When Kav, a member of bp’s information technology and services team, found out that he’d made this year’s EMpower 100 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders List, he says he was ‘taken aback’ by the news. Once the surprise had passed, though, he knew that this was a special moment. “Being recognized on a list like this for the effort I’ve made to help shift the dial feels like a real achievement,” he says.
Initially postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 EMpower Ethnic Minority Role Model Lists couldn’t come at a more important moment, as racial injustice protests continue around the world. “It’s timely,” says Kav, “not just for highlighting role models, but in opening up what has felt like a taboo subject for so long.”
In fact, says Kav, this is a conversation he’s been preparing for his entire bp career, adding:
Traditional bhangra dancing at PEN's Diwali event in Sunbury
A bp employee has a henna tattoo applied during the Diwali event
Things began to change in 2006, with the formation inside bp of the Positively Ethnic Network (PEN), designed to increase the representation, inclusion and advancement of UK-based ethnic minorities, as well as change the attitudes and language of bp. Kav got involved almost immediately and today is on his second stint as co-chair.
“It’s been a long, sometimes painful journey,” he says. “We’ve had to host a lot of lunch and learn sessions, educate a lot of people and approach senior leaders directly to come along to listen and support. Our new executive sponsor, Simon Hodgkinson, has made a huge difference in the past couple of years.”
That said, Kav is the only one of all previous co-chairs still working at bp, suggesting the organization has some way to go. “I think bp does a lot of good stuff, but there’s always room for improvement,” he says. Which is why Kav was particularly excited to see Bernard Looney’s recent email to all staff on racial injustice.
“I had to read it twice, I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “In the past two weeks since that note, it feels like the whole of bp has become a more open safe space to talk about ethnicity and race. That shift has to come from the top and it’s exciting to see. It’s not just me or others from a BAME background anymore. We’re getting the support and people can see real change happening. It’s been an emotional couple of weeks.”
Spend any time talking to Kav and his passion for this issue is evident. And it’s because he’s faced the very prejudices that he’s spent two decades fighting. Early in his bp career, one senior leader declared surprise at the fact that he “didn’t sound Indian” and it wasn’t the first or last inappropriate remark he heard.