All lives matter – yes, they do! I believe in this wholeheartedly. I also believe that at this movement in time it is NOT about all – this is about inequality and a disparity of representation and acceptance. This is me stating categorically that ALL things are not fair, the game is not equal, and the stakes are not the same. And the very sad reality is we’re not just moving into this phase, we’ve been here for years (and thousands of them).
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Martin Luther King
Here’s a little of my background and why this such an important topic to me.
My grandparents came to England from India in the late 1940’s. Both labelled ‘Anglo Indians’ the children of English Fathers (The British Raj) and Indian Mothers. They were considered privileged because of their heritage and were able to attend school, high school, sixth form and university. As a result, they could be considered to have been educated under a higher-class system. Before leaving India, my grandfather attained all relevant qualifications to be considered a highly skilled draftsman and my grandmother had completed all her training (5 years) to become a Registered General Nurse.
On arriving in England, they were told they were not qualified or able to continue with either profession. These roles did indeed exist, however, just not for them. Whilst they wanted to fight more for what they believed in, they were not comfortable that the people and systems in place would fully support them, so they complied and took very different paths. They learnt to behave in ways that caused ‘less fuss’, that reduced any perceived conflict and most of all prevented drawing attention to themselves.
Behind closed doors things were different, they were stalwarts in believing in what was right and just, they taught us about not just seeing the change but ‘being’ it. I recall watching so called controversial films such as Guess who came to Dinner and To Kill a Mockingbird, learning about prejudice and perception. They continuously drove us towards a new and inclusive world. I can clearly remember sitting and reading articles about Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King (to name a few) all of which encouraged me and my personal narrative. This ‘education’ has helped me to view the world with a totally open mind and heart and is something I’ve taken with me throughout my own career.
Throughout my childhood I observed and witnessed the racism they endured. These are not lessons anyone needs to learn, these wounds take so much longer to heal and often leave scars. In the same instance, I am also aware of the English labels (descriptions) they were also gifted that they held onto – a real ‘gentleman’, the house that has best rose garden in the whole town, immaculacy dressed even at work – always best presented uniform (cleaned and starched). Whilst these did not fulfil lifelong aspirations it did help them feel some form of acceptance.
They were proud, hardworking individuals that instilled my core values.
My grandfather ended his working days as a facilities Supervisor, my grandmother sold televisions.
As a next generation child, I am aware of the high hopes my grandparents had for me. I also know that this has continued to be lived and will be passed on to my own family.
Racism is something I’ve also had to personally experience, albeit in a different way, as a much lighter skinned, less accented version. This began in my school years and still exists today in different guises. It’s a reality, I have secured roles in the past simply because I tick a few particular boxes 1) Female and 2) Ethnic Minority. The latter an interesting one as I’m often told my ‘colour’ doesn’t match my name or there’s a generalisation I’ll be able to speak Spanish/Italian.
Any social movement about race has been important to me, and the recent Black Lives Matter movement truly and profoundly affected my world. It was so blatant, so public and so shocking it stopped me in my tracks.
It made me re-evaluate everything I represent, every conversation I have, every situation I find myself in. This isn’t about me jumping on a cause half-heartedly, it’s about me questioning myself and what can I do. My platform won’t revolutionise the world it will however provide a space to share my truth and to encourage those that take time to read to review theirs.
In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
Martin Luther King
Over the last few months, I’ve been reading. Listening and learning – I’ve taken time out to educated myself. Now I’d like to share some of that.
I read this recently, as a description of institutional racism. See what you think, does it resonate with you the way it did me?
Imagine being fish in a stream, where the current exerts a force in the water that moves everything downstream.
That ‘current’ is systemic racism.
- If you do nothing – just float, the current will carry you along with it, whether you are aware of it or not.
- If you actively choose to swim along with the current, you will be propelled faster. However, you have now selected to discriminate.
In both cases, the current takes you in the same direction – what’s represented here is racism.
