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Lee's Story

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

By Lee Higgins, Founder

This is a very condensed version of my story, it scratches the surface of who I am but provides some insight into what motivates me to help make change happen.

I'm from a working class background and started life in a council flat in Kilburn Square, North London before my parents secured a council house just around the corner in Cricklewood.

I grew up with four sisters but sadly my eldest sister passed away last year after a battle with addiction and mental health which was triggered by the fact that Postnatal Depression was not recognised as a type of depression in the early 1980s, mothers were told to get on with it and judged as not being good enough.

I was fortunate to grow up with both of my parents until my Mum passed away in 2006 after a failed lung transplant (even writing this nearly 17years later is painful).

My Mum had lived with Rheumatoid Arthritis from the age of 16 and at times this was completely debilitating. My niece lives with Cystic Fibrosis and I have a nephew who was diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome shortly after being born and another nephew with epilepsy. I share this because despite being very aware of these disabilities (visible and invisible), I very rarely talk about them. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because it’s so hard to find the words or I’m living in fear of saying the wrong thing, using incorrect phrasing or terminology.

When I was 11, we moved from multi-cultural London to Essex, and it was my first experience of living in a predominantly white area. It was a culture shock for me – I was used to people being quite accepting of others. My best friends at Primary School were from very different backgrounds to me but we embraced each other’s cultures and accepted one another despite our appearance and accents.

Even though I was the first person in my family to go to university (thank goodness for grants), I still found it incredibly difficult to get a job after graduation. I soon realised that life is not a meritocracy - if you don't know the right people or look and sound like them, you're at a disadvantage.

After stumbling into recruitment, I eventually realised that I loved trying to help people connect where I thought it added value. In 2012, I started trying to help asset managers improve diversity, equity and inclusion but very little action and change happened, like many industries, DEI was a nice to have and not seen as essential. Despite the frustration, I persisted with trying to make change happen and clung on to the 1 in 30 leaders (quite an accurate ratio) that I spoke to that felt the same. I realised there were leaders who wanted to drive change and go beyond statements of good intention.

My experience in recruitment exposed me to so many conversations where individuals opened up about their personal stories and professional lives. I’ve heard about the discrimination and bias that proliferates many organisations, the discrimination and bias that some senior leaders ignore because they are focused on the short term.

However, change is happening and despite the glacial pace of change to date, things are speeding up and many of the leaders I now engage with daily are driving this change.

From working with some incredible leaders during the past year, I’ve learned that no one has all the answers, we’re all on a journey of discovery. Every person, no matter how senior or successful (what defines success varies), craves human connection and wants to be seen and heard. They seek validation that they are good enough.

A senior leader once said to me, “recognition is crucial, a bit like a dog, everyone deserves a little tickle behind the ears now and again so they know they’re appreciated”.

I also learned that people who had achieved their career goals left nothing to chance, they developed their careers on their terms, and they were prolific networkers. They also keep an open mind because they understand the importance of thinking differently.

I set up DTN to connect with the leaders that every organisation needs. I wanted to create a safe space for conversations with kind and empathetic professionals, inclusive leaders.

What we are building at DTN is something very special, it’s a network of the most inclusive people in leadership.

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