‘Diversity is about competitiveness. In those places that no one else is going, you’ll find the solutions that no one else is finding’
I was born in Zimbabwe. My parents were pretty comfortable, but when things started to look more politically tense in 2002 they decided to move to the UK because they were concerned about myself and my elder sister. There’s not much explaining when you’re four years old and your parents decide to take you to another country. They just take you.
My first large group of friends in the UK was predominately Asian. I started learning their culture. I learnt how to speak Urdu, I adopted a lot of their customs. I just tried to blend in.
It was in year 7 or 8 that I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I didn’t know anyone who was a lawyer - all the ones I knew were either on TV or in movies. Eventually I decided I wanted to be a commercial lawyer. Solving complex problems for large commercial clients – that’s what I wanted to do.
There are a lot of family responsibilities when you come from a background like mine. You don’t just go to school – you come home and then you look after your little sister so that mum can go to work. Looking back, you think ‘what would have happened if I had got this opportunity? Would I have been a different person? Would I have had more to talk about in an interview if I had played more sports?’ But you move on. I enjoyed looking after my sister. I love her.
I don’t go into interviews looking for a job, I look for an opportunity to offer my services. When you look at it that way a rejection is not necessarily a bad thing – it becomes a redirection to a place where you’re better suited.
I’m learning four languages – Russian, Japanese, Arabic and French. I’m also a photographer, I sing, I play guitar, I play trumpet, I play piano, I play bass, and I produce music.
When it comes to diversity, the question for business is really ‘do you want to be competitive? Because if you do, you’re going to have to find other, better ways of doing the same thing. That might involve innovating, and reaching out to different sources of talent that other people aren’t interested in. And in those places that no one else is going, you’ll find the solutions that no one else is finding.
My biggest driver is discovering all the potential I might have. I want to know all the things I could be, and to know all the different versions of myself. I want to see whether there are any limits to what’s possible for me.
It’s very easy to have a diverse workplace if the recruitment process is welcoming of people from different backgrounds. What kind of questions am I being asked in my interview? And are my answers being screened for where I’m coming from? Is there someone sitting across from me who would understand my accent?
I’d love to work somewhere that respects the fact that the amazing responsibilities and things we do beyond the office define how we are in the office. These things make us the great workers that we are because they shape the way we think.
What would I tell a younger version of myself? Don’t worry as much as you want to worry. Some of those things you can’t control anyway, and worrying about things you can’t control doesn’t give you more control over them. Focus on the things you can change. Get them right, and leave the others to the powers that be.
Rodwell is studying law at university. He is part of the 2017 intake on Freshfields’ Stephen Lawrence Scholarship Scheme. The Scheme seeks to address the disproportionate under-representation of black men from less privileged backgrounds in large commercial law firms and other City careers.