Experiencing racism at work
As a mixed-race PR professional, I’ve always been in the minority in my work. Although it hasn't stopped me from achieving, on a personal level it’s always felt unbalanced – as if something is missing.
One of my regrets isn’t having many opportunities to work alongside other BAME professionals, or clients for that matter, even when I worked and lived in London - a magnificent cultural melting pot.
Mostly, I’ve worked alongside good, conscious individuals. But there have been occasions when I’ve had to breathe deeply to ease my anger so I wouldn’t respond furiously to racist or xenophobic comments in the professional setting.
But why did I do this'?
Well, when you’re in a minority in an industry that clearly hasn’t improved much in terms of diversity and inclusion throughout my 25-year career, you just get on with it – but it's actually exhausting. Plus, I’ve been afraid of being seen as the ‘uppity' black woman and losing my job.
Nonetheless, racism cuts deeply.
It’s a social poison, which seeps into your body and whips up chronic levels of stress and anxiety. Yet, people of colour deal with racism in its various guises throughout their lives.
This might sound racist
One of my more unpleasant experiences included a manager who seemed to find joy in spewing racist opinions. One day, before sharing their ‘insight’, they declared, “This might sound racist but…”.
Then proceeded to be racist.
This is a classic prelude used by racists before they express vile opinions to make themselves feel less racist. When, really, they have no idea how ridiculous they sound.
Anyway, this person’s attitude was so toxic, I walked away from their employment after just nine months (in hindsight it was eight months and 29 days too long).
But what really angered me was the fact nobody held them to account. As the only person of colour, I was instantly marginalised.
At another recent agency role, a colleague said, in response to a comment about the wheareabouts of a Black celebrity, that he was "probably in Africa playing the bongos."
You'd be forgiven if you believed these incidents happened in the 1970s. They were in 2016 and in 2018 respectively - in an industry based on managing other people's reputations.
Standing in my power for the first time
With the resurgence of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May, I was awestruck by thousands of people who took the streets around the world showing their rejection of racism and its injustice.
On Black Out Tuesday (2 June 2020) I created an anti-racism manifesto for my business. It felt immensely liberating – I’m in my late 40s and I was standing in my power for the first time in my professional life.
I drafted the words quickly as they’d been swimming around in my head for decades. You could say I’d had a lot of preparation time for this particular bit of copywriting.
What if I lose clients? What if I anger people?
But my concerns soon ebbed away as, throughout the day, PR industry influencers and professionals of different ethnicities openly supported me.
My courage was acknowledged, and my words respected. Finally, I felt safe enough to be vocal – sadly, it was the pressure cooker environment triggered by George’s death that gave me that safety net.
Without this heightened sense of unity though, my manifesto would probably still be just bobbing around in my head. But it’s time Britain grew up – this issue is too painful NOT to talk about openly.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable but it’s also important people of non-African descent to sit in that discomfort with us. This, I’m sure, will help fuel the journey to equality.
Influencing through my job
Black Lives Matter has strengthened my resolve to contribute positively to an institution that wields huge influence over public opinion – the media.
For instance, I encourage clients to include diversity in photos for press releases, and when I hear about people of colour being cropped out of photos by the press (yes, it happens), I voice my concern.
I accept that my impact may be minimal, but if we all do something every day to combat racism, we’ll eventually see a shift.
It’s my passion for driving change through communications that has compelled me to create my PR course and PR coaching services. They’re designed to amplify people’s voices who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform, and create new opportunities for them by teaching them to secure their own press coverage.
The fight to end racism is going to take a long time, and could take generations for black and brown people to fully treated as equal to white people. But I love that I’m part of a global network of entrepreneurs, businesses and organisations all working towards this – and other social justice goals - every day.
Find out more about what I do...
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