Making a Dent in Inequalities

Alfred Nelson is the Integration Co-ordinator and chair of the Embrace network at the Growth Company. I was excited when I came across Alfred’s work and the Growth Company because it is very much in alignment with the approach that I take to diversity and inclusion in the book that I wrote, Inclusive Growth.
Headshot of Alfred Nelson

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today I’m joined by Alfred Nelson, who is integration coordinator and also the chair of the Embrace network at the Growth Company. And I was really excited to come across Alfred and his work and the Growth Company, because it is very much in alignment with the approach that I take diversity inclusion, and in fact, the book that I wrote, Inclusive Growth. So the Growth Company itself is an award-winning, accredited social enterprise with a mission to enable growth, create jobs and improve lives. Its vision is for a society where economic growth and prosperity is inclusive, sustainable and leaves no person or community behind. So based on that purpose of the organization, I got really excited to meet Alfred and just explore a bit further about the work that he does. So Alfred, welcome along. It’s great to see you.

Alfred Nelson: Thanks Toby, welcome. Thank you for inviting me.

Toby Mildon: So before we get into talking about your role as chair of the Embrace network, could you just let us know a bit more about who you are, what you do, And what led you to this point your career?

Alfred Nelson: So, I’m Alfred Nelson, work for the Growth company. I’ve been here for four plus years. Worked in this sector for a long time now. But what led me to this is I’ve always supported people, ever since leaving university, ever since leaving school really. I’ve done a lot of work with youth organisations, lot of work around the world with vulnerable and underrepresented groups, and naturally it’s just evolved into working with big organizations and supporting more and more people, so I currently work as the integration coordinator. So I integrate services looking into what is missing in society.

Alfred Nelson: So I cover most of the tour, all of Trafford and some of Manchester, some of South Manchester. So if there’s a vulnerable group of adults, 18+ that are not being represented, do not have the correct services to support their needs, I speak with the council, I speak with the organisations to try and make sure that those things are available. And so that’s my nine to five. On top of that, I am the chair of the Embrace network, as you said, which is the network supports race. So we look at inequality in the workplace, we look at improvements for people from a wide range of backgrounds, and I’ve been doing that for probably four months now. I was part of the network before, and enjoying taking the lead and trying to make a change and make some difference.

Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. When I looked on the website of the Growth Company, one of the first things that struck me was how big it is and how many activities or programmes it runs. It’s been going for quite some time now. What is the programme that you work on specifically? And then we’ll get into your work with the Embrace network.

Alfred Nelson: Yes. So I work on a programme called the Work and Health programme. It’s the third of a series of programmes to support people with disabilities. So this was actually created by GMCA, so Greater Manchester Combined Authorities, after they got the original devolution of funds. The programme was set up kind of as an experiment to see what would happen if you take a section of society that are currently getting no support, so people with disabilities that were not getting any support, they were just getting their disability benefits, what would happen if you offer a full inclusive support system for them. So that includes a key worker, that includes mental health or physical health professionals, and a full all-around support system to see if you can take away some barriers and help them become self-sufficient.

Alfred Nelson: So that went really well. I worked on that with another organization, and then the second version of the Working Well programmes was another one, again, to support disabled people. But they expanded it a little bit more to help a wider range of people. The third one, which is what I’m working on now, again, supports people that are long-term unemployed, people with disabilities, refugees people, people that have come out of care, or previously been a carer, anyone that’s been in the armed forces or a partner of somebody that’s been in the armed forces. So there’s a number of vulnerable groups that we support. I guess the idea is that if you have a specialist supporting you, if you get a little bit of extra help with your mental health and physical health, which usually combines, if there’s one, it usually affects the other, what can you achieve with that extra little bits of support.

Alfred Nelson: So that is the programme that I work on. And I used to be a key worker on this. So I used to support the clients and customers on a day to day basis. And then after many years of… I guess, knowing all the support that we can give them, I decided to get into the integration role that really looks into why somebody isn’t getting the support. So there’s an interesting story that we worked with somebody who had really bad teeth, and because of those really bad teeth, he had no confidence, and the knock-on effect was that he couldn’t get a job, couldn’t have money, couldn’t afford to pay for the private care for his teeth. So with a few interventions, speaking to the council, changing in procedure, we got help to fix those teeth. And anyone on the program since, that had those same type of teeth problem… You would think it’s nothing, but the knock-on effect in his mental health, physical health and everything else.

