An East Dulwich woman has been nominated for the black British business awards.
Akima Paul Lambert is a lawyer at Hogan Lovells, a prominent City law firm, where she represents companies who are in dispute with other corporations and governments. She also does pro-bono work, like helping set up a south London football league for disabled children.
Akima, who is one of 39 nominees, said that she thinks the awards “play an important part in redressing the balance” and helping black people establish themselves more in corporate and commercial settings.
“I feel it’s very important for the generation growing up, we don’t see the representation enough, so this award is important. My son has no black teachers, not enough black role models.”
But Akima added that it wasn’t enough to focus on racial justice alone. “I feel strongly about social mobility too. White working class kids don’t have the same role models either. I believe it’s needed. Until we have a society where young people can see people that are like them in important positions, we will continue to struggle.”
Akima was born and grew up on the small Caribbean island of Grenada. After school she won a scholarship to study in the UK and landed a place to read Law at Clare College, Cambridge. The move from sunny, laid-back Grenada to a cold and windy Cambridge autumn was a challenge at first.
“It was the shock of a lifetime,” she said. “It was so cold and dark. I had been to Cambridge in summer before when it was warmer.
“In my really blasé way. I didn’t have any aspiration, I simply saw another newspaper article about another girl who had got into Cambridge. I was flying off to the UK and I emailed Cambridge to say ‘I will be there, do you want to interview me?’ They said yes and I got in.
“When I started studying I was ill-prepared, I didn’t even have a proper winter coat. But it wasn’t just the weather that was a shock, it was how traditional everything was.
“Of course I managed to adapt, but for the first few months I didn’t like it at all. Some of the girls made a big effort to encourage me to try different things. I joined a few societies and I was fine.”
After Cambridge, Akima moved to Paris for more studying before coming to London. She now has dual citizenship. The difference between Grenada, a majority-black country, and her new city was also stark at first, she said.
“There was a different sense of what it meant to be black when I moved to the UK,” she said. “I never felt like a minority growing up – we had a black prime minister, a black police chief. Now in the UK there was a different expectation on me.”
Akima added that when she moved to the UK she felt pressure to do well to defy “self-limiting” stereotypes about black people in the UK.
“There are so few of you [in a corporate situation] so you feel you have to do well. And that’s a lot of pressure on young shoulders.”
“When I was starting off as a young lawyer you’re often the only black woman in the room. You’re placed in a situation where you’re not the same as others and there’s definitely a psychological shift that happens.”
Despite the struggles and prejudices faced by many black people in the UK, as in other countries, Akima said she is not defeatist.
“Someone told me the analogy once that ‘a pig born in a stable isn’t a horse’. I found that so jarring. We are British and it’s important that we feel British.
“British can mean different things, and different colours, different views. I like my cup of tea, I like my theatre. I like literature, there’s a lot about England that I celebrate purposefully and with intention. I think it’s very important to create a sense of national pride that doesn’t have a negative connotation. There’s a lot of work to be done but there are many things in this country that need to be celebrated.”
Akima has been nominated in the professional services category, one of twelve separate awards. Winners for each category, as well as the overall black British businessperson of the year, will be announced on October 7.