Mufseen Miah CA: ‘Every single story brings value to the workplace’
By volunteering as Finance Director of Pride in London, Mufseen Miah CA helps millions fill the streets every year to celebrate diversity. He tells Laurence Eastham how the same spirit can be brought to business.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) is a complex, sometimes messy, topic. It’s a reflection of each of us. No individual is simply one thing or the other, but an evolving collection of characteristics, thoughts and experiences. And it’s that complexity that can sometimes lead to hesitancy. People may fear saying the wrong thing – or not really know if they even belong in the discussion in the first place.
Turn that fear on its head, and instead think about ED&I in terms of how it benefits everyone, recommends Mufseen Miah CA, FP&A Manager at Little Dot Studios and Finance Director at Pride in London. “For those who want to be a better ally to minorities, understand that you have the power to make the change,” he says. “You can affect people’s experience of the workplace and you can ensure the environment is inclusive. ED&I is very much about those who may be seen as the majority.”
To Miah, one of the most powerful tools in this journey is creating and aligning with employee networks. Workers at large firms will be no stranger to such networks, which bring together colleagues of similar identities and backgrounds and which frequently rely on executive sponsorship, itself a sign of the prevailing company culture. But their sheer impact may have gone unsung. Miah credits them with boosting his own confidence.
“When I was first in a corporate workplace, I had a partner and I would always refer to him as they,” he recalls. “I wanted to keep things gender-neutral because I was so worried about the office knowing I was gay. It doesn’t matter how confident you are, sometimes you don’t want to share your personal life because you don’t know how it may affect your prospects for a promotion or your ability to be respected at work.
“Primarily, ED&I networks are there to connect people and create a space for them to speak about the issues they share. Secondly, these networks bring awareness to topics that may otherwise be missed. I’ve been in workplaces with and without networks – they are instrumental in bringing about an inclusive environment. It’s a building block for how office culture is created.”
Reasons to celebrate
Miah’s journey in the corporate world has run alongside rapid change in social attitudes and legislation. It wasn’t long after the passing of the Equality Act 2010, which enshrined the protection of certain characteristics in law, that he moved from his native Brighton to London to begin ICAS training with RSM. Shared parental leave came into effect in 2015, the year that Miah qualified as a CA, and mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap for large organisations followed two years later. Most recently, in late 2020, a court ruling confirmed that the Equality Act also applies to non-binary individuals.
Against this backdrop, Miah became involved with Pride in London, joining as Deputy FD in November 2017 and becoming FD in October 2019. Pride in London, which depends on the work of 200 core volunteers, is no small undertaking. The 2019 parade attracted 1.5 million spectators and cost around £1.3m to run: 48% covered by corporate partnerships, 45% from fundraising and sales, and 7% from the Mayor of London. For Miah, his role is an opportunity to combine his accountancy skills with his conviction in the power of ED&I.
“I joined because I wanted to get involved and apply my skills in an LGBT+ organisation. I feel very fortunate that I can help organise Pride using the skills I’ve acquired in my career,” he explains. “It’s really complex. What people often don’t realise is that, even though Pride is one weekend, it takes an entire year to plan. It’s a non-stop, year-round organisation. And, throughout the year, we also try to hold smaller events to continue to engage with the LGBT+ community in London.”
Naturally, Pride in London is a diverse organisation. A survey of its 1,000 permanent and temporary volunteers found a wide variety of people, with 34% identifying as gay, 21% as heterosexual, 12% as lesbian and 12% as bisexual; and with gender identity, 62% as cisgender, 6% agender and 5% non-binary among others. To Miah, it’s yet further proof of the success and efficiency of inclusive workplaces: “One of the things I love about working with Pride in London is that I get to be in one of the most diverse and inclusive organisations,” he says. “I see the benefits of diversity in how we work with each other and what we deliver.”
It’s a full-circle moment for Miah, who found Pride events to be a much-needed form of self-expression when growing up. “As an LGBT+ person, Pride was always a day when I could be myself without any judgement,” he explains. “When I was a teenager, I put a lot of emphasis on Pride and those celebrations. It’s still the case for a lot of young people, who may feel uncomfortable about who they are, whether it’s at home or the workplace. It gives people the confidence to be themselves.”
Power of words
The evolution of ED&I in recent years has necessitated the adoption of new language, too. The most influential change in our lexicon has likely been the popularisation of the term “intersectionality” to capture the complexity of individual identity. It describes how one’s gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic background, and so on, can overlap, interact and influence any one person’s experience of discrimination. For example, “misogynoir” is the specific prejudice faced by black women, who, US advocacy group Lean In says, are paid 38% less than white men and 21% less than white women.
For Miah, a gay man of colour raised in a Muslim household, understanding how those different aspects of his identity fit together took time. “As both a racial and sexual minority, which interplay with one another, it becomes more of a challenge to understand your identities and who you are in a society which wasn’t built for you,” he says.
“I had a full appreciation for my culture, but when I went to school, I realised I was being treated differently. There was never really any education about how Bangladeshi people arrived in the UK in the 1970s – the story of my parents. I remember being taken out of assembly when hymns were being sung, which made sense, but it didn’t feel like there was a space for children like me.”
It’s here where Miah feels the impact of the new language, such as intersectionality, being deployed during discussions in the workplace. The concept neatly expresses the many different facets in his personal journey – and the use of the term by allies displays their willingness to engage with ED&I at a high level. “Intersectionality may be a new term for some people, but it’s just a tool that allows us to talk about the same topics but with greater nuance,” he explains.
It all loops back to the beginning – engaging with the greatest variety of people as possible. So, how can those seeking to be ED&I allies ensure that they are approaching the subject with the required degree of sensitivity? “For those who find themselves in a majority group, the important thing is not to be defensive,” says Miah. “ED&I isn’t about removing people’s rights, it’s about creating an inclusive space for all people. If we enter those discussions with a defensive mindset, we’re likely to just uphold the status quo.
“Defensiveness affects company growth, too. It’s important to remember that ED&I is not just a bolt-on to a business – it’s integral to investing in how your business is run, and your business will then become a space where people feel truly comfortable at work. Looking at the stats, in companies where diversity is greater, profits are higher. You can’t say no to anything that’s going to increase morale and teamwork.”