Alfred Nelson: So we ended up changing procedure so nobody would be left behind in that way again, with help from the dental students doing the pre-work, and then any NHS dentist needing to not being allowed to turn away somebody because of level of teeth care that’s needed. So yeah, it’s a strange story that we talk about from time to time. But that kind of describes where there’s… Somebody’s fallen into a gap, and nobody can figure out who can help first. So a lot of the work that we do is, is somebody getting the right support? If not, why? And if we figure out why, what can we put in place to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?

Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. It sounds really impactful work and really meaningful. So obviously you’re involved in the main programmes of The Growth Company, but something else that you do is that you chair the Embrace network, which is about race and ethnicity. So can you tell us a little bit more about what the Embrace network does and why it exists?

Alfred Nelson: Yeah. So it’s been a strange journey for the Embrace network. So we were set up as a group to kind of highlight any gaps within the organisation that maybe are not being met. And we came up with an action plan of all the things that we think should be in place for an organisation of this size. It’s evolved. It’s very difficult. So we are dealing with society problems, and trying to stand out from society and make sure that our environment, our working environment, is an inclusive one that is not following the same lead as society. So with that in mind, [chuckle] when I kind of got asked to support, and then a few chairs left the organisation or stepped down from the position, I ended up as the one and only chair at the moment. [chuckle] So I’ll give you… That’s the history of where we were.

Alfred Nelson: I guess I’ve done a lot of work about inclusion, a lot of work about training up members of staff, on educating people on some of the barriers that people have, some of the problems that we notice. So off the back of that work, I guess they thought I was a good person to take over. The new vision is we are a network that will look at change, look at creating this environment that’s closer to something that everyone wants. But we are also there as a support system. So if somebody is struggling in the workplace and doesn’t feel that they want to go down the usual HR, speak to your manager, anything else, they can come to a network as a safe space to speak and get advice and guidance. So we’re doing a lot of work to make sure that that is a safe space. We’re doing a lot of work to make sure that we’ve linked in with other networks that can support people of different backgrounds, different heritages, to get that support in the workplace.

Toby Mildon: What are some of the challenges that people bring to you that they feel that they can’t take to the HR department? ‘Cause I think it’s really important that you’re creating that safe space for colleagues.

Alfred Nelson: Yeah. It’s really difficult because, I guess, when you put your face out there and speak about equality and speak about making change, you all of a sudden become the face, [chuckle] of change. So everyone comes to me. People come asking for advice, whether you’re black, brown, white, or anything else. [chuckle] They still come if they feel that something is happening that they are not being equally represented for or considered for. So, I’ve had everything. I’ve had, “I don’t believe I was given a fair chance to get a promotion in the workplace because I’m a woman”, “I don’t feel that I’m being treated fairly in the workplace because of my sexuality, because of my race”. So there’s a lot of things that go on. And what I have to do is make sure that I’m there to listen, and make sure that we can find a way and figure out why do they not want to go down the traditional route. So this is… I’ve worked in many organisations, I’ve run some of my own businesses, and you get the same things where you just have to pick through all of the information that’s given to you and say, “Well, okay, what can we change to make sure that this environment is a more warm and friendly environment for you that you feel you can go down the normal routes?”

Alfred Nelson: So a random example of any workplace, if I feel that there has been some sort of injustice on myself or somebody feels that, we have to look at why do they feel that? And what can we change to make sure that… Whether it’s… I don’t like it when people say, “That’s your perception of this, that and the other.” So I wanna look at, “Okay, this person is living this feeling. What can we do to support that?” So right now, what we are trying to do is pick through all the information, look at why some people have lost faith in the traditional routes. And I guess, again, this applies for any organisation. Do I feel that if I say this, am I going to get treated fairly or am I going to get edged out of the door? And I know, as a Black male with plenty of lived experiences, sometimes we all just sit back and say, “I’ve seen this, I’ve mentioned it once, If I keep mentioning it, I’m gonna be that guy. And that guy is the one that, next round of who’s going, [chuckle] or next round of promotions, “Oh, he’s the one that complained about. This, this and this procedure in the office, or anything else, or said that there is inequality, said that he’s not treated fair or they are not being fairly.”

Alfred Nelson: So yeah, we’ve all been in those situations where, do you stick your neck on the line? And I guess I had a moment at some point that said, “Well, yeah, I’m gonna be the voice of people, gonna be the voice of the ones that don’t want to be ear marked. I don’t mind being ear marked. [laughter] Just want some level of equality.

