In celebration of International Women’s Day, we sat down with Cleo Morris, a dedicated trustee of the Foundation. With a commitment to workplace inclusion and racial activism through her start up, Mission Diverse, Cleo shares insights into her career path, the challenges she has faced as a woman, and the importance of diversity and inclusion.


Q: Can you share some insight into your background and how you entered your sector?

Cleo: I’ve always been passionate about workplace inclusion. I went on my first protest around racial activism when I was 13, when at that time it was just black women, women who looked like me.  But over the years my interest in inclusivity persisted, and during the pandemic, I launched Mission Diverse, a free enterprise programme supporting people of colour.

Q: What motivated you to pursue being a trustee for the foundation?

Cleo: The Heart of England Community Foundation’s commitment to supporting small community organisations really drew me in. You often hear that organisations that receive funding tend to be ones that are in the spotlight. Whereas the Heart of England Community Foundation really focuses on people at the ground level, people that are making an impact, regardless of size or stature.

Q: As a woman in your sector, what challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Cleo: Being patronised and facing condescension have been common hurdles, especially being a woman of colour under 30. Starting my first company at 21, and as a young black woman, I faced assumptions that I was there to assist rather than lead; that essentially, I was ‘the help’. Overcoming these challenges involved speaking up and moving beyond the notion that I was a “unicorn”, and making people understand that there are many individuals who look like me and talk like me who are in these spaces. Making people realise that we’re trying to be seen.

Q: Was having to face these misconceptions quite a shock for you?

Cleo: Yeah, for sure. The shock came when I realised that, despite putting my best foot forward, some individuals had zero interest in what I was trying to achieve. From what I am aware, this doesn’t happen within the male sphere. I don’t think any man walks into an environment and then expects to be completely dismissed for their work. But I have always understood, when it comes to being a black woman you’ve got to work 10 times as hard to receive half as much.

Q: How do you approach dealing with misconceptions or biases people may have about you?

Cleo: With time and confidence, I’ve learned to call out biases directly. I now have the knowledge, skills, and resources to walk away from situations that do not value my contributions. Confidence and self-assurance are key.

Q: Any advice for young women aspiring to enter your sector?

Cleo: Beyond the cliché “just do it,” my advice is to find a niche within the sector where you excel. Specialise and become exceptional at it. This focus will set you apart and make your work more impactful. And when it comes to tackling misconceptions, don’t be scared to call it out. I do understand if you are early on in your journey calling things out might not be the easiest thing to do, so sometimes you need to pick your battles and think ‘maybe I address this later on’ – don’t forget about it – just pick your moment.

Q: Can you share a significant accomplishment or achievement in your career that you’re proud of?

Cleo: Running a small business that provides a platform for people to discuss topics like Racism, the LGBTQIA+ community and Neurodiversity fills me with pride. It’s not just about bringing awareness to these topics, but I’m happy that I have been able to create a space where others who share the same passion can contribute and gain careers.

Q: As the CEO of a diversity and inclusion company, what do you prioritize to make sure your workplace is diverse and inclusive?

Cleo: This is an interesting one. For me it’s all about coming as you are. I come to work every day in a tracksuit. When people come to work for me, the first day they always come suited and booted, and I tell them come as you are. You soon start to realise that what you wear, what you look like, who you are, it doesn’t make a difference to your ability to do your job. That’s my ethos and the team know that.

Q: How do you see the future of women’s roles evolving, especially in leadership positions within the charitable sector?

Cleo: I anticipate a more dynamic future with younger generations being able to adapt quicker to technological shifts and challenge traditional norms. The charitable sector, which has historically lagged behind, will benefit from the energy and innovation of upcoming leaders and they will transform the sector for the better.

Q: Are there specific changes you would like to see to improve gender equality in your sector?

Cleo: I would like to see a shift towards more strategic conversations that can drive change. Addressing issues of inequality is important, but there should be a focus on actionable strategies that can make an impact, we can’t fall into the trap of only discussing what our issues are, without making sure something can be done about them.

Q: Why is it important to have female inclusion across all sectors?

Cleo: Because you need diversity of opinion, you need diversity of thought, you need diversity of people. We need to make sure we’re not falling into this myth of meritocracy, where if you work hard enough, you’ll achieve success, forgetting that actually, meritocracy is based on the idea that we all start off on a level playing field. But none of us do. Particularly if you come from a marginalised community. And it’s not just about including women, because they’re women. It should be because they’re a woman with great ideas. We have to challenge those archaic stereotypes that only maintain the status quo for people who benefit from it.