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Early Careers Month: The thoughts and reflections of those at the beginning of their career journey Pt 2

We are really happy to be going forward with the Early Careers Month to turn the spotlight on those starting out – the apprentices, the graduates, and the school leavers. It is always a pleasure to see young people bubbling with energy – their passion and their commitment to making an impact is what makes them so special.

At Penna, we don't just celebrate young people – we welcome early careers talent into our family. And so, for early careers month, we speak to Louise Darkwah, our new Diversity and Inclusion Delivery Manager.

Hello Louise, tell us about what you do at Penna, and what you were doing before you joined?

Hello! My name is Louise and I work as the Diversity and Inclusion Delivery Manager at Penna. I’m constantly thinking of new ways to promote diversity in the workplace. On a day-to-day basis, I find myself carrying out audits of websites and job descriptions, analysing data and working on recommendations to make the working world more inclusive for people from underrepresented groups. Being a Black British woman from South London, my journey into this position wasn’t the easiest, smoothest, or most typical, but I’m finally working in a role and company I enjoy.

Before starting at Penna, I worked in a number of retail roles during school and at university. I have a degree in Psychology which I had to move out of London to complete. I believe everyone’s university experience is different and there’s a lot I would change if I had the opportunity to do it again, but it was still one of the most rewarding experiences. During my degree I wasn’t the most proactive student and didn’t have the clearest idea of my next steps which meant that I graduated and had a lot of unanswered questions. Looking back, I wish I had more knowledge and access to early careers services which would have supported me with aligning my skills to roles, something I spent most of my time on during the pandemic. I simultaneously worked at a primary school supporting a child with autism navigate through primary education which was another valuable experience.

It’s a pleasure to have you on-board; your passion for creating an inclusive workplace will add a lot of value to our team at Penna. Can you give us your reflections on beginning a career – for instance, how was your job search?

Applying for roles during the pandemic was really challenging, even though I graduated before it started. I had no intentions of finding a long-term role when I finished university and when I was ready to job hunt, the market was full of graduates in the same position as myself. It was difficult to gauge what employers were looking for especially when I didn’t know anybody that worked in the role or came from a similar educational/work background as I did. It’s so hard to keep motivating yourself but I think that’s the only way to get the position you really want. A friend once said you only need one opportunity to help you get started and that stuck with me.

The pandemic must have been challenging for you, and not finding people who can potentially guide and support you through the process makes it even more disheartening. On a positive note, what’s been exciting and what’s been unexpected about your working life so far?

Being able to manage my own time and work on different projects is one thing about my job that I thoroughly enjoy. I work in a fun team and have met many wonderful people already. My current role is multidimensional, I work with lots of different teams on lots of different things which is something I didn’t expect.

That’s wonderful - we hope that you continue to enjoy your role and its ‘diversity’! What advice would you give to early careers recruiters, from your perspective as a recent candidate?

I’d tell early careers recruiters to be more open about the requirements of their roles and highlight if they are looking for a particular demographic. This can make it a lot easier to decide whether you’d be a good candidate for the role and helps prevent burn out. I also think highlighting company culture is really important, especially if they have talent that has worked in the team for a while - knowing a company is inclusive would always draw me in as an applicant. In addition, I think early careers recruiters need to do more in schools, colleges, and universities to make sure students know what’s available and how they can be involved.

Your feedback is very valuable – employers definitely need to be more open about their work culture, the specifications of their requirements, and their policy on diversity and inclusion. Finally, we’d like to ask, what are your ambitions and hopes for your professional future?

In the future, I’d like to get involved in more internal and external diversity and inclusion events. I’d also like to do more in the community to help underrepresented groups get into the roles they deserve!

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International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition - a discussion with Louise Darkwah, Leah James and Alexis Curtis-Harris

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