What would you do if:
- You were in a meeting to discuss how to make your corporate magazine content more inclusive and the most senior person in the room – a white man – tells you he’s at risk of being a minority. Three of the seven people in the room are white men. You’re the actual minority in the room.
- The owner of your company raises concerns with your team about cultural stereotyping in your content. Your manager responds as follows: The story is very popular/The wording is factually correct/It’s disappointing that the company owner didn’t challenge it in a public forum. The content remains unchanged.
- In preparation for your team’s away day, you’re asked to submit photos for the Guess the Baby game. You don’t submit a photo, as people will know it’s you because of your skin tone. No one mentions it to you on the day.
Horrible, isn’t it?
Well, these are just a handful of demeaning and draining situations that I and other Black PR and communications specialists I know have faced in the workplace.
Racism has been a key theme of 2020 so far – be it racial inequalities around the COVID-19 crisis or the never-ending cases of US police brutality. But it’s nothing new.
What is different this time is the public response. Global brands like Netflix, Twitter and Spotify – and even the Chartered Institute of PR (CIPR) – have released statements condemning racism and showing their support for Black colleagues, members and customers.
But will this wave of change make it behind company doors? Experience suggests it won’t. Corporate Black History Month celebrations may be somewhat en vogue but rarely lead to meaningful change for Black employees.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make the workplace a more welcoming environment for Black colleagues if we all take action.
Racism is not a ‘Black’ issue. We all benefit from social equality, so it’s on all of us to do the necessary work.
How can you help make things better?
- Listen to Black people. Give us the room to share how we feel without judging, censoring or taking over. Forbes has a helpful how-to-guide on effective listening.
- Ensure your communication outputs (internal or external) are inclusive. Here are 5 simple tips to get you started.
- Explore your biases and fix them – Here are some handy resources collated by Harriet Smalls.
- Check out:
- Black media – e.g. Black Ballad, The Voice Online, gal-dem, AZ Magazine, Melan Mag
- Black journalists/commentators – e.g. Tobi Oredein, Nadine White, Chante Joseph, Genelle Aldred, Charlene White, Afua Hirsch
- Books on race/ethnicity – e.g. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Rene Eddo-Lodge and The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla
- Black voices on podcasts – e.g. me on Internal Miscommunications, Kat Marshall on CIPR Engage
- Donate your money/time/social media posts to diversity/equality/anti-racism/Black support organisations:
- Champion Black colleagues and friends – share our work; recommend us for opportunities; offer your skills, knowledge and contacts. Here’s a super simple example doing the rounds on LinkedIn
- Challenge people in your life who are racist. It may not be comfortable but it’s very powerful.
This is not an exhaustive list but it doesn’t need to be. Just choose one thing and do that. Or research other options and start with one of those. And then choose a second thing and do that. And so on and so on.
What one thing will you do differently today to make the world a better place for everyone?
If you’re not sure what to do, you can ask me. I don’t speak for all Black people – that would be ridiculous – but I’m happy to share my views.
Learn more about the lived (racist) experiences of other Black people:
- Short interview I did with Simply Communicate, a digital internal communications agency
- Moving Medium post on life as an African American employee right now
- Diversity and Exclusion: A response to Adland and Brands’ pledges of solidarity with Black talent
- Yes, PR has a racism problem. And we all need to act