In the very first of our Black History Month spotlight series, we interview Melanie Eusebe MBE, chair and co-founder of the Black British Business Awards (BBBAwards), I&D Lead for Accenture Europe and UK, and esteemed entrepreneur and author. During our conversation, we go back in time to the very beginning of the BBBAward’s conception, as well as looking into the future to get a sneak peek into Melanie’s bustling 2022 pipeline. We also tap into Melanie’s perception of how attitudes in the I&D space have evolved over the past decade, and find out how her own personal experiences motivate and steer her work.
Tell us more about how you came to start the Black British Business Awards…
Melanie: I had been in the diversity inclusion space as an activist, and one of my favourite events was the everywoman awards for entrepreneurship. In terms of hearing the stories and learning about these new role models, it just brought tears to my eyes every single year. I had a friendship with the founders, Maxine (Benson MBE) and Karen (Gill MBE) and one night after the awards, I said “I’d love to have this for black people” and then they said, “well, why don’t you start?”.
I told them I didn’t know how to run awards or start an awards programme and they said, “we do!” – so we joined forces to start the Black British Business Awards. Essentially, they gave me the mentoring and sponsorship to learn about how to start and run a diversity and inclusion awards programme. They opened up their hearts as well as their their black books.
Why do you believe it’s so important for initiatives and celebrations like the BBBAwards to exist?
Melanie: I think there are two things. It’s always, of course, highlighting diverse role models to alleviate the stereotypes that exist. That’s always critical and it’s always been one of the core aims of the awards – and any awards such as these. But I think that in this time, as well, it gives opportunity to allies to get involved and to show their commitment in a new way.
When we founded the Black British Business Awards, part of it was to give allies an opportunity to get involved and be there. So that’s one of the secondary aims. Yes, it’s always about highlighting diverse role models and alleviating stereotypes but also, it gives allies a way to refresh and renew their commitment as well.
As someone held in high esteem by many, can you tell us who your own role model is?
Melanie: For me, I think role models change depending on your own evolution. When I was in financial services, I looked up to some of the amazing women who are running our financial organisations. When I became an entrepreneur, I looked at more entrepreneurial women. At the moment I’m publishing a book, so I’m looking at role models in that space.
Sometimes I feel like, particularly as a woman, we put ourselves in a box and say I’m like this now so I have to be like this tomorrow, and I’ll be like this forever – but my life and my career has changed so much. I also don’t hesitate to look at people who are younger than me as role models. I have a lot to learn from the generation coming up right after me.
How have your own experiences influenced your work in the diversity & inclusion space?
Melanie: My own experiences are part and parcel. The awards came from our lived experiences. I think when I started off in my career, I thought if I work hard, I’ll get ahead. Then you realise that there are rules to the game, and the rules aren’t written down in regards to progression and promotion.
When I started to see that black people and women weren’t getting to the same height as their white male counterparts in the corporate world – and also in regards to my own personal wealth generation – I decided entrepreneurship was the career path for me.
It’s not necessarily only because we want to start our own business either. It’s also because sometimes, working in large organisations be inhospitable to underrepresented groups, that we won’t be able to get as far as our counterparts.
What changes have you seen in attitudes towards black-owned businesses and black entrepreneurs in the past decade?
Melanie: Honestly, it’s been fantastic. Organisations are really starting to look at their supply chain. In my day job as the lead for I&D at Accenture for Europe and the UK, I not only work with organisations in regards to the kind of equitable business and their workforce, but I’m also working with them in regards to their supply chain. How do they diversify their supply chain? How do they engage with more small businesses? How do they engage with women-owned businesses or black-owned businesses? I wasn’t having those kinds of conversations six, seven years ago, so I can see there’s a definite evolution there.
Additionally, there’s also an evolution in I&D in regards to customers as well. We’re not just focusing on how we hire more black people and how we retain and promote women, we’re also thinking about having a diverse customer base as well. The evolution in I&D has been incredible in these last few years because it’s no longer just about hiring and firing – now, it’s about a whole business value chain, like never before.
How have the last 18 months impacted your relationship with the arts?
Melanie: I’ve really reengaged with reading paperback and hardback fiction in a way that saved me because I was able to immerse myself in the stories. I also discovered music in a new, fresh way as well. Consumer arts were such a lifesaver for people who were locked in their houses. In moments like these, of course health services are important but the stuff that made life liveable , locked in our homes, was art and creativity.
Sometimes, you just have to watch a movie or read a book or consume other people’s creativity, just for that human-to-human connection. I think that if people look back on their experience of the last 18 months, they’d find the Creative Industries and the arts were some of the highlights of a really dark year.
What have you got planned for 2022?
Melanie: I have my book coming out on January 22nd – Financial Wellness and How to Find It. That’s my most exciting pivot. I’m also excited about how, out of the ashes of the pandemic, I’ve negotiated with my company that I work six months abroad – so I’m speaking to you right now from Barbados.
I never really knew how I was going to merge the two parts of my life – my life in North America and my life in the UK – and now, all of a sudden, it feels like with like a I’ll be exploring that more fully. I have some other personal family goals and I also have my course that I run every year, my Financial Empowerment course.
I have a busy year ahead but I just didn’t want to look back on my pandemic years and think all I did was stay home. There must be some good that can come from this period of nesting and contracting into our own personal spaces. There’s got to be like a legacy that lives past that.