From this perspective. Racism has less to do with what’s in your heart or mind and more to do with how your actions or inactions amplify or enable systemic dynamics already in place.
Workplace discrimination can come from well-educated, well-intentioned, open-minded, kind-hearted people who are simply floating along, severely underestimating the tug of the current on their actions, positions, and outcomes.
Anti-racism requires swimming against the current, just like the salmon that makes its way upstream. This demands MORE effort, courage and determination than simply going with the flow.
Organisations must be mindful of the “current” or structural dynamics that permeate the system, not just the “fish”, or individual actors that operate within it.”
How would you describe this? What does this mean? Are you offended by the insinuation?
This helped me to articulate this is a way that makes so much more sense than yet another ‘label’. This is something I’m now including within my educational sessions.
What’s your view?
He who is greatest among you shall be a servant. In order to do this, you need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.
Martin Luther King
I wanted to build on this, to find out more and challenge whether my own personal viewpoint/perspective is accurate or skewed. I wanted to question whether the decisions and choices I make are conscious or not and to see if I too could fall into the category of unconscious bias.
I have completed online surveys and questionnaires that suggest my preferences and answered questions that have raised thought about my actions in a variety of situations. Whilst I would actively state I am anti-racist; I’ve learnt that being ‘colour blind’ itself is offensive. The whole process has made me stop and think about why I do what I do, and to recalibrate the coordinates of my personal values and moral compass.
I am aware that there is a plethora of empirical evidence available, however wanted to ensure that I was searching for data that covers past, present and suggest a new future. I decided to carry out a mini study of my own.
I asked friends and family about their experiences, I contacted networks, peers and sent out requests to those that I knew would be adversely affected by recent events and those I felt would want to contribute.
Sectors/Industries included – Public (Councils, NHS, Education), Private (Manufacturing, Professional Services, Creative Industries), Third Sector (Charities, Social Enterprises).
The template created is attached for anyone that may be interested, feel free to adapt and use.
The findings are attached in a snapshot format.
It’s worth nothing that these barely scratch the surface, it provides you with a starting point for further conversations. This isn’t meant to be a balanced piece, it’s about hearing one side and primarily because this is the one that’s not being heard.
Summary of the findings:
Please note there is a mix of personal experiences (prefixed with I) and more generic perceptions/response.
- Professional industries don’t appear to be actively seeking diversity or at least to find these roles is much harder than it looks
- There appears to be an unwritten rule about having a diverse workforce, certain industries stick with their own types. This also applies with all ‘non-white’ cultures cited in certain manufacturing/textiles businesses
- Manual labour roles seem to be easier to get, not required to have a brain just to be able to lift and carry
- I heard that desperate people make a great workforce as they work harder for longer out of fear it won’t be there forever. This philosophy appears to have been overused, and yet my parents still remind me of this.
- There is a distinct lack of ethnic minorities within my profession as a whole.
- It is apparent that there are huge gaps in industries from operational roles to those in senior managerial/executive positions
- I know many that want to develop skills – the issue seems to be about accessibility and a fair process for gaining the opportunity itself.
- To be the best I can be in whatever path of life (home or work) that I choose
- To climb the corporate career ladder
- Classed as a specialist in my field
- Sought after (headhunted)
- To be a fully qualified teacher
- I wanted to be the first black female in this industry. Nothing was going to stop me being an engineer, oh and yes, I am black, and that’s right also a woman. And?
- I’m at the top of the class academically, and I also have an emotional connection to what I want to do and who I want to be – no-one has ever asked me about that.
What would you like to see as ‘The Future’
- Want a shared history to be delivered at school, colleges and Universities.
- All culture should be celebrated
- To be consider an expected part of it, this should be the norm!
- To see as the future, to have greater opportunity of making change
- Freedom to be ourselves and challenge harder
- To be known as the generation that made the difference.
The BAME Reality
- Seen as experts in particular industries primarily. These tend to fall into the following categories – Care, beauty treatment (by only for our own kind!), IT, Accountancy.
