Share stories — Whether it’s about personal issues you’ve had with inequality or outright racism with people who probably never will, this will expand their mind without them feeling attacked. I know that this step is difficult and you might get negative reactions but leaving things unsaid is how we got here. But the burden of equality has often fallen on BAME peoples shoulders so do not do so if it causes you mental anguish.
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps, We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Marie Farmer.
Entrepreneur Marie Farmer founded Mini Mealtimes after weaning her son onto solid food and realising the only options for advice were either patronising, expensive or generic. Mini Mealtimes launched in January and already has a growing and loyal user base. It’s diverse founding team have been featured in numerous publications and media sites including The MailOnline, The BBC, The Metro, C4, C5 etc.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Growing up I was born in a working-class town called Birmingham in the UK when I was 9 my family moved to New York City. Growing up life was rather turbulent, money and friends were in short supply and we moved a lot which never helps matters. I lived there until I moved back to England to attend university when I was 17. My experiences growing up as a mixed-raced child varied wildly depending on the time and place.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Fantasy novels were a feature of my childhood, the Iron dragon’s daughter by Micheal Swanwick having the most significant impact on me. The allegory between the worlds he creates and our current reality is very apt. A lot of my childhood is a blur but I also read a lot of history textbooks and used to imagine I lived back then, predictably as a member of a royal household.
Do you have a favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
One of my favourite quotes is “it doesn’t matter where you come from but where you’re going” I’ve always taken this to heart. It does frustrate me that society does not do so. The reality is that we have ingrained biases, everyone does to varying degrees, which cuts many people with BAME backgrounds out of opportunities. If you’re not from the right family or have the right skin colour life is much harder. Even though I’m aware of this, one of my main personality traits is to always believe I can do something. Growing up I was never told I couldn’t do something so I believed I could try my hand at anything, with the exception of math. I was also lucky enough to be very unobservant as a child. This meant that a lot of the media I consumed didn’t negatively affect me. Seeing the majority of leading roles and positions of power being held by white men didn’t make me feel out of place. So I’ve never been scared to apply for a job “above me station” or go to a fancy event or call the police.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership to me means showing respect and acting with empathy towards the people I’m working with but also having a strong personality that others feel they can lean on you and talk to you. Ensuring that others succeed under my leadership proves to me that’s the best tact. In the past, most of my managers have been kind and inspiring to work under but I’ve had my share of managers who just bark orders, don’t explain the method in their madness and blame you when things go wrong but are happy to take full credit when it doesn’t. My management style has been to make sure everyone understands their key deliverables and deadlines and has the skills and time to actually meet them. I make it clear that if one of my decisions seems unachievable or is confusing I’m always open to discussing it, the best way to make a decision is to look at it from two views, one person is solely focused on the tasks and heavily experienced in it and the other person can look at it with fresh eyes and a bigger picture view if a discussion can be reached where everyone meets in the middle that usually is the best choice.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Deep breaths help me feel calm before a big meeting, pitch or event and affirmations give me confidence. I say we’re all on the same level no matter who I’m speaking to. If you think someone is judging you beforehand it does you no good and just makes you nervous. Even if I’m trying to impress someone I don’t let it show. I also insist on having a few hours in the day devoted to my son. During this time we go over his work, play, bake and read. These things invigorate me, as often I will work again for a while once he’s asleep. I talk to many people in the US so evening meetings are often a necessity. Many nights I have just minutes between bedtime and a call with California but I thrive on that kind of pressure.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is, of course, a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
I think you could sum up the reason for this happening and its complacency. The history of slavery, jim crow, civil rights and modern-day microaggressions is a long story filled with triumph, anger and tears. The work that many did including but not limited to (insert leaders from the past) is invaluable. The problem is that it has led to things being better on the surface but underneath there is still rot. Many white people who don’t experience these issues personally feel like they are in the past because of this. They may feel like the work is done and feel anger that BAME people still insist there are many problems that need to be addressed. I can empathise with that feeling and I know that not every white person feels that way. But if you feel in your heart of hearts that you aren’t racist then you should walk the talk by being anti-racist. Saying I’m not racist is not enough, you have to actively show you’re anti-racist. The complacency has led to people turning a blind eye and dismissing injustices as one-offs or saying there must be more to the story, or simply dismissing it outright as fake news. George Floyd’s terrible death has left a black mark on us all and is something we’ll never forget. But if his local community hadn’t started protesting and spread the video far and wide would we be seeing the global protests and policy changes in solidarity? I’d like to think so but every year his story happens and it is either unreported or swept under the rug. I live in England now where these kinds of instances are less common but that does not mean they don’t happen here. and I worry for my son when he eventually becomes a teenager, it’s heartbreaking to imagine something like that happening to your child.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?
