Tammy Palmer – Head of People, Health Data Research UK (HDR UK)

If you look at this photo of me, what do you see?

Probably nothing remarkable and why would you, when you meet me in person or walk past me in the street, I don’t stand out in anyway at all.

What if I told you that you I spent pretty much all of my childhood living in foster care?

Would you look at me differently and judge what kind of person you think I might be.

The most common things I hear when I tell people about my childhood are:

“You don’t look like someone that grew up in care”

“You don’t sound like someone that grew up in care”

“You can’t have done; you seem really clever”

Those are the kind of statements I have heard my whole life, the very first time I realised that I was being judged was when I was 6 years old, my social worker had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered that I wanted to be an Archaeologist or the Prime Minister. Very kindly, she told me that “children like you don’t do jobs like that”. Although I left that meeting feeling very confused, it proved to be the conversation that changed my life, quite simply because whenever I wanted to give up, whenever people expected me to fail, or when I heard the unkind comments of some of the adults in my life it made me more determined to prove them wrong.

Growing up was not always easy for me, I didn’t always get things right and I wasn’t proud or comfortable talking about who I was or where I came from. For a long time I felt ashamed and embarrassed because I knew exactly what some people were thinking about me and what kind of person, they thought I was.

Rather than archaeology, I made working in HR my professional career.  I have a real passion for diversity and inclusion, in particular addressing some of the challenges around social diversity working with young people from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds and giving them opportunities to find out more about careers within the voluntary sector through organised programmes of work.

Care leavers are underrepresented in every sector – recent statistics show that In England in 2019, 35% of care leavers aged 19 were not in education, training or employment. This compares to 11% of 18-year-olds in 2019 and 13% of 19-24-year-olds in the general population in October that year. There are lots of complex very individualised reasons behind those figures and there isn’t an easy solution to solving the challenge, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

Over the years I have spoken at a number of events about my personal experience of growing up in care and why we need more senior level role models and mentors with that lived experience.  Even in diversity forums, talking about the bias that care leavers often face in their lives is rarely ever touched upon.

I am proud to say that I believe I have become a role model for others, both through my professional career in the work that I have led on working with disadvantaged young people and through my political career – yes, I managed that too, ok I didn’t quite get to PM status, but I did become an elected London Borough Cllr in 2018, which has allowed me to focus on working with our looked after children as a ‘corporate parent’ (corporate parent: a councillor’s responsibility to look after children in your borough).

But I shouldn’t be in the minority of care leavers that have the ability to speak up, challenge and change things, it should be the norm to see and hear about care leavers, we should be politicians, industry leaders, teachers, scientists, Drs, CEOs.

National Inclusion Week this year focusses on unity and for me that is about using our collective voices to challenge and change things. So, I am asking you all to help me to call out and challenge the misconceptions people may have about people like me. , It won’t always be easy, and it won’t necessarily happen overnight, but it’s through learning, listening and understanding that I have hope that we can makes things better for the future.

Follow our comms out Twitter (@HDR_UK) using the hashtags #UnitedForInclusion and #NationalInclusionWeek2021!

Find out more about National Inclusion Week