10L: Nathan Nalla

About Nathan

Hi, I’m Nathan Nalla, founder and director of Be The Riot, supporting organisations to create inclusive workplace culture. I was born and raised in Birmingham by a wonderful Jamaican mother. I’m now living and working in London.

So, what do you do dear?  Describe your work to an elderly relative. 

I help organisations to look after their employees, customers and other stakeholders. Providing education about equality, equity, diversity and inclusion. I also help organisations to develop strategies to ensure the organisation’s culture is one where everyone can thrive and succeed. 

What was your favourite learning experience (Could be work, personal, school…anything is valid)?  What were you trying to do? Why did it work so well for you?

Randomly, I think it was learning about character development in story writing! I studied Film Production and Technology at university. Essentially, the idea was to flesh out as much detail as possible about the characters you’re creating before starting to write the story. From obvious details such as age, gender etc through to their upbringing, their motivations, their fears, to their relationships, their political beliefs and so on. The idea being that as a writer, you move away from the stereotypical caricatures to developing unique characters with a life of their own.

I think this particular learning experience has stayed with me because the professor gave the class a very clear structure to follow, backed up by a handy checklist. I thrive where there is structure to help me make sense of things. This can seem rigid, but it’s more about having a strong foundation. With a clear structure I can add to it, remove bits that don’t quite work for me or tweak it. I’ve put this learning to use in previous work projects, but my career took a different turn! 

I try to do the same with the learning content I create and deliver. Asking myself, how can I put this complex subject into a structure that makes it more digestible for learners? So that outside of this room they can easily apply it. Sometimes it’s in takeaway resources, sometimes it’s in a memorable story or a 3-step process that’s easy to recall.

Thinking more deeply about it, I think it also helped me to develop a more inquisitive approach to people (real people) and become more empathetic. Everyone is complex and has so many things that make them who they are. This is hugely important to recognise in my EDI work.

Enough already…What one thing do you wish people in your industry or profession would stop doing? (What gets your goat?)

People should stop approaching equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) with one-off or short-lived learning interventions. The work of EDI is about culture change, and this means having a long term learning strategy. The challenges that people from underrepresented groups face aren’t unique to one organisation, they’re systemic throughout our society. They aren’t new and unfortunately aren’t going away overnight. Have a long term plan, embed EDI principles into all ways of working and start living with EDI.

Same again please…What has changed for the better in your professional world as a result of COVID working practices? Should it be retained for the future (whenever that might be and whatever it might look like)?

People are much more open to the idea of virtual learning spaces. I don’t think anything can match in-person learning but I do think we’ve started to see new creative approaches to learning. In the virtual sessions I lead, we use interactive shared documents where everyone in the workshop can collaborate, share ideas and most importantly learn! I think we can take these interactive tools much further where the tech isn’t getting in the way but facilitates better learning.

From the good old days…What do you miss most about working life from the pre-COVID world? Do you think it will return?

Something I have missed is making my morning green tea and having a completely random chat with whoever happened to be pouring themself a morning drink too. Those organic moments were lost due to home working which made work become more robotic.

At the time of writing this, at least in my work I’m seeing things return to normality a bit. Those opportunities to build in-person connections with people are coming back.

Theft is the sincerest form of flattery…Which part of which other industry or profession do you think we should learn from and adopt (or just steal)?

I’m thinking we need more of a “disruptive” (to use a very overused word) risk taking culture when approaching EDI. Similar to that of start up culture and agile tech culture. Where you try new things out, pilot them and scale them. This is definitely easier said than done because people are terrified of making mistakes in EDI and understandably so. But I say this because progress isn’t coming quickly enough. Especially for those who aren’t being given opportunities and whose voices aren’t being heard. We need to innovate!

You know who would be great for this…Which famous person (live or historical) do you want to join your team and why?

Can I say Stevie Wonder? I’m not too sure what his role would be beyond being an immense inspiration. Maybe he’d be the Chief Happiness Officer since that’s a legit job role now. I admire him because he’s always used his artistry to speak out about world issues and to centre humanity. “Love’s in need of love today…”

If only I had…What did you learn from your most recent mistake?

I’m naturally a person who likes to think things through. It’s my tendency to take my time, sit still and reflect on different ideas, to map out various scenarios before saying “here’s my answer” or before making a decision. I work with a lot of people who seem to be the opposite to that! They want quick solutions. I recently had a meeting with a potential client, the meeting was already too short for us to cover all bases but hey, we’re all busy right? The meeting felt rushed and I just came away thinking we didn’t get to explore everything we needed to. We didn’t pause to think before speaking. We jumped from one agenda point to the next. Following the meeting, there was a lot of emailing back and forth which I’m sure could have been cut out if we just dedicated the time needed in the beginning. This was my mistake. It’s not a style of working that works for me. So next time, I’ll be intentional about slowing things down and carving out time, regardless of the other person’s desire to race through it.

There can be only one…Which one tool or piece of kit would you keep if you could only use one from now on?

This is going to be very dry, but I live by Google drive and all the tools within it. Shared documents, sheets, slides and keep notes. I use Keep notes for everything. It’s my notepad in my phone, on my laptop, on my tablet, my thoughts and ideas are written down everywhere I go.

The picture of success…Which image or picture is a good representation of how you would like to develop your practice over the next five years?

Collaborative, fun and with a sense of pride.

Where can we find you?

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