A day in the life of anā€¦entrepreneur, Aisha Thomas

Sep 28, 2023

“for me it's not just a professional duty, but a personal one”


Aisha Thomas has been described as someone who "brings passion and purpose to the room”. A proud mum of two boys (aged 15 and 12) who are her “driving force”, Aisha is also a law graduate turned educator, and a fierce advocate for representation of racially minoritized communities in education, in the workplace and in the wider world. The scope of her business is ever expanding and represents a "mission" and a "calling" for Aisha. Her role as founder and director of Representation Matters takes her all around the world, whether in person or online due to the rise of remote working since Covid. As Aisha explains, “there's not an industry where inclusion and diversity doesn't show its head…so ultimately, my work can go anywhere”. As such, the only thing typical about her day is "there is no typical day!"


Read on to find out more about Aisha!


My history starts with me being a law graduate. I studied law at the University of the West of England, and I was adamant I was going to be a lawyer. Alongside my training, I was doing lots of volunteer work, and the turning point for my whole career came when I was working with one particular young black boy on the NOMS project (the National Offender Management Scheme). I remember this childlike figure approached me, looking at me with such hope for a second chance at life. Yet this young boy completely changed my life…we talked about what he wanted to do with his life when he was released, then he stopped, paused and said, "if you were my teacher, maybe I wouldn't be in prison today." He continued, "all of the people in charge are white people, they don't rep for me. I feel that for me to make money, I need to be an actor, a footballer or a drug dealer. Because they are the only successful black people I see." Subsequently he ended up on a criminal pathway. What he made me realise is that representation is really important. After that conversation, I didn't want to just stay in the legal system and help young people get out of it who were already on a criminal pathway. I wanted to disrupt the pathway before they got there. That's when I decided to transition into education. 


City Academy - One Bristol Curriculum 

(Photo credit: Cognitive Paths)


I worked at City Academy in Bristol for just shy of 10 years and eventually became Assistant Principal. I lead on inclusion, community and anti-racist practice. I started a number of different campaigns. One campaign was to get more black teachers into schools, which is why I presented a BBC documentary looking at the lack of black teachers in Bristol, where I live. I also delivered a TED Talk that looked at why representation was lacking within the education system. But the more I did these things the more I was absent from my day role as an assistant principal and it got to a place where I probably was out of school more than I was in school because I was busy delivering keynotes and training sessions and workshops for the Department of Education, NHS and local schools. So I got to the point where I said, “you know what, I'm going to go for it! I'm going to leave my job and start this as a company.” I became the official founder of Representation Matters in 2020.


Running a workshop at Bristol School of Acting


From a career perspective, what I’ve learnt is you need a team. And when I say you need a team, in terms of your career it's the people that you have around you. So you always need to have that friend who's that cheerleader who's always by your side alongside your career, who just says, “keep going”. It's about having a mentor, someone who perhaps is able to do what you do, but they're further along in the journey than you are. And then it's about having a sponsor. So someone who might not be in your industry, might not do what you do, but they open doors for you. And then for me, I'm an avid advocate for therapy, wellbeing and really looking after your mental health. So for me, I've always had a therapist whether things are going well or not so well. And then obviously, the final person you need is a coach - that person who just keeps championing you professionally.


“My definition of career success has changed drastically over the years.

  Career success now means doing what you love. 

Career success means the freedom to have the choice to be where you want to be.”


Probably both my biggest challenge and the highlight of my career so far was writing my book. It was a challenge for me personally because I'm dyslexic. I had to kind of get over some of those fears that I had around my neuro-distinct mind. But if you asked me what was the thing that I thought I couldn't achieve but I did, it was my book. I think I'm naturally gifted when it comes to speaking. So although the BBC documentary and the TED talk, and the One Bristol Curriculum are massive achievements, these are also things that were very natural to my personality and my skill. But writing a book? The written word, and at that level of scrutiny? It wasn't something I thought I could do. And it took a lot of work. But I hope it inspires others who are also dyslexic that it can be done. 


The book!

(Photo credit: Sharon Anderson)


Since I started Representation Matters - which was really just a few keynotes in schools - now I'm delivering workshops and hosting conferences, and our work is no longer just focused on education. We work in the public sector, the art sector, and also with corporate clients too. The work has gone beyond just anti-racist practices in education, but it's looking at leadership and inclusion across the board. It's both about working with leadership as well as the staff on the ground, and really thinking about how the culture can be improved within organisations, so that everyone that they serve genuinely feels a sense of connection and belonging. So for a career pathway, what started off as a few little talks here or there has turned into what is beginning to be a really successful company. 


To find out more about Aisha, click here to view the Representation Matters website where you can also order her book. To read more "day in the life" articles and much more, click here to view the blog of The Careers Company. 

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