By Orla McKeating, Diversity Mark – Business Development Executive
Being a ceasefire teen and growing up in a very white Northern Ireland, navigating the diversity and inclusion landscape can feel confusing and I often reflect on my own diversity journey and I how I can do better. I’ve had many conversations about where we are as flourishing country and many questions including ‘Surely if you can see diversity it’s enough?’, ‘Can we even talk about colour?’, ‘Might we offend?’, ‘What if we say the wrong thing?’, and more. These are conversations I encourage us all to get comfortable discussing. Living in Belfast with my mixed race son, it’s never been more important for me to be having these conversations with people to normalise Black excellence, empowerment and to encourage us all to explore what it looks like to be Northern Irish and what all people contribute to our country and island.
October is Black History Month UK. Black History Month recognises and celebrates contributions that Black people have been making to our history and society for centuries but was often over-looked, ignored or downplayed. This month and every month is an opportunity for us to reflect and take direct action to highlight under represented Black voices in the workplace, society and beyond.
As someone living in a beautifully changing and diverse country, it is important to recognise and celebrate our differences, move beyond the orange and green and towards a full spectrum of identity and excellence, to become aware of barriers that many groups face and to accept our own privileges and explore how we can do better.
The theme for this year’s Black History Month is Time for Change: Actions Not Words. It is a privilege to be able to learn about racism, inequalities and injustice and not experience it so I choose to own that privilege. I also choose to take this month as an opportunity to learn how to practise true allyship and make lasting change.
Here are some thoughts I have on how to practise true allyship this month and every month;
Stay curious and respectful. This might look like reading, watching and absorbing as much as you can about Black experiences, history and issues that are faced daily by Black people. It could also look like examining DEI strategies in the workplace, educating your child on how to be more inclusive in the learning setting and/or supporting Black businesses and public figures.
In the workplace this could be about inclusive hiring, micro aggressions and an awareness of policies and procedures or culture that might block progress. Accept that it is your place if you are a part of a majority group to create or support initiatives you believe are right. Model good behaviours which could look like interacting respectfully and professionally and invite those who aren’t at the table to join in the conversation.
Practise Active Listening – Listen to Understand and Learn.
Communicating what changes might happen and reimagining change and growth. Ask permission for shared Black experiences and appreciate that all Black experiences are different.
Create trusted spaces for people to share their experiences, concerns, barriers and struggles.
If in doubt ask permission to share what can be done better or improved. Black people are often given the burden of experiences of racism, the double burden of sharing that trauma and then contribute to try and fix it. Avoid this and do the work!
Open doors for all Black People and People of Colour in the Workplace.
This might look like inviting a Black colleague to a meeting or an event or passing on opportunities to them. Work towards a culture of awareness on all levels on different languages, faiths and languages. Include these voices throughout the company.
Work together to find out how everyone can benefit from the workplace.
Educate your own community, explore stereotypes, bias and misunderstanding and work together to create a more exclusive workplace. A great way to do this is look around – ask who is not in the room?
And remember, being an ally is not about only you. It is about building a community of people that stand by the under-represented. It is more about shifting attitudes and culture than policies and procedures with the goal of influencing to create an inclusive workplace and society for all.