How This DEI Leader and Animal Advocate is Pushing for Real Change in the Workplace
Saheema Rawat was only a child when she became aware of how people who look like her were treated differently. “Growing up as an Asian Muslim in one of the poorest parts of East London, I experienced many great moments during my childhood but also many challenges,” she says. “There were times when my loved ones and I experienced discrimination and prejudice. Even as a child, I knew this type of behavior was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do about it.”
Her experience inspired her to dedicate her life to pushing back against systemic racism, first in the public sector as a lawyer and policy advisor for the UK Ministry of Justice and then in the private sector as a diversity, equity, and inclusion expert.
“I saw how I could effect change through my work and leverage my voice and the voices of others from historically excluded backgrounds and identities,” says Rawat, who is now the Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity at Banfield Pet Hospital, a general veterinary practice with more than 1,000 hospitals nationwide.
Here, Rawat talks about what she hopes to accomplish in her new role at Banfield, how being a “quiet rebel” helped her get to where she is today, and the music she can’t stop listening to.
After working in various industries—including education, finance, and nonprofits—what attracted you to join Banfield Pet Hospital?
I’ve worked in the equity, inclusion, and diversity (EI&D) field for more than 20 years, I have been an animal advocate most of my life. (We share our house with six cats, regularly foster from shelters, and volunteer at animal welfare organizations.) When I came across the job opening at Banfield, I saw it as an exciting opportunity to bring together these two interests. Everyone here is so supportive and passionate about working together to further EI&D not just within Banfield and our profession, but also to better recognize and meet the needs of the increasingly diverse population of pet owners. Our clients come from different backgrounds, identities, and lived experiences, and with this there is a growing need for equitable and culturally competent care.
What are the core responsibilities of your role?
I am here to help develop a clear vision and roadmap to further our EI&D efforts for our associates, clients, and the profession—all in service of our purpose: A Better World for Pets. This includes continuing to foster an inclusive and equitable culture where every associate—particularly those from historically excluded backgrounds—feels that they belong and can be themselves, so that they are equipped to do their best work for our clients and their pets.
We know that a strategy is only as good as its implementation. So, what are some ways we are going to make this happen? We will continue to make improvements and build our EI&D muscle and standards so people know why it matters at Banfield; provide associates the support and tools they need to be their authentic selves and thrive in their roles and careers; and measure our success so we can see how far along we are in our journey, and what our next steps should be.
What are some of your goals for EI&D at the company?
We have a number of exciting short- and long-term goals. For example, we are partnering with our talent acquisition and talent teams to make sure that EI&D is at the core of our processes and practices. We’re moving away from the generic, lengthy EI&D trainings and instead focus on making learning more engaging, meet associates where they are, and ensure that content is role-specific, so they can easily apply it to their work and contribute to our EI&D journey. We also plan to revamp our Diversity Resource Group (DRG) program with additional support at the organizational level so that our DRGs can focus on their members, help us elevate and center our associates’ voices—especially those in our hospitals—and build community, allyship, and a true culture of belonging.
In what ways do you hope to improve or change the employee experience around EI&D at Banfield?
Do you know that feeling of waking up and thinking, “Great! I get to go to work today!”? To me, this is an outcome of having a culture of belonging, where every associate feels that they have a voice at work, are supported by their managers and peers, are recognized and rewarded for what they do, and that they have the tools to grow their careers at Banfield. I want every associate to have that feeling and for everyone who is interested in a career at Banfield to know that that’s what they’ll experience here.
How has the conversation around EI&D changed since you first began working in the field?
I first began working in EI&D in the late ‘90s around the time of the MacPherson inquiry, which looked at the UK Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager. The inquiry report shined a light on institutional and systemic racism in society and gave impetus to the work that I and others before me have been doing in this area.
As we witnessed the needless deaths of George Floyd and countless others in recent years, the pervasiveness of racism and discrimination in society is once again in the spotlight, and the public is now taking more of a stand when it comes to who they choose to work for or what products and services they choose to buy. Ultimately, we as a society are shifting away from being OK with leaders talking about EI&D from the sidelines and really holding businesses and employers accountable. It’s my role, along with that of every other EI&D leader, to make sure we continue to push for real, authentic change.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman of color and how did you overcome it?
So many aspects of my identity—including being a woman of color—have led to me being underestimated during different moments throughout my life. I find it quite funny because one of my teachers at school always called me “the quiet rebel.” I wasn’t loud, but I would question everything. To this day, I’m always questioning whether we as a society can make things more equitable and inclusive and work together to create better solutions.
What have been the keys to your success?
I’m rather good at being in the eye of the storm of conflicting viewpoints and finding a path forward. I recognize that I’m not always going to be liked or appreciated, and I’m ok with that. I just remember the late, great John Lewis and know that it’s important to get in good, necessary trouble to achieve the outcomes needed.
How do you practice work-life balance?
This was a challenge for me until recently, when my mother passed away unexpectedly following a late-stage cancer diagnosis. Honestly, her passing broke me, and I can’t say that I’ll ever stop grieving. It did make me realize that it’s important to make time for family and loved ones as well as myself. I started to create clear boundaries between work and my life outside of work, and encourage my colleagues to do the same. I designated spaces in my home for working, defined comfort breaks, started spending more time with loved ones and exploring my creative side through painting. I also play a lot of pool—I find it quite relaxing! Having good work-life balance helps me be better at my job, as my brain is refreshed and I am able to identify more effective, innovative solutions when I’m back at work.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
I have a pile of books I’m slowly making my way through. They include Nesrine Malik’s We Need New Stories and Paul Morley’s biography of the late, great David Bowie. I’m somewhat late to the game, but I’m obsessed with Celeste’s music: “Stop This Flame” really gets me going!
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