Toby Mildon: That’s really good, and I suppose… I mean, the position that you’re coming from is where you are representing a group of people. So it’s not you as an individual going to HR, it’s like you going along and representing a bunch of other people. ‘Cause what you described about people not wanting to speak up because they are then seen as the one or the troublemaker or the one that’s always complaining, I can totally relate to that because I used to run the Disabled Staff Forum at the BBC. And so as the chair of that network, I ran into exactly the same challenges, that individuals not wanting to go to HR because they were then being perceived as being awkward or demanding or that kind of thing. And actually, all we wanted to do was have equality for our disabled staff in the organization. So I know that in 2021, you did a lot of work around Black History Month. Could you share with us all of the work that you did for that time?

Alfred Nelson: Yes. So I think if my timings are right, the previous year of the backdrop of the George Floyd incident, there was a lot of talk and people were speaking more and more about racial inequality. So Black History Month was coming up, and I put myself forward to do something. And again, I’m not one of those people that says, “Okay, let’s send out an email, let’s highlight something, then forget about it.” And I guess this is how I’ve ended up in the position I’m in. So I decided to put on an event every day of the month for Black History Month. I think we ended up with something like 28 days. So planning Twin Tour, I think I ended up doing more than one a day even at some point. But the main reason for it was that, I’ve had discussions about Black History Month, and some people think it’s a good thing, bad thing. But I know that for me… My background’s varied. So, I grew up in inner-city London, but moved out to Norfolk, Norwich. And the contrast is huge. So multicultural, every country in the world, in my primary school in London.

Alfred Nelson: Moved out to Norwich. People touching your skin and your hair and they’ve never seen a black person before. I’m talking in school, I’m talking walking down the road, I’m talking in all aspects of life as a little eight-year-old kid, you then realize that, “Okay, something’s a bit different here, people are acting a bit different towards me.” So education is the key for me. Those people have never been around a Black person. And I learned very early that, that inspires hate in some people, that inspires fear and all sorts. So for me, that education was the key. So 28 days of celebrating Black History, and educating people, and having discussions. So we did fun things like a cook along, [chuckle] and a quiz, but we also put out information on Black History every single day of the month. We did profiles on people that nobody had ever heard of before. We did one piece about classical musician that inspired Beethoven. And nobody had ever heard of this. We did bits about… We did a discussion, which probably the thing I’m most proud of from Black History Month, we had a discussion, an open discussion about unacceptable behavior in the workplace.

Alfred Nelson: And that inspired people to kind of look at themselves and say, “Woah, I’ve seen this in the workplace. I’ve seen the banter, memes, being passed around the office or wherever else, or at home or in the football ground when somebody’s chanting something. What can I do to kind of step out of my comfort zone, not help and contribute to that environment by being a by-stander?” So, that provoked a lot of conversation. And off the back of that, I didn’t want it to just end at the end of Black History Month. I wanted it to continue. So we’ve got more and more training, and more and more discussions, and more and more things that are being implemented into our daily working lives that we’ll continue to teach, train and educate members of staff on little things, the micro-aggressions, just making people think a little. Essentially, it was a full month of a lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights.

Toby Mildon: I was gonna say, when you said 28 events, already, I was thinking, “That is a lot of stuff to organize.” But equally it sounds hugely impactful. What I like about what you’re saying is… I like your approach about education. ‘Cause before we can move people to action, to become advocates for race equality and diversity and inclusion, first of all, people need to be aware, and then once they have awareness, they need to be interested in it.

Alfred Nelson: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: And then they have to have a desire to want to change things. So you have to move, take people on the journey of awareness, interest, desire, and then action. So the work that you do up front around raising awareness and educating people is really, really important because without that, we won’t see action. I suppose, having run those events, what would you say is your proudest outcome that came off the back of that?

Alfred Nelson: The feedback. I got feedback from all levels of the organization. And that’s from somebody that just does admin part-time, to directors of the organization reaching out and telling me that they’ve learned something. Telling me, the contents that I put out… And it wasn’t just me, I had a few handfuls of people that went out of their comfort zone and supported me to proofread, to write up articles about people. And for us to put in all of that work and to just get an email back saying that “You’ve changed my life. You’ve changed my thought process. You’ve changed the way… My outlook on these issues.” We got so much, I still haven’t responded to everyone [laughter] wherein they sent through things because that’s how much feedback I had.

