Friday 4th March 2022
I grew up in Nigeria, a country that welcomes my skin colour; it is the norm. The only characteristic I had to