This year so far has been the most turbulent in recent memory and that is saying something in 2020. If it wasn’t already apparent I’m mixed raced and the mother to a mixed-raced child so the BLM protests all over the world have hurt my heart. I’ve been lucky enough to not have experienced any outright racism, living in England has helped but there have been micro transgressions and probably more than I’ve ever noticed. Being a BAME founder who leads a mostly female team is a big responsibility and one I’m very proud to have, especially now. My aim as the team changes and grows is that we continue to have an inclusive team. I recently became an active member in the YSYS community and I’m planning more actionable steps on how I can help the community in the coming months. It’s important for me to get involved not just as an organization but personally and I endeavour others to do the same, remember complacency is the anti watchword.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Representation is important at any and every stage of a business. Unconscious bias is present in everyone and lack of diversity means that your unconscious bias is seeping in by only hiring white men. I’ve always been mindful when working and hiring people for positions that diversity and inclusion are a key metric to keep in mind. That obviously doesn’t mean a person should be hired solely on that basis but as a society, we have a lot of catching up to do. And the statistics show that time and time again, diverse teams made up of that of gender, race, religion and age outperform ones that aren’t by miles. But even though I have been called out for having the majority of my team being white females, this was not something I did intentionally, even though we’re a small team my aim is that we’ll have a more even split as the team grows.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
Whether it’s about personal issues you’ve had with inequality or outright racism with people who probably never will, this will expand their mind without them feeling attacked. I know that this step is difficult and you might get negative reactions but leaving things unsaid is how we got here. But the burden of equality has often fallen on BAME peoples shoulders so do not do so if it causes you mental anguish.
Think hard about your experiences with other people and see what you missed or now look back I realise wasn’t ok to say or do. I have grown, I used to rename friends and acquaintances when their names were “foreign” to me because it was too “difficult” to learn the correct pronunciation. In reality, I was just being lazy and unkind even though at the time I didn’t think I was. Most people have similar oversights in their backgrounds. It’s important to lean into these experiences and do better.
Walk the talk
After you’ve listened and learned, start implementing what you’ve learned into your daily life instead of just saying we’re inclusive. Sign petitions, go to protests if it’s safe for you to do so, write letters to your representatives, and routinely double-check your own biases. Don’t let things slide, even if no one who you think would be offended is around, or if it’s someone you love and or respect. You can do so without being rude or high and mighty, simply explain why it’s not ok in a calm way.
Create opportunities for those the less privileged. Call out hiring practices that will limit people from BAME backgrounds chances. I see lots of companies saying they are inclusive but then only hiring from the same pool of people. Instead of waiting for diverse people to come to you, seek them out. If they aren’t qualified so be it but that would be the same for anyone. But it’s important to also consider the requirements for a job, are they fair is the standard actually unachievable unless you come from a specific background. If so then you aren’t an inclusive company well-meaning as you are and will only confirm your bias when the right candidates aren’t found.
Start doing these things now, of course, things won’t change instantly and certain things will take longer than others but start now. Because you will make mistakes, your biases will hinder you, other priorities will take precedence, you’ll think you’re going to say the wrong thing. If you’re well-meaning this will shine through and we shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes. But my experiences and opinions are not monolithic, I have benefited from colourism, being English, having a decent education, I’ve had people advocate for me many can not say the same. I feel it is my duty to lift people up and people who have even more privileges than me should do the same.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain it?
It’ll take years to break down the shackles of race and gender inequality but we are moving in the right direction. The more we talk, the more uncomfortable conversations we have, the more stories we are willing to share and listen to, slowly it’ll create a change.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d have lunch with my two friends Tamara and Tansy who died too young in accidents years apart, many would choose a celebrity here but not me. There are many well-known writers, politicians, rulers who I’ll be endlessly fascinated with. People like Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth, Harriet Tubman, Henrietta Lacks, Roald Dahl, Charlie Wilson and Scott Galloway but that’s why we have history books. In my heart of hearts, it would be my friends and no one else but if I could have a third wheel come along I’d choose Lady Gaga.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!