The married 38-year-old, the first in her family to go to university, is a business development manager at the international firm IHS Global, but her first foray into business was selling mangoes as a child in Jamaica.
Brown worked as a teacher before undertaking a distance learning course and completing an MBA, which she described as one of the hardest things she has ever done. Here, the south Londoner from Croydon tells The Voice her story of advancing from a country girl to corporate queen.
“IT IS wonderful that women who have read my story feel motivated by it. That makes me happy. I got an email from a lady who is a mother-of-two like me, and was trying to finish her degree in social work. She was on the edge of quitting but said she changed her mind after reading about me.
“I grew up in St Elizabeth, called ‘the foodbasket of Jamaica’. It was a very carefree time. The village looks after you, so you never go hungry. As an adult, you start to understand more of your situation and there were challenges in terms of survival.
“My mum had nine children so it was hard. She was a domestic helper. From a very early age, I wanted to break the cycle and see what else the world had to offer.
“There were not a lot of role models around in terms of academics, so how I was going to get there I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted something else.
“I always had drive but the rest came along the way. As children, we’d pick mangoes from a tree and sell them in the market. I was aged nine or ten.
“By aged 19, I was a trained teacher. It was my first professional job, and it felt exhilarating to earn my own money. I did not have to wear hand-me-downs, I could treat myself to a new pair of shoes, and I could give back to my family – that was very important to me.
“I moved to the UK in 2002, after being robbed at gunpoint. My aunt encouraged me to come to London. I signed up with an agency and came as a teacher, which was not a great experience. I felt that I had been bought like some kind of a slave and traded.
“I taught design technology for nearly six years, but after that I had to stop because I didn’t have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). It was hard to get a school to take me on directly with my Jamaican qualifications (in order to get QTS certification) as they kind of looked down on you. I found it frustrating and paradoxical. I had been good enough to teach for all those years, then suddenly you’re not good enough anymore. A piece of paper doesn’t determine how good of a teacher you are.
“I had to find something else. That was when I came across (internet learning provider) RDI and signed up to do the MBA. I was a working mother, juggling learning with paying the bills. It was hardcore – definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
“For my mum, it was groundbreaking. I was the first in my family to go to university. When I first started my teacher training, people donated a shirt or a book to help me on way.
“I like to think I am a good role model for my children. In Britain, black people are often marginalised. My children see me going to work every day, not signing on. If nothing else, I want to teach them to depend on themselves. I think that’s where some black people fall short. In life, your capabilities are almost limitless. It’s not about where you are from, but where you aim to go.
“In Jamaica, I worked hard but when you go abroad I feel you have to work twice as hard to prove yourself.
“It’s also challenging being a woman with children because childcare is an issue. I find that, and this is my opinion, companies tend to look at you differently. You hear comments about women ‘always being off sick with their children’. Motherhood is a mark against us and it should not be that way. In many ways, we are more confident and capable because we have the ability to multi-task.
“I think the Government should enforce that women are paid the same as men for the same job. The workplace also needs to be more flexible. Having a child sick at home, doesn’t mean I can’t work from home. Childcare is too expensive, what I pay on a monthly basis is astonishing. It is one of the biggest reasons women quit their jobs, and their careers get stalled. Companies need to consider on-site childcare facilities. Mothers would be more content to know they don’t have to rush off when the clock strikes six.
“When I was teaching I noticed that there were parents who didn’t see their children for a whole week – not because they were absentee but because they were working so hard to give their children a better life. London is so hard. It’s not like back home where we have an extended family to help us grow our children. Here, they spend so long with childminders or alone. That’s the first breakdown.
“I don’t have a legacy of money to give my children, but I want to teach them that education is one route to success they have at their disposal. Children have so much potential but we, the parents, need to tap into that.
“I am firm but fair. My daughter and I read together. We go on holiday together and, most importantly, I know where she is every day. We have an open relationship. I tell them to be honest with me, no matter what because then we can deal with it together.”
12/04/2014 05:30 PM