WhiteHat’s Inclusion & Diversity Lead reflects on the last six months, why Black History Month 2020 has felt different, the changes that are emerging within the workplace and the work that still needs to happen.

Black History Month 2020 has felt different. This Summer saw a flurry of statements from the business world publicly committing to improving diversity in the workplace in response to the tragic killing of George Floyd, some of which has been since criticised as performative. People have rightfully questioned: where is the action for change?

As someone who has been working within the social mobility space for seven years, I have been reflecting on my experiences, my own privilege as a dual heritage, White English & Black Caribbean female, my role and the role of my organisation in being a part of positive change. From this, I feel hopeful, and here is why:

Data & identity

More organisations are waking up to the importance of rigours data collection and analysis in their approach to understanding diversity and inclusion. On top of this, we’re understanding the problem with catch-all terms like BAME. Yes, our language constantly evolves, but more than this, individuals are demanding an understanding of the nuances of identity.

For example, there is a great difference in the lived experiences of a middleclass international student from Bahrain, a young Black Caribbean man from London who was in receipt of free school meals, and a mother from Bangladesh who is new to the country and speaks English as a second language. Even though they may all be labelled as ‘BAME’, their experiences and representation within the workplace will differ.

We need the data to identify the areas for improvement, and to hold ourselves accountable on progress.

Recognition & self-education

More individuals are actively questioning phrases like ‘I do not see colour,’ ‘why do we have to focus on race/ethnicity?’ ‘but don’t all lives matter?.’

It is understood that by not recognising the systematic issues experienced by different groups, particularly the experience of the black community, individuals or organisations are contributing to the problem.

The emphasis is increasingly on self-education on issues of race & ethnicity, using publicly available educational sources, and having internal self-reflection. Anti-racism is a term we now have for a higher standard of empathy and behaviour.

Challenging gaslighting

More individuals are understanding that it is not acceptable to dismiss the experiences of Black colleagues or friends. When either racism or microaggressions are reported officially or unofficially in the workplace, responses like ‘it was just a joke’ ‘I wouldn’t let it bother you’ or ‘are you perhaps being sensitive?’ are increasingly understood as just as problematic as the initial offending comments or actions.

It feels, to me at least, that the responsibility for calling out these behaviours, even those that are difficult to articulate but just don’t feel OK, is being shared with colleagues who have begun a journey of allyship.

There is still so much work to do!

For the three points I’ve highlighted, the business world is still at the start of a journey. Racism is a structural, systemic issue throughout society and the regular stories of injustices have not stopped. We need to keep the conversation alive to see action and long-term change. We need to understand the data, implement robust monitoring processes, and make space for regular reflection, not just in October or in response to tragedies.

At WhiteHat we not only drive a positive change for thousands of apprentices we work with, but also within our own workforce. This is a long-term commitment. We have got a lot of work to do, but I am grateful to be a part of this journey.

I am thankful to my colleagues who have led and got involved with Inclusion Focus Groups, our Talking About Race at Work seminar, Black History Month events and those who have supported me in completing our Inclusion Audit.

WhiteHat staff celebrated Black History Month with a panel to reflect on building a culture of allyship followed by a Black History Month Book Club where staff read Queenie by Candice Carter-Williams.

More than this, I am thankful for those who each day are prepared to address uncomfortable topics, create the psychological safety for ongoing challenge, and push us to be better.