Namita Patel had always had a passion for community work – whether that be through her work as the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Manager at Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) or through advocating for equal rights for minority groups.
Here we ask Namita a series of questions about International Women’s Day, her role at LFRS and raising her two sons.
What does International Women’s Day (IWD) mean to you and why is it important for you to show your support?
We all have a role to play in making society more equal but as a single Asian parent, IWD gives me the vital opportunity to inspire, support, encourage and most importantly empower other women to call out gender bias and inequality.
The Covid-19 pandemic could put gender equality back by years as a result of women significantly taking on more domestic chores and family care responsibilities and so it’s important for me to show support for IWD for this very reason.
When I took on the role of EDI Manager, I discovered I was one of seven employees who was female and in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) group. At the Fire Service, I work in a predominately male dominated environment but what I do know is that I have a voice, I’m not afraid to use it and it is being heard.
I am fortunate enough that throughout my career I have not been disadvantaged by my gender or ethnicity unlike many others, so I understand the importance of using my position and my voice to speak up for what’s right and challenge inequality to be taken seriously.
I want to enhance visibility of women in the Fire Service and establish more equal and sustainable working practises at all levels so we can access the same opportunities and benefits as men.
What’s something you’ve learnt in your role as EDI Manager?
Every day is a learning day! I may be an expert of the Equality Act 2010, but we can all be experts on legislation and we all have a part to play in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
We hear the phrase ‘We live in the most multi-cultural city there is in the country’, however how much of that city and its people do we know and understand? The answer is likely to be very little and that includes me too. My role challenges me to go and find out more about what is important to the minority ethnic groups and understand their customs and culture. I can’t wait to be able to revisit some of the communities we have been engaging with throughout lockdown when we are able to and learn more about how we as a Service can support them.
I would say my biggest learning has been about unconscious bias. What is unconscious bias? It is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favour of or against one thing, person, or group usually in a manner which is considered unfair. Deliberate prejudices are defined as conscious bias.
We all have unconscious bias and I can put my hand up and say just because I’m the EDI Manager I’m no exception. I did it myself last week when I was told my child was receiving a certificate in assembly. I logged on to the online assembly as the boy I thought would be receiving the certificate to realise it was indeed his brother instead! I had already unconsciously decided in selecting between my children who I thought it was likely to be but I was wrong.
How do you find juggling your career with being a mum?
I have two monsters, I mean boys at home. Shiv and Krish are soon to be six years old and are twins so double the trouble, double the joy and all the other sayings that go with having twins.
I would say my greatest skill at home is being a multitasker – if it’s not Shiv then it’s Krish that is causing some mayhem. There never seems to be a let up and I’m told it gets easier as they get older but we’re not there yet. They are two very lively and energetic boys who of course have a lot of love for each other and a strong bond but equally love a good wrestling match and a fall out.
They are chalk and cheese. Shiv has a creative flare, can name all of the wrestlers and is excellent at Lego building, whilst Krish has a keen interest in cooking, experiments, gardening and could spend hours colouring and writing. I’ve been told I run a tight ship at home and I have to otherwise we would never make it out of the house to school or work on time.
I batch cook for the week so I don’t need to spend time after a long day at work cooking and I can have more time with the boys playing. We have structure and routine so we all know where we are and this helps me with a work/life balance.
What’s something you hope your children learn from you?
It’s important to me to instil the values that I was raised with and pass them onto my children. Both my parents took an active role in working and bringing up my brother, sister and I. Traditionally it may be considered in my culture that a woman’s role was to stay at home and raise their children whereas my mother worked and both my parents had an equal role – my father may be just as good a cook as my mother!
When the boys were younger, I brought them a toy pushchair and a pink baby doll. Some family members and friends though it was bizarre – why am I not encouraging them to play with cars and trucks instead?
I didn’t really understand the problem – how else do we teach boys to be kind, caring and compassionate? Are these only values for girls? Why do we stereotype boys and girls toys? I am proud that the boys can say their favourite colour is pink and the colour is not just for girls!
Already I hear, ‘Mummy you can’t play football’ or ‘This is for boys only’ and it’s important for me to show them that this stereotype is not true. When lockdown is lifted, they will continue their gymnastic classes. They are the only boys in their class and are confident and proud of their badges to date however when they are faced with the negativity that ‘gymnastics is for girls’, I am quick to follow up on this with a positive influence by showing them videos of Louis Smith and Max Whitlock at the Olympics and how they are positive role models to boys like them, which boosts their confidence further.
They attend a Church of England school and are the only Indian’s in their year so it’s important for me to encourage the celebrations such as Christmas and Easter with them and make sure they feel included as they are in the minority group. I want them to be proud to say they are Hindu and equally talk about what this means for them and us as a family, but to also respect and embrace all religions and festivities.
Do you have a favourite saying relating to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion?
Let’s get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations!
Notes to Editors:
Interviews can be arranged through prior arrangement with Corporate Communications on the details below.
About the Service
Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service provides emergency response, prevention and protection services from 20 stations across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Its headquarters is based in Birstall, Leicester.
During 2019/20, we attended a total of 8,541 emergency incidents, including 2,079 fires and 748 road traffic collisions. A total of 7,274 Home Safety Checks were completed and we fitted 4,720 smoke alarms. 305 schools were visited as part of the Service’s schools programme, delivering fire and road safety education to 26,218 pupils. Staff organised or took part in 1,218 community safety activities, totalling over 11,000 hours of time engaging with members of the public.
The Service’s prevention, education, enforcement and inspection programmes have resulted in significant reductions in the number of incidents. In the last ten years, fire-related incidents have reduced by over 30 percent.
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