Kudzai Zendera CA: ‘I’m proud of my heritage, my uniqueness and my willingness to stand up for what I believe in’
Kudzai Zendera CA discusses racial equality in the workplace and what he is ‘Proud to Be’.
What was life like growing up for you?
I was born and raised in London, but moved to Zimbabwe at the age of 12, along with my two brothers. The move was in part for us to understand the culture and value system of where we originate, but also for us to experience and benefit from the African education system.
I loved every moment of my time there and would characterise my childhood as being a very happy one.
Do you feel people are becoming more comfortable with openly discussing race and calling out bad behaviour?
Ultimately yes, but it’s important to not only frame this within the prism of calling out bad behaviour and negative experiences.
A positive development over the last 2 years has been an increase in how comfortable people feel and the encouragement they receive in normalising workplace discussions relating to race. This has allowed people to share their unique experience which at times may be positive, negative or simply just different.
Achieving racial equality in the workplace goes beyond addressing negative experiences. It also encompasses learning from the positives, recognising where an experience is different and tailoring the organisation's response and culture accordingly. It’ll take time, but the first step is allowing people to have their perspective heard.
As a black man working in a predominately white environment, have you had to make considerations when it comes to promoting yourself that is unique to you being black?
I think it’s common for people to assess how reflective their workplace is of their own representation.
Earlier in my career, I was more prone to adapting my persona in order to fit in or make others feel more comfortable e.g. changing how I styled my hair (when I still had some), shortening my name to make it easier for people to pronounce, not always correcting people when they got my name wrong, allowing certain comments to slide etc.
At that time, my personal experience within the workplace was that homogeneity was valued more than diversity, so attempting to conform became the norm. Now, I prefer to showcase my diversity as a strength and use it as an opportunity to project the best version of myself and deliver value to the organisation.
Research by the FT into black employees working in the finance sector reports that this is the only racial demographic where the share of those occupying senior roles fell. What do you think leaders can be doing to ensure black people are occupying those roles and have representation across the c-suite?
The roles should be occupied by the best person for the job, irrespective of their race, but what organisations need to do is ensure they have created a culture where black talent is recognised, valued, developed and progressed.
The lack of black representation goes beyond the c-suite, but it is most magnified at that level. Organisations should decide whether they view a lack of black senior representation as a problem and whether it is a problem they are committed to fixing.
Organisations should analyse the status quo, understand why black people are not being attracted to, or progressed through the organisation and commit to addressing the problem strategically. Finally, there needs to be responsibility and accountability for delivering against the agreed target-state. There’s more organisations can do, but this would be where I’d start.
Are you able to share some details about some of the roles you hold related to race and ED&I?
I am a committee member for ONE UK, which is the Employee Resource Group focussed on racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion within the UK office of Standard Chartered Bank. Our work is varied and includes observing and celebrating various cultural events, working with our HR Early Careers function to help to attract diverse talent into the organisation, providing mentoring services for our membership and providing a platform through which different ethnicities can share their unique experiences.
Last year, we founded the celebration of Black History Month within the UK Bank which we have continued to observe this year and we’ve engaged staff of all levels, including or Global CEO who has directly supported and participated in our events. I am proud of the work we do and the engagement we have received, which was recognised this year when ONE UK was the recipient of a global recognition award from the Chairman of the bank.
This year the theme for Black History Month is ‘Proud to Be’. What is it that you are ‘Proud to Be’?
I’m proud to be me. I’m proud to be a husband, father, son, brother, family member and friend. I’m proud of my heritage, my uniqueness and my willingness to stand up for what I believe in. I’m proud to be surrounded by people that love me and I’m proud to love them back.
Get in touch if you would like to share your story and join the conversation on social media with #UniquePerspectives.
For more information about mental wellbeing, visit the Wellbeing Matters section of the website.