Inclusion is Rooted in not Making Assumptions
written by Sinéad Burke
Matthew Obamwonyi is co-chair of Bank of Ireland’s Parents and Carers Network. Here Matthew talks about his family as well as inclusion and diversity challenges in Irish society.
Matthew describes himself as “Someone who believes in the principle of ‘love thy neighbour, love thy self’ and also a proud black man”. Matthew is married with three children. His wife is from Ireland originally and together they have three children; Vicky is 14, Anthony is 8 and Jake is 6 years old. Matthew frequently tells me that once those four people are happy and healthy, he is fulfilled and wants for nothing more.
Put respect at the core of every interaction
Matthew describes himself as very self-aware, something that he has also instilled in his children. He guides them with two principles. The first is to respect everyone who comes across your path and the second is to feel confident in your ability and right to challenge those who you feel have crossed a line, but always keep in mind that respect must be at the core of your interaction. Matthew offers a role model for his children: For Matthew, seeing Leo Varadkar, a bi-racial man, as Taoiseach of this country, Ireland’s number one citizen, gives him hope that “my children, who are also bi-racial, will not only settle in this country but due to the values my wife and I have instilled in them, will be welcomed and supported to do well in life and to have the most extraordinary ambitions”.
Matthew tells me that in his experience, there is a need for greater inclusion and acceptance in our society. Naively, I had thought that societal change was occurring at a more accelerated rate but Matthew just shakes his head, breathes deeply and says that he at least hopes that his children will experience inclusion and acceptance as they grow older.
I ask Matthew if cultivating allies - particularly in the classroom and in the schoolyard - is what can bring about sustainable change. He tells me that his take on inclusion and diversity “is rooted in people not making assumptions about me until they get to know me. When you see someone; reach out to them, get to know what their values and principles are before you make a judgement. Perhaps that is what being an ally is, but I think this way of acting should become much more natural in society rather than something we are taught to perform”.
Bank of Ireland’s Parents and Carers Network
Matthew is one of the co-chairs of the Parents and Carers network within Bank of Ireland. Matthew’s vision is “to provide guidance, support and resources to those employees who need information and a space to discuss their parenting and caring responsibilities”. His focus is “to enable an organisational culture with a family-friendly focus so that people feel safe talking to their line-managers and their colleagues about an emergency or a personal aspect of their life.
He tells me that “with our network, we create a safe passage where people can bring their full self to work. Care is central to creating an organisation and a culture where people want to work, where they feel welcome to work and a place where they can thrive both personally and professionally”.
What’s next for Matthew? “One of my long-term goals is to consider working in politics – that could be either in Ireland or in my original country of birth, Nigeria. But age is not on my side”, he laughs. I don’t think even age can stop Matthew fulfilling his ambitions.