of our second International Evening, held on a whole-company scale, featuring a vibrant range of cultural dress, performances, food and drink (including a Newton bubble tea); and our whole-company workshop, a sharing session facilitated by members of the Ethnicity Network, discussing the business need for leveraging diversity. I’m looking forward to the rest of the month’s activities: we’ve launched our first ever cultural exchange programme, where Newton employees have signed up to be paired with another Newton from a different culture, to share with each other, encouraging us all to showcase visible allyship and learn more about the various cultures we have across the business and what it means to be part of an ethnic minority group in the UK. This is followed by team discussions across the company, a chance to reflect on the learnings from the month and make a personal commitment to leverage diversity in our work. To wrap up the month, we have an exciting Iftar party where the company will break fast together after Newton’s third annual Solidarity Fast.
This is indeed only the beginning as our journey towards creating a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace progresses one step at a time. In the meantime, I am grateful that I have found a support network in my company, filled with enthusiastic, curious people who are eager to explore, share, and discuss issues about race and ethnicity. We are Newton, and we demand better. With the power of the whole company, we can come together to embrace and leverage diversity!