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We operate in more than 50 countries around the world. If your country is not on the list, please refer to our global contacts.

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Black History Month - Ray's story

This October marks 30 years of Black History Month UK where the achievements of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and individuals are celebrated in the UK. We will be talking each week to some amazing black role models from our ISS community who will tell us about their career path and who has inspired them along the way.

We start by getting to know Ray Perrotte, UK Corporate Director who is one of our most senior black leaders at ISS, devoted father of two, friend to many, and total role model – even if he’d really rather not be. 

Ray’s Story 

My career path 

I joined the Army as a Junior Leader in the Royal Engineers straight after school at 16 and was engaged in military engineering and construction tasks. I was posted to the Falklands within days of the war ending in June 1982 and spent six months helping to get the island back onto its feet. I spent a total of eight years in the force including several years in Germany working as a combat engineer, first aid instructor and regimental medic which means that I was trained to looked after injured soldiers although I never saw combat as I served between wars.  

When and my eight years Army service was up I decided to apply my medical experience to a career with the London Ambulance Service where I was a Paramedic for 12 years. 

I spent a number of years dealing with every kind of 999 call that you can imagine - car crashes, heart attacks and stabbings. There was a culture of lethargy that I struggled with so when a new position of Shift Leader became available I didn’t hesitate to apply and I expected to be successful- I thought that it was better to change things from inside rather than shouting about it from the outside. 

At the time, I only had one black colleague who was more senior than me, John the Community Relations Officer. He was my inspiration and unofficial mentor guiding me through challenging situations listening and making suggestions but most importantly he was a role model for me; he showed me that it was possible in a sea of white people for a black man to get promoted and that the glass ceiling could be smashed.  

Our society has changed significantly since I was a paramedic. Institutional prejudice in key public services has been identified and is being challenged, but, the glass ceiling that I felt as a young man still exists in the UK. Around 12.5% of the population are Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) but they hold just 6% of top management positions and earn 13% less than white people. This means that it continues to be really important for role models to be visible and to show people that it is possible to progress because you can’t be what you can’t see. 

I have worked in a variety of roles for ISS since 2001 and I am currently the UK Corporate Director for one of the Key Accounts within the Finance Sector of the company. This means that I’m responsible for 1,500 people across the corporate estate in the UK who deliver a full range of facility services to the highest standards. I am really happy in this role because I’m in a unique position to influence the right behaviours amongst my management team which plays to my strengths of people focus. 

My heroes 

As well as my ambulance service mentor who showed me that I could progress my career, it is also people who have stood up to be counted that have most inspired me over the years because that is just so important to do.  

At the ambulance service, I had to work for a period with a very difficult group of people; I quietly wrote down every racist, sexist and homophobic comment that I heard from them. As I was congratulated on my promotion I handed the dossier to my superior officer. It wasn’t easy but I just had to stand up for what was right and as a result change happened.

Ray Perotte holds a picture of his Black History Heroes from the past and current

At the moment, the people who immediately spring into my mind as my heroes are the NFL players who are ‘taking the knee’ during the American national anthem- a respectful act to protest against police brutality and injustices towards people of colour whilst still honouring men and women who have sacrificed their lives for their country by mirroring the action of soldiers’ showing respect for their fallen comrades.

The NFL ‘take the knee’ protest evokes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who won the 200m Gold and Bronze medals during the October Olympics of 1968 and raised gloved fists during the American anthem alongside Peter Norman who won silver for Australia, and wore a badge on the podium in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. 

In the USA in 1968, legislation allowing mixed race marriages and outlawing racial discrimination in housing had only just been passed; intimidation of black people legally registering to vote was rife and Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated only five months earlier but Smith and Carlos suffered immediate vitriolic racist abuse and all three men experienced lifelong hardship for their peaceful protest, not dissimilar to the professional ostracism now being experienced by Colin Kaepernick who started the NFL ‘take the knee’ protest, for engaging in the most humble and respectful of acts. 

This shows me that role models often still have to be brave because standing out from the crowd may not always be comfortable but it is utterly necessary to elicit change. 

What can we take away from Ray’s story? 

You might not feel comfortable with the moniker of ‘role model’ but it is a really important job to embrace. Your inspiration may encourage someone to a place that they would never otherwise have thought possible.

Don’t wait for a mentor to come your way. Seek one out. Or why not be one? 

Be brave- you will make a change and it will be worth it.

This is an abridged version of Ray’s story – you can read the full version here.

For more information about Black History Month and events in your area go to: http://iss.gd/1bv #BHM2017.

If you have any comments please contact: GreatStories@uk.issworld.com