With Black History Month underway, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our Black and ethnically diverse team. This year's theme is Saluting our Sisters, and we are shining a spotlight on the incredible contributions made by one of our women Pioneers, Sagal Dualeh.
Phillip Wood, Managing Partner, caught up with Sagal, currently working as Junior Software Developer at Deutsche Bank, to learn about her journey as a Black woman in the tech space and how she is helping actively promote Black History Month at Deutsche Bank.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at Deutsche Bank and how long you have been there?
Good on you. Do you mind telling me a little bit about what you were doing before you came across Albany Beck and Deutsche Bank?
I studied aerospace engineering at Kingston University. After I finished Uni I was looking for graduate jobs. The market was a bit dire. It was difficult for me to find a job because a lot of them want three years of experience or more.
I soon realised that I wasn't really interested in my field of aerospace engineering. I started looking at other options. I came across tech and I have some technical experience from my university course, so I looked into it. I did a few free online courses with Code First Girls and I realised that it was something that I wanted to get into. Coincidentally Anna from Albany Beck reached out to me on LinkedIn and presented this opportunity. It sounded too good to be true, but after a few weeks at Albany Beck, and the structure of the Pioneer programme, I really enjoyed it and I was presented with the lovely opportunity to work at Deutsche Bank.
Brilliant stuff! Moving on to the topic of Black History Month - Saluting our Sisters - let’s start with who has been the biggest female influence in your life so far?
Very cliché answer, but I have to say my mum. I feel like my mum being a first-generation immigrant into the UK, she just paved the way for me in terms of being motivated and always working hard to get what I want in life. She's my biggest inspiration.
Oh, that's great. Good on your Mum! When you heard that the theme for Black History Month is “Saluting our Sisters”, how did that make you feel?
It was excellent to hear. I feel like being a woman in tech is so niche because a lot of the time it is overlooked by men in higher positions as they are viewed as being able to do the job 10 times better than us as they have 10 times more experience than us. So it's nice to get that recognition and acknowledgement.
Do you feel as though there's a difference between being a woman in tech and being a Black woman in tech?
Yes, to an extent, I feel like there is. Being Black in general, it puts you 10 steps behind because I feel like I always have to work 10 times harder to prove myself. And prove that I'm worthy of this position in comparison to my White counterpart. Things like stereotypes and unconscious bias, which people don't necessarily think about, but have in their head immediately from the first time meeting me.
I feel like I had to overturn those stereotypes, and I have to work 10 times harder. However, Deutsche Bank has a great Black community. We have a Black leadership forum where everyone in the company who has a Black ethnic background comes together and we have a lot of events where I can meet people who look the same as me and are in higher positions. They give such great advice and it makes me feel like I can make it. You know, maybe there is some chance for me.
It’s great to hear you are being given that support and safe space to take leadership from people you identify with and want to learn from. How have you actively involved yourself in Black History Month at Deutsche Bank, what have they been doing and what have you been involved in?
This year I decided to help volunteer in all the events across the bank for Black History Month. The first event that we had was with speaker Gillian Joseph from Sky News. She came and did a talk on empowerment. I left the talk and I felt like I could go and achieve anything! We talked with her after and it was lovely to see a Black woman in journalism and her experiences. She spoke a lot about going to Ukraine and how that experience was for a Black woman.
We also did a separate event which was a ‘Hip Hop Turns 50’ quiz which was great. My colleague and I are organising an art event with a Black artist who does a lot of art at Deutsche Bank and we're having a gallery show for their artwork.
That's absolutely fantastic. Have you been actively involving yourself in promoting those events as well?
Yes! I've been helping send all the emails out and spreading the word around the office. A lot of people are very excited because working in the bank, it's very stressful at times, very overwhelming. So not only are you learning more about Black History Month, but also having fun.
From the events you've been to thus far, have you had a good turnout at those events and has there been a diversity of racial backgrounds that have been attending the events?
I feel like in all the events that we've had so far there has been a lot of diversity. In the events we also try to share knowledge and information on Black History Month. At the end of the event, we send out an email with more information so people are aware that it's more than just an event, so it's a learning experience.
What would your advice be to an employer as to how they can empower and support Black women all year round, not just within Black History Month?
That's a very good question. Speaking from personal experience, I feel a little bit shy and uncomfortable going to a senior person and asking for a coffee, or going to my manager and having a normal average conversation with them. It would be great if I could be approached and for senior people to set up a meeting for a little catch up because it's the little things that have an effect on your growth. If someone took the time out and said, Sagal, do you want to go grab a coffee? That would make a difference for sure! To add a bit of context, because we’re already a minority, by being incorporated it makes us feel we are more included. When you are included in certain conversations, certain environments it does something for you mentally. It makes me feel like I am accepted. It definitely then unlocks more of my potential.
Is there a particular person in Deutsche Bank that you look up to as a Black leader? Do they have those role models for you?
There's quite a few Black women who are VPs and in senior positions who are very inspiring. There’s a woman called Joy who is lovely. She's part of the Black Leadership Forum as well, and I've been co-helping her with some events. She's a superstar. I’ve gone to her sometimes, and asked her for some advice. There’s also Lorraine who is a recent grad and just finished her rotation. She’s the person who encouraged me to help join the Black Leadership Forum and volunteer. Even though she's at the beginning of her career, I feel like she is such a hard worker, always putting her best foot forward and pushing me out of my comfort zone.
Is the Bank doing a good job in making these women visible to you and other Black women?
There is a lot of visibility during October because it's Black History Month, however, more could be done during the other 11 months of the year! It is getting better because when I joined, I didn't see it as much. Looking back I could have done more personally to reach out and be more attentive and look out for these forums, these diversity inclusion groups. I feel like just as much as it is the bank's responsibility to present these people, it is my responsibility to look for it.
If you were able to give one piece of advice for other Black women who are reading this and aspiring to be in your position, what would it be?
I struggle a lot with thinking that I am not as good as I am. That comes from a lot of factors in life, however, I realise I need to let go of that as hard as it is. My advice is always to think that you are 10 times better than what you are because more likely than not, you are, but you just don't think you are.
Sagal's story is inspiring. As a Black woman succeeding in tech, she is making positive change and paving the way for others.
At Albany Beck, we are proud to support Sagal and other talented individuals through our Pioneer Programme. We want to empower diverse professionals to achieve their full potential by providing access, mentorship, and development opportunities, and by collaborating with clients like Deutsche Bank, we are driving real progress.
If you want to learn more about improving diversity and inclusion within your organisation, please contact us today.