#SalutingOurSisters: Tricia Pereira, shares her career story this Black History Month
29 Sep 2023
7 min read
- Culture and diversity
- Good news story
- Skills for Care
October is Black History Month, and this year’s focus is on #SalutingOurSisters – celebrating the achievements of Black women. In honour of this, we’re dedicating our #GoodNewsFriday in October to sharing the stories of Black women working in social care. This week we hear from Tricia Pereira, Director of National Workforce Development Operations at Skills for Care.
Thinking about the theme of Black History Month 2023 and my own leadership journey, I’m reminded that I’m standing on the shoulders and greatness of Black women who arrived before me, some of whom I drew on for support and inspiration throughout my career.
This is an opportunity to give a shout-out to some of those Black women who have helped and supported both my career journey and my life journey, whether they know it or not. Some I have met and some I have never.
Many care workers work alone in our communities. Did you know that a Black woman, Marie Van Brittan Brown1, invented the first CCTV security system which paved the way for the modern home security systems used today? Marie was a nurse working shifts and recognised the need for better security.
As we're reflecting on career and life journeys are you aware that a Black mathematician, Gladys West2, is credited as instrumental in the development of techniques for detecting satellite positions with the precision needed for GPS. Her work went on to become the foundation for GPS, the groundwork for the satellite navigation system we use every day.
Black women are innovative and played a significant role in the Race to Space. My mother, sister and I watched one of my favourite films “Hidden Figures” together. We laughed and cried and nodded our heads in acknowledgement at the challenges that the Black women on the screen overcame, but their achievements remained unrecognised which isn’t uncommon. Opportunities to aspire, innovation and space should know no boundaries and in August two women from Antigua, Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, became the first mother and daughter and the first people from the Caribbean, to travel to space when they won a competition to join Virgin Galactic 02, commercial spaceflight. Their achievement is breathtaking, it may be now one small step for a man, but it’s still a giant leap for many of us.
My mother, who is one of my biggest inspirations, took her small step and came to England from Montserrat, via Antigua, to work in the UK as a psychiatric nurse. With my father, she created a childcare ‘tag-team’. She worked the night shift, and he worked days, to raise us four wonderful children, as she challenged the countless incidents of racism, discrimination and unfairness in the NHS.
I am so fortunate to have been surrounded by (often unrecognised) successful Black women including my spiritual godmothers Agnes Nesbitt and Linda Herbert Shaw. Agnes Nesbitt was a midwife and the first Black Nursing Officer in Leicester. She was instrumental in introducing the ‘born whilst sleeping’ programme, for mothers who lost babies during childbirth, at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. The program also provided resources for the mothers to know where their babies were buried. Linda Herbert Shaw was the first African Caribbean woman to be appointed as a magistrate in Leicestershire in 1982. In 1986 she was also the first African Caribbean woman to serve on the lord chancellor’s advisory, involved in the recruitment and selection process of other Magistrates.
Having these women in my life as a child was amazing, they showed me that although there would be lots of small steps, giant leaps and mountains to climb, I could achieve success in life.
Before going to university and becoming a social worker, my social care career started as a carer in a 40-bed residential care home for older people. My teammate and I worked the 5pm-10pm shift, with the duty manager. Just two carers, I loved the job. I enjoyed working with the people so much, that I used to volunteer on my days off and take people out in a wheelchair to the local shops so that they could have some normalcy. During university, I worked as a personal assistant supporting people in their homes. I qualified as a social worker, working with Deaf or Deafblind children and adults. The best thing about sensory social work is the breadth - working in child protection, mental health, learning disability, dementia, end of life care; covering all areas of practice as long as the person was a Deaf or Deafblind sign language user.
Working alongside the other Black women in this series of blogs has also been a source of inspiration. Grace Salmon, who I met when I was a newly qualified social worker, was one of the first Black women registered managers that I encountered. I was developing a centre for independent living in the ground floor of the care home, when Grace gave me a pep talk about thinking big and having ambition. She probably didn’t realise, that as one of the first few local authority specialist social workers with Deafblind people, that pep talk spurred me and my colleague on to develop an inhouse Guide Communicator service which was cited by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) as a best practice site. This still fills me with pride.
As my career developed, I became a practice educator, supporting and assessing Deaf and hearing social work students on placement. As a social worker, I’ve worked in prisons and in parks, as a team manager and a head of service and every role in between.
I’ve often found myself in opportunities to be at the forefront of actioning change and making a difference. I don’t often talk about my successes or achievements but for this blog I was asked to share some, so here we go….
I was in cohort one of the Principal Social Worker Leadership Programme run by Skills for Care. My leadership Impact project was on increasing diversity in Social Care Leadership and I developed a Women in Social Work and Academia leadership programme which I delivered across South East London. At each session, I invited a different female Director of Children or Adults Social Care to share their own leadership journey to inspire the women in the room and we all worked through the leadership programme I devised. My first session, held on an International Woman’s day, attracted around 14 people. At my last session Professor Claudia Bernard and Lyn Romeo, the Chief Social Worker, presented to over 70 women. Some of whom have gone on to become directors and principal social workers themselves.
I was the first Black Chair of the Principal Social Workers Network in England and at my first ADASS spring conference, I challenged all the directors present to extend ADASS membership to principal social workers, which I’m pleased to say, they did.
I also deputised for the Chief Social Worker at various DHSC initiatives including The Quality Matters Board with the then Care Minister, Caroline Dinenage MP.
Remembering Grace’s words about thinking big propelled me to speak out during the pandemic, championing social work and social care when it felt that our efforts were not being recognised. This led to me being invited to chair a DHSC COVID-19 Task Force advisory group and it was then that I met Geraldine McMurdy, who along with other advisory group members, inspired me to raise our social care voices even louder and to invite ministers including Jeremy Hunt, Helen Whately and Kemi Badenoch, to meet directly with us, and amazingly they did, on several occasions.
At my first Women in Leadership session, I spoke about a Black woman Director of Adult Social Services, Beverley Tarka, whom at the time, I had never met. We finally met and she has been such a fantastic inspiration and source of support to me. At the start of my career, in 2001 Daphne Obang made history by becoming the first Black female director of social services and housing, and I’m blown away that 22 years later, Beverley is now the first Black President of ADASS.
Progress starts with action whether it is small steps or giant leaps, but often it’s people who keep on doing what they’re doing and who don’t necessarily realise the difference they’re making. Gladys West said, looking back, “I just thought it was my work, and we’d never talk to our friends about work. I just never thought about it. I didn’t brag about what I was working on,”. Looking back, writing this blog, these are just a few of the things I’ve achieved. Like West, I’ve just got on with doing my job, I never really stopped to appreciate it, whether it’s supporting someone at the end of their life or providing impromptu sign language support in the House of Commons, I’ve had an amazing time so far.
Finally, during Black History Month, I want to give a shout-out to all the Black and brown women in Skills for Care and our Race Equity Reference Group who I’m so proud to work with and are “doing what they’re doing” in their own way to progress change.
When women come together, to authentically support each other we are amazing, when Black women come together, in the words of the poet Maya Angelou, we are Phenomenal.
Visit our Black History Month webpage to find a range of resources to support you and your teams in achieving equality, diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
1 Awis: Marie Van Brittan Brown
2 The Guardian: Gladys West the hidden figure who helped invent GPS
Print this page