Last week, I went for afternoon tea with nearly one hundred strangers. I was joining Foluke Akinlose MBE at her annual celebration of the best in black, British female talent, the ninth annual Precious Awards and, aside from Foluke herself, I didn’t know a single other person at the event.
However! The room was buzzing, everyone was in celebratory mood, people were genuinely friendly and I learned that, in answer to the oft asked question “What brings you here today?” simply answering “I’m a friend of Foluke’s and I’m here to support her” was a great gate opener and conversation starter.
Foluke believes that “women of colour are virtually invisible in mainstream society today” and she established the Precious Awards in 2007 in order to shine a light onto black womens’ achievements, and to also ensure that women and girls of colour have no ceilings to their ambitions.
The awards are sponsored by Barclays and Credit Suisse and take place over afternoon tea – this year at the Banking Hall in the City of London. The awards themselves – full results are here – covered areas such as women in professional services, women in STEM, women in the creative industries, outstanding social enterprise of the year and outstanding leader. The Precious Man of the Year award, which goes to a public vote, was won by the heart-as-big-as-the-world Solomon Smith of the Brixton Soup Kitchen, a grassroots organisation which provides food and practical resources to the homeless; the Precious Girl of the Year award celebrated two teenage girls who will one day lead the world, at a bare minimum. Congratulations, Lashai and Precious.
My biggest takeaway of the afternoon was the sheer joy that everyone there felt at being amongst their peers. I know from my work in training on bias awareness that we all instinctively feel most comfortable and like ourselves when we are with people like us – whoever and whatever that might be. And many women at the awards told me that, so often, they were not only the only woman but usually too the only PERSON of colour in a meeting or at an event – so their enjoyment at being with their peers (“it’s so fabulous to look around this room and see so many beautiful black faces!”) was a wonderful thing.
My highlights of the day (aside from delicious rare roast beef sandwiches) were meeting, in no particular order:
- Kerrine Bryan: electrical engineer and (genuinely surprised) winner of the Women in STEM award, with which she was presented by MP and Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, Chi Onawurah – herself a former engineer. In addition to holding down a senior level job in the oil and gas industry and visiting schools in her capacity as a STEM ambassador, Kerrine has also “in my spare time” co-authored a children’s book called “My Mummy is an Engineer” and will be releasing the next in the series, “My Mummy is a Plumber” before Christmas. She and Foluke were interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme the day after the awards – if you hurry, you should be able to listen to them speak at the beginning of the broadcast.
- Lashai Ben Salmi, the fifteen year old winner of the Precious Girls Creative Award: and her awesome mother Sabrina; Leshai won the award for her work to stamp out bullying via the use of her self-created book and app and she is also a very accomplished public speaker, who in her spare time is learning Korean. Yes, Korean. (I learned this fact when I asked her where she might like to go to university ..)
- This “spare time” thing was something of a motif of the day, as pre-tea, I got chatting to Claudine Adeyemi, who told me that she was a property disputes solicitor with top firm Mishcon de Reya (“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer from the age of twelve”). A job like that would probably be enough for most people but no – Claudine has also set up the Student Development Company, a non-profit organisation which aims to support, develop and create career opportunities and improve employability for young people. And yes, Claudine was also a winner, taking home the trophy for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
- Finally, the keynote speaker was a woman who announced to the room that she “had a strange passion for tights.” Bianca Miller, one of last year’s Precious winners (and runner up on the 2014 series of The Apprentice) is on the brink of launching her own hosiery business and has come up with such a brilliant idea that I’m sure her new product, Bianca Miller London, will fly off the shelves (I suggested her Christmas marketing slogan should be: “A Pair of Tights in Every Stocking”. You can have that one for free, Bianca). She’s launching a range of tights and hold ups which come in eight different skin tone colours, to match every woman’s idea of “nude”, irrespective of skin colour, and in different sizes too, so that they will fit women sized from 8 to 22. Genius! And I loved Bianca’s comment that “it’s not about tights, it’s about diversity.” Anyway, the hosiery will be launching soon via her website and through a Big Department Store chain – watch this space.
So, that was my experience of the Precious Awards. Uplifting, brilliant, inspirational – and all down to the vision of one fabulous woman, Foluke Akinlose. We salute you. And I can’t wait for next year.