First of all, Happy Black History Month to all my African and Caribbean brothers, sisters and non-binaries! Hope you have a great month of celebration and reflection. Before I begin, as always, I am not speaking for anyone else but I am speaking my truth and experiences. For me, I feel strengthened when I share my experiences because, firstly, it feel quiet therapeutic for me and secondly, you never know who can relate and lastly, you never know what positive change it can bring to the world.
So, let’s start with diversity. What does that mean? I looked up the definition on Google. Even Google can’t seem to define it in a way that fits everyone’s ideals so I looked up the definition of ‘diverse’ instead. It is defined as ‘showing a great deal of variety’ which is quite a good definition but the question is, what is variety?
I have been working in tech technically for a year but officially seven months (time flies, I know!). I have heard the word ‘diverse’ a lot whether it be tech events, blogs, YouTube videos, LinkedIn promos on different workplace cultures. They say things like, “our workplace is diverse because we have a lot of women”, others will say “our workplace is diverse because we have a lot of people that think differently” or “our workplace is diverse because we have so many people from all over the world” yet they zoom in on the only person of color working for them at the time. Now, don’t lie, you’ve seen my last point before, haven’t you? That’s why you’re smiling right now! Yeah, I see you!!
I always say I’m grateful for my stage, for my platform, if you consider this a platform because it’s been empowering for me to speak my story to the world. I have speaking a lot about my experience of being a black woman in the technology space and I have connected with other black people that have, or have had, the same experience as me. One thing we all have in common is that we all seek out to find spaces where we feel included, places where we don’t feel that we have to hide or diminish who we are, how we speak, what we talk about; places where we embrace our individual cultures because for the majority of us, there is not a place like that at work.
This year alone, I have connected with, and even spoken at, some incredible events and organisations that create a space for black people to connect, relate, discuss, reflect and celebrate our individuality either in a professional setting or just in a fun space. Some of these organisations include Coding Black Females and UKBlackTech, some events include The UK Black Business Show, The BYP Conference and Black Girl Fest. As monumental as these events and organisations are, a part of me wanted to stay at those events. A part of me wanted those events to last days or weeks because honestly, I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to go back to being alone again, being the only one.
It’s emotional writing this. Why do I say that I wouldn’t last long in a diverse workplace? Because, to me, there is a difference between a diverse workplace and an inclusive one. Adobe launched their Black Employee Network, a colleague of mine told me about it and I felt excitement and jealousy. Jealousy. Weird, right? I felt jealousy because I wish I had something like that. I’m sure a lot of black people working in different organisations wish they had something like this. I wish it was the norm; a inclusive space created without fear or worry of what people would think or say about it because at the end of day, there are experiences that I have had, and will have, as a black woman, as a black individual, that no-one else would understand unless they look like me.
If the focus is on numbers and corporate image, if the focus is not on building an environment and culture for the underrepresented groups in your organisation without fear or worry about what represented groups in your organisation will think, if the focus is not on changing the mindset of colleagues to be open to learning and understanding who they work with, then maybe people will feel proud and happy to come to work and if they leave, they leave because they outgrew the job they had and not because the office wasn’t ready for them.
Bozoma Saint John, former Chief Brand Officer at Uber once said “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” I can’t wait to have a dance.
October 17, 2019