Sandra Pollock OBE on the Queen’s New Year list and diversity in education

Written by Jhilla Khodaie

“It’s shocking, totally unexpected,” Sandra Pollock told LSM, a few weeks after receiving an OBE for her services to equality. As well as being a Leicester alumna, Sandra is an award-winning Leadership and Management Specialist and Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and founder of The Women’s Award, a prestigious multidisciplinary award celebrating the outstanding achievements of women.

She continued to say that “it really makes you step back. We do what we do as we believe ourselves to be right and we’re passionate about it. So that’s all I’ve done. It’s beyond words to try and describe the shock.”

Sandra is talking to me via Zoom. She answers my questions articulately with a certain frankness and is humble about her recent achievement. She radiates enthusiasm and has a laugh that lifts your spirits.

Sandra explains her reasoning behind accepting the OBE, drawing on her identity as a Black woman and her Barbadian ancestry, “In every little way, my ancestors have worked to get me to this position in life. If one of their offspring should get recognition, then I accept it on their behalf.

“It means a lot to me, for recognition that Black people in the world have been and continue to do great things.”

Yet, with the OBE comes a level of responsibility, “Going forward I carry with me this expectation of being a role model. This level of recognition really wakes you up to that. I don’t take this lightly.”

Sandra’s impressive career spans many disciplines and sectors, boasting qualifications in HR, Personnel, Management and Leadership. She’s also achieved Chartered Manager, Chartered Fellow and Fellow of the Institute of Consulting statuses.

Alongside her professional career, education has always remained pivotal to Sandra’s journey: “Education gives you power, it gives you flexibility, it gives you options. I had a mother who worked three jobs. After all of that, she still had a tutor that taught her. So I grew up with that in my psyche.”

One of Sandra’s roles is that of a Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, an essential role in the workplace: “a lot of organisations will say they have a lot of Black staff and they have a lot of women. But what is the prospect of their career journeys? Are there limitations?

“It’s about consciously creating transparency and openness. I coach leaders and I do training on diversity, inclusion and equality. There are organisations that, even today, their board are still white male. Some still don’t include women and still don’t have members of different ethnic groups. But, they still serve a vast number of people from diverse communities.”

As a University of Leicester alumna, Sandra has some thoughts on what universities could be doing to foster a sense of diversity and inclusion:

“Some universities are [taking steps], in that they’re supporting the student union, encouraging the formation of different groups within the university and allowing opportunities for all students.

“If I had a criticism, it would be that universities and academia are a whole different world of their own and they don’t look ‘out’.

“There’s a lot of work that academia needs to do to come out of its bubble. I know from speaking to Black women who have achieved their doctorate, they still have race related challenges in academia.”

Sandra also had some practical advice on how students can keep up their motivations during the third COVID lockdown: “I think some of the simplest things can be so beneficial. Go out there and go for a walk, breathe the fresh air at least once a day.”

Given she only graduated from her MA in Creative Writing in 2019, she’s familiar with student life, and knows the importance of balancing work and play:

“Learning to meditate has a powerful effect on reducing the size of our amygdala. Our amygdala is there to protect us, if we feel unsafe it kicks into action, if it feels we are in danger it pumps hormones. We live in a society where we’re not running away from wild animals, but we still feel the stress. You don’t have to meditate for hours, but ten to twenty minutes a day to help calm yourself.

“Talk to people that love you. During the weekend cook your dinner and have it together with your family over zoom so you’re still getting that regular family input as if you were sitting around the dinner table.

“It’s about bringing back some normalcy into your life as much as possible.”

Jhilla Khodaie is a History & Politics student at the University of Leicester.

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