This blog is written by Project Manager Hermine Kudia, as part of our recognition and celebration of this year’s Black History Month. In this blog, she touches on the relevance of black history in 2020, ensuring you use the right terminology, and how to encourage diversity in the workplace.
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month, marked in the UK in October since 1987, celebrates the culture, contribution and history of those with African or Caribbean heritage.
It’s also an opportunity to learn more about the effects of racism and challenge stereotypes.
Black History Month was created as a way of remembering the history and achievements of the African diaspora; and through educating and informing society about black heritage and culture in Britain. It is still relevant today, 33 years on.
2020 has held a mirror up to the world and forced many to see the reality of racism in all its guises. From Black people dying disproportionately in the pandemic and institutionalised racism, to the Black Lives Matter movement, Black History Month is a commitment for real change. It is a time for people to come together and learn lessons from the past, for the present, to reclaim the narrative on how our shared history will be told in the future.
Getting your terminology right
We were in the office and I was sitting next to my colleague. I had to deliver a message to someone who was sitting at the opposite end of the open plan office. My colleague knew the other guy and so was trying to describe his location to me, after squinting, looking, trying to figure out who he meant, I finally said ‘Oh, the one sat next to the black man?’, my statement seemed to have surprised my white colleague, but he responded ‘Yes, that one’.
You can say Black. Hesitation or discomfort is not necessary. The reluctance to acknowledge race, privilege and oppression in fact does more harm than good. Black is a part of my identity, not my entire identity; if ever in hesitation, it is okay to ask what the appropriate word is to describe someone.
The term BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) has often been used when talking about diversity. In the 60s and 70s the term BAME came about when people referred to the Black community but when they noticed the Asian community was not represented it became ‘Black and Asian’. It is a term I refute because it is frequently unhelpful and perpetuates erasure and lack of accountability.
Being specific is important. For example, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, showed that of 268,000 IT specialists in the UK,18% were from BAME backgrounds, but when we drill down into the numbers, we see that only 2% are of Black / African / Caribbean / Black British people, and numbers don’t lie.
With increased representation we are all winners, increased diversity would mean development in innovation and better outcomes in the tech world.
McKinsey’s* reports, Why diversity matters (2015) and Delivering through diversity (2018) conclude that the relationship between diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has strengthened over time, thus there is a strong business case to push for diversity.
How to actively encourage a diverse workforce
Diversity asks, ‘How many more of [pick any minority identity] group do we have this year than last?’
Equality responds, ‘What conditions have we created that maintain certain groups as the perpetual majority here?’
Inclusions asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone to feel like they belong?’Dr D-L Stewart
With diversity comes the responsibility to foster healthy environments that lack microaggressions for Black people in the workplace. Below is a list of ways you can positively impact and encourage a diverse workforce.
Things not say to your Black colleagues:
- ‘You don’t talk like you’re Black’
- ‘I don’t see colour’
- ‘That was aggressive’ (Did you mean I spoke with assertiveness?)
- ‘You’ve changed your hair…again’ (The policing of Black hairstyles at schools and in the workplace needs to stop, of course you can comment on my hair but something like ‘I like your new hairstyle’, would be more appropriate)
- ‘Your name is so hard to pronounce’
Tips for engaging Black people in conversations about race:
- Ask for permission before engaging
- Set expectations and boundaries on both sides
- Talk about your identities
- Don’t assume Black people are ‘experts’ [on race]
- Clearly define controversial terms
- Provide enough context
- Be respectful