• Shreya Parekh

The story of why I started DiveIn Network

Growing up I was lucky not to be exposed to racist commentary from my parents and friends and lucky that I didn't experience any direct racism at school or work. It certainly happened and still does, but I was lucky enough to avoid receiving any racist comments directly, although it might have been muttered behind my back.

Life at secondary school during the tail end of the '80s and '90s was great, I had a great group of friends who were all from mixed backgrounds and some continue to this day. But for some reason, when I started college at sixteen, it was different. Hardly anyone mixed with people from other backgrounds, most formed friendships with people that were the same race as them. So, I was stuck when I entered the canteen, my groups of friends were Indian, black African, Iranian and white so I had no idea where to sit. I/we usually ended up moving from group to group or formed our own.

Eventually, when I started university, I thought things might be different, but it wasn't, everyone still hung around with people from the same race. Again, my friendships were varied, and when I started my first course in Software Engineering, I was one of maybe four women in the classes, so most of the people I hung around with were men and they were mainly South Asian or Arab. I then swapped my course to Business Information Technology, where there were slightly more women.

I carried on with mixing with everyone I liked and formed friendships with some great people. At this stage, I didn't question anything and continued with meeting people I liked and going to the places I was a minority and not giving a shit about what people thought, and yes, I got stared at a lot, but I just didn't care.

It wasn't until I finished university that I realised the issue was very real. When I looked around me, there were hardly any women in tech especially none that were black and South/East Asian, there were a few South Asian's but they had arrived from India to work here on specific short-term projects. I carried on and worked my way up to management being the only woman and Indian at the table. In hindsight - I don't know why I didn't question this and try to do something about it, I was always standing up to things that weren't right, my friend even recalls me attending an anti-racist rally in my teens, but I have no recollection of that (older age memory loss!). Perhaps I was too absorbed in making sure I didn't say and do the wrong thing and ruin my chances of climbing the ladder - I guess I needed to get to where I wanted to take my mum, gran & me to a better place financially, and I'm pretty sure if I said something - I doubt I would have lasted at any company.

Eventually, I moved roles and projects, and worked at many client sites - I saw and met a lot more people from under-represented backgrounds, but hardly enough. One thing I always noticed, was there weren't any black representation in management or leadership positions and hardly any at my level either. I even started to look at the internal directory to see if I could find any, but from memory, I don't think I did.

When I left work to spend more time with my children, I used my redundancy money to launch a tech start-up - and guess what? The same thing, I was the only Indian woman in my thirties at most tech conferences and tech start-up spaces, mainly silicon roundabout near Angel. I hardly saw any other under-represented people and if I did, they were much younger than me, so I was navigating being a woman, Indian and older! Anyway, I did what I always do and carried on and always knew that I have every right to be wherever I want and fit in. I joined a lot of communities for women (Asian, black & mixed).

Eventually, this led me to create DiveIn.Network - Why? Because when I look around, I still see everyone pushing through and struggling for their rights in their groups, just like it was when I was at college. Outside the canteen or lecture theatre, these groups are great, because they contribute to providing safe spaces, familiarity, respect, confidence and the list goes on for individuals. But one thing I love to do and think is extremely important, especially in the drive to increase our understanding of intersectionality, diversity and inclusion, is to bring people together. Ultimately, these groups and the people who are under-represented and represented should come together to listen, learn, support, create opportunities and collaborate. When we come together, we can expand our knowledge and understanding of one another, hopefully leading to bring about change in our negative views and always try to think with a diversity and inclusion lens in the workplace...a lot quicker.

We're all going to meet each other at work, on the street, in the supermarket...wherever, so we should be crossing paths and learning about each other to create a more understanding, kind and empathetic working and personal environment. Ideally, this needs to start with primary school-age children, but that would be a different type of DiveIn Network!