Alfred Nelson: But it does make a difference. And it makes you realize that is the ball that needed to be rolled in some people’s lives. Some people look at it and think, “Oh, it’s just another email from EDI. Just another event about EDI. I don’t really care. It gets shoved down my throat way too much.” And they’ll never look and be interested. But some people… It could have sparked your interest, it could have been about a musician, a politician, about somebody who did something for women, something for whatever it was, whatever it is that triggers you. Getting that ball rolling is the key. And if we can get people thinking about it and learning, and I think you… I couldn’t have put it better than you just did. When you explained about that education process. So yeah, little bits of feedback were the proudest moments.

Toby Mildon: That’s really cool. And just… I suppose piggybacking on what you said with moving people to change as well. We know that whenever you want to get people on board… People come on board at different stages. You’re gonna have a number of people who are really eager. They’re on board. They’re chomping at the bit to get going. They are your early adopters that becomes a tipping point where you start to then bring other people on board. But there’s always this tail at the end, the people that are hard to convince, and they’re the ones that are sat there in the meeting, crossing their eyes, rolling… Sorry, crossing their arms, rolling their eyes going, “Oh, here it goes. Another woke email from the HR department. We all get that.”

Alfred Nelson: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: But I suppose it’s about collectively moving society or organizations in the right direction. And organizations are just a mirror image of society, or they should be. An organization should mirror the diversity of the society in which it’s based in. So, you’ve done a lot over the years. Obviously, you’ve got your kind of core professional experience working with members of society, helping to reduce inequalities. You also chair the Embrace network. So what have you learnt in particular about implementing sustainable change or systemic change in the work that you’ve done?

Alfred Nelson: This is difficult because really and truly, the work hasn’t been done. We don’t live in a fair society. We don’t live in an equal society. I learned that at a very young age. I mentioned my experience moving to Norwich. But what really got me fighting for people is when I moved back to London, I saw inequality. I realized that, me going to posh school in Norwich and moving back to London, the kids in inner-city London had not learned the same things that I had. I was quickly moved up a year. And if people from my high school thought, “Oh, Alfred Nelson moved up a year”, they would have thought, “No.” They used to think I was just a basketball player and that’s all that I was going to do. But no, in London, I was the intelligent kid, having intellectual conversations with tutors [chuckle] “Oh, let’s move him up a year.” So then I realized that something’s not quite right here. And then you start to see that age group and think, “Well, I’m never going to fit into society, so I’ll just go down the other route.” And that’s when I started doing youth work and speaking to young people about “You’ve got more than an option.” Just because you’ve not learned something it doesn’t mean that that route is shut off. So me being a 16-year-old kid, I won’t say my age, but I’m in my thirties, deep thirties now. So… [laughter]

Alfred Nelson: In all those years, not much has changed. We had George Floyd and everyone spoke about it, and everyone brought it to the surface again, but the same problems were happening 10, 15, 20 years ago. And a few years after the George Floyd thing, the same problems are still happening. So what I’ve learned is that we have to make dents into these problems. We’re not gonna just say, “Yay, We’ve had a chat. It’s all fixed now. We have sorted it.” And why I want us to get away from in society is the shock. They love to talk about some racist football fans that were doing monkey chants or throwing something at Black players. “Oh, wow, we’re so shocked.” Don’t be shocked. It’s not a surprise. I’m not surprised, the footballers aren’t surprised, and so on and so forth. So let’s get away from the shock. Let’s look at making real change. Let’s look at organizations and society becoming a fairer and more equal place because right now, it does not exist.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Alfred Nelson: If we look at our organization or any other organization, you would struggle to find one that reflects society. And does that mean that we are not to equal as human beings in terms of abilities? I doubt it. If we look into the figures, it’s actually very, very much the opposite.

Alfred Nelson: So why is it? We have to ask ourselves the honest question, why are we not a fair and equal society? And what’re we gonna do to change it? And I guess people like yourself are part of it, a part of starting that ball rolling or starting that dent. But we’ve got to keep making dents, [chuckle] because we love to celebrate small victories of, “we’ve spoken about this” or “this person got canceled.” [chuckle] One person being canceled off Twitter for a week or a month, that’s not a victory, we’ve still got the same problems that we had 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. And if you look at the differences, it’s tiny. And systemically, if anything, it’s become worse. [chuckle] Because it’s not the shouting abuse down the road and say, “Oh, it’s just one ignorant person shouting abuse.” Systemically, we have deep problems that we really need to work on. And yeah, that’s the aim, that’s the lesson. The lesson is though it’s not changed. Conversation, education, and being open and having that awareness, the self-awareness is key. Self-awareness of, “This is my organization, and it does not reflect society, why? Let’s look into why and lets put in changes and lets make a difference.”

Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yes. It’s funny you should say that ’cause I get my clients to think about the why. I don’t know if you’ve come across Simon Sinek’s book, Start With The Why, which is really good.

Alfred Nelson: Yeah. Yes.

Toby Mildon: And one of the first things I do with my clients is basically do a survey to find out how diverse their workforce is, and then compare that to the area where they get their talent from. So obviously you and I are in Manchester. So if this was a Manchester organization, which is a fairly diverse city, it would be like, well, “Does this organization reflect that diversity of the Manchester area?” And actually that’s really eye-opening, just having that and then saying, “Well, why is that happening? You know, who is not getting through the doors of the business, or who’s getting through and then leaving again, ’cause they don’t feel like they belong here?”

Alfred Nelson: That is the key. Is the environment a friendly and conducive environment for somebody from a different background? And that’s one of the questions I ask on a weekly basis, whether that’s an employee or a service user that’s coming in for support. We have to ensure that that environment is a positive one, and unfortunately, if society is not, we have to try and go against the grain of society to make sure that as an organization we are.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, brilliant. Before you go, I ask everybody this question, what does inclusive growth mean to you?

Alfred Nelson: [chuckle] Again, another difficult one because with our speaking about the reality and then speaking about inclusive growth, I guess for me we have to grow as a society towards equality. And that is not the job of a Black person or a disabled person or a woman. We do not want to be a society where we say, women are not being treated the same as men so we have to make women more like men. Or Black people are, [chuckle] not being treated equally. Okay, well, Alfred Nelson is a very White name, well, we’ll interview him and he’ll be our token person.

Toby Mildon: Exactly. [chuckle]

Alfred Nelson: And I’ve had this all my life. I walk into a job interview and they say, “Oh, we weren’t expecting.” And then they don’t know what to say, and it’s that awkward moment. And I’m like, “I know. Yes, my name [0:30:16.5] __.” Oh yeah. So for me, we have to aim to become a better society that removes some of these society problems.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yeah, and what does a better society look like for you, or mean to you?

Alfred Nelson: There are no ideals, but it is not what we have right now.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Alfred Nelson: And anyone that’s ever been discriminated against, anyone that sees inequality would know that this isn’t the picture that we’re aiming for. If we started a little thousand person community and we said, “Okay, what are the basis of what we want this community to look like.” Unfortunately, it wouldn’t look like this. And I don’t know whether you wanna call it a hierarchy, whether you wanna call it a supremacy, or whatever we want to call it, and that has been ingrained in our system, in our lives, in this country’s history for years. So open, honest discussion and taking away and realizing that these problems are there, that’s the key. That’s the key. There is no quick fix.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, it takes a long time and but we still believe.

Alfred Nelson: Yeah, we’re trying to undo centuries of things that have been ingrained into what we believe and what we see as right and wrong and good and bad.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, thanks for sharing that and thankfully you and I are on the case, so…

Alfred Nelson: We need more, we need more people like yourselves to speak up, more people like yourselves to push us to get… To tiptoe closer to equality.

Toby Mildon: Fantastic. Well, Alfred before you go, if the person listening to us right now wants to get in touch with you and discuss what we’ve talked about with you directly, how should they do that?

Alfred Nelson: Yes, please get in touch. Reach out to me on LinkedIn, Alfred Nelson. You can find me on there. If you have any sort of project that you want support with, you want to be promoted, or you want me to get involved in, I’d love to. Anything to do with young people, inequality, racial inequality. Yeah, give me a shout, find me, message me, Link-in with me, and again, the more good people we have, the more people that we have that wanna have open discussions and want to make change, the sooner we’re gonna make more dents.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So, yeah, so obviously get in touch with Alfred on LinkedIn. If you also want to learn more about the Growth Company, I would recommend going on their website, which is growthco.uk, and there’s no dot between the growth and the co. It’s a bit of a strange one, but it’s growthco.uk. So Alfred thank you ever so much for joining me.

Alfred Nelson: Thank you so much for having me, Toby. It’s been a pleasure.

Toby Mildon: Lovely to catch up with you. Good luck with your work that you’re doing. Keep on doing the good work. And I’ll catch up with you soon. And thank you for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. Hopefully, you enjoyed my conversation today with Nelson. As I said, please do reach out to Nelson on LinkedIn, also look at the Growth Company website if you’re interested in what they do as well. So thanks ever so much, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, which should be coming up shortly. Thanks very much.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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