- Many cited changing names on CV’s and Applications (making more acceptably English sounding)
- “As I’m mixed race, I can get by as I don’t fit in any category. I don’t feel my ethnicity has played a part in anything really in my career, as my school and Uni were well known enough, plus my degree was good enough to bypass a lot of barriers to interview
- Even though I don’t feel I have been in an oppressed position I know I’ve had to work twice as hard as white people of equal socio-economic backgrounds. The question I often ask myself is whether I would be much further along and better off if my skin was white.
- It was a total surprise that the person standing in front of them was black…
- Accused of being arrogant and cocky, overconfident, too vocal. Singled out as a troublemaker.
- Often called racist names in a so called non-racist way
- Lunch times staggered because of the assumption we can only eat ‘spicy’ and ‘smelly’ food.
- Limited career progression – many mentioned they’d be told they should be grateful to have a role.
Advise to Self – based on lessons learnt
- Call out anything that is discriminatory – stand up for yourself and others.
- Do not accept diversity isolation
- As you grow older your confidence will improve – this is not about colour this is generally life
- Stop putting pressure on yourself
- You have every reason to be proud of who you are.
- You bring natural qualities and strengths that many try and develop.
- Your historiography is your power – celebrate this.
- To not be considered as anything different to fit into society – I don’t want to blend in
What would you say to influence Leaders?
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is much more than a tick box activity
- Learn about culture, history and traditions
- BAME is a useful way of saying Black, Asian, Minority Ethnics but can be reductive in the sense that the experiences across that acronym are unique &; it isn’t a shared experience beneath the surface. Be careful this isn’t used to lump all in together & present it as the antithesis to white opportunity
- Many corporate industries don’t promote themselves well to BAME communities – think about where you recruit, who you recruit, who does the interviews and what are the expectations?
- Stop being surprised having strengths, abilities and capability is ‘normal’. Start to expect this.
- As yourself are you doing all you need to or what you think you can get away with?
- Stop saying or hearing others says “I’m not being racist but…” the simple fact is you ARE being racist
- Begin embracing change, move things forward
- Act receptively towards different world views
- It’s your role to influence and create a vibrant workforce – why wouldn’t you want to do this?
- Check for unconscious bias across your business/organisation
- Many companies claim to embrace diversity however cannot back this up with examples – can you show how you have done this?
Advice to School Leavers
- Be proud of who you are and what you represent
- Stand tall, own your history
- Progress has been slow, yet forward is forward!
- Learning how to handle cultural difference is NOT a positive
- Be whoever and whatever you want to be
- Nothing is unattainable
- You are equal, demand being treated that way
- Listen and learn from those that offer you experience and advise, not on what they’ve done or how to bypass the system instead how ‘to be’ the change you want to see.
Your call to action
- There is NO one size fits in any profession/industry or society – regularly challenge your internal processes
- Check and Test conscious bias – this includes your own
- Actively recruit for difference
- Ask for involvement, increase the choice
- Involve all, seek out opinions and views
- Learn more and seek to understand
- Stand up and see all as individually unique
- Step in, Step in – role model this
- Create a safe space to talk, to discuss and to learn
- Hold yourself accountable
- Willingly influence a vibrant workforce – is it this that will make the difference.
What did you think or feel reading this? Are you surprised, disappointed or does this affirm what you already know? Either outcome, what are you prepared to do about it?
I know I can change my own behaviours; I am accountable and responsible for this.
With regard to you – I can shine a spotlight on yours, therefore what you do from here is your choice! If you take ownership of your behaviour, what change will you make first?
In a professional world I’d suggest this blog is worth sharing. Consider it a ‘thought piece’. One that should be included as a recurring agenda for all Management/Leadership Teams. And absolutely NOT when reminded to review policies about diversity and inclusion.
We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. That day will be a day not of the white man or the black man.
That day will be the day of man as man.
Martin Luther King