From outrage to workplace progress, but still navigating racial challenges
— May 21st, 2021
How is it almost the end of May already? I’m writing from the plane…yes I said PLANE! Who would have thought that statement would sound so extraordinary?
I find myself looking back and thinking about how much has happened in my life, in the world, and how I feel about it all.
Around this time last year, I was about to step into the next chapter of my career – excited, but anxious and unsure. Not because I wasn’t ready or capable, but because there was the usual doubt in the back of my mind as a Black woman – would I have the opportunity to excel as I knew I could?
It was a thought that was particularly prominent off the back of the awful murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that took place around the world.
Communications for the new world of work
It was a reminder of how much still needed to be done to achieve true equality for us as Black people to feel that no matter the circumstance, we’re operating on a level playing field, without fear or doubt.
A year on, what has changed in my life and for Black people? I have a renewed sense of energy and urgency to do whatever I can to educate people about the challenges Black people still face and use my voice to help make change happen.
I am encouraged by the conversations I’ve had with friends, peers, and leaders within the workplace about combating racism, discrimination, and the lack of representation.
Whether it’s the webinar I had the pleasure of hosting to emphasize the conversation around increasing inclusion at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
And then to see that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became their first woman and African to be at the helm followed by half of her chosen deputies also being female – another first for the organization.
Or to see GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) setting race and ethnicity aspirational targets for senior roles in the UK and US – a positive progression from gender targets.
There’s an invigorating allyship taking place in several companies and it’s encouraging to see tangible actions, initiatives, and effort happening that genuinely was not present before. People and organizations leaning in with their eyes open, wanting to make impactful changes.
But, while I believe there are new opportunities for change, it would be remiss of me not to share my disappointment and frustration that I still have to navigate various racial challenges.
I’ll share one example where I found myself having to have ‘the talk’ with my 12yr old son. What’s ‘the talk’ you ask? It’s the one that many Black parents sadly have to have, including my parents many years ago with me.
It’s where you explain that as a Black person you will be judged and treated differently to your White friends and peers so you cannot afford a single trip up or mistake.
And in case you’re thinking…surely that doesn’t happen, let me take a moment to share one incident with you.
My son had been accused by another child of “bullying, intimidation and aggressive behavior”. These were the quoted words used by an 11/12yr old child, off the back of friendly competitive play and sport. T
There was no argument or particular incident, and my son has a perfect behavior record. He was called out along with another Black child, with no other mentions or warnings to the other White children in the group.
Naturally, I was informed of the complaint but was immediately reassured that it had been looked into and there was no evidence that this behavior had taken place.
But what everyone involved failed to realize was the actions taken left a deep scar for my son, leaving him feeling humiliated and marginalized.
Until I put in a counter-complaint, no one had completed the circle to ensure the parents and the child who complained knew the accused behavior hadn’t happened. No one seemed to understand the severity of the language that was used, it was simply brushed aside as ‘sometimes these things happen’ and it was probably just a bit of ‘harmless competitive banter or teasing’.
So why weren’t those words used instead? And if it’s friendly and harmless, why was my child pulled aside to be spoken to and warned to correct his behavior?
While any complaint from a child should be looked into, there were so many different ways this particular situation could have been handled.
From the onset, the supervising adults knew my son hadn’t done anything, but still felt the need to discipline him rather than get to the truth and close the situation down.
So, my husband and I were left to pick up the pieces and have ‘the talk’ to teach my son that he must stand up for himself, speak up and not let assumptions and accusations go unchallenged.
I tell this particular story, not to take away from the progress that I’ve genuinely seen, but to highlight that the job is far from done and there is still so much more to do.
I’m proud to say that I have successfully stepped into my next chapter, and it’s important for me to show my children and others that it is possible.
But it doesn’t stop there – we all need to continue to break down the biases and judgments that still exist and eradicate the cycle.
So, I urge everyone to use their voice and influence wherever they can to challenge and put actions in place to be the change that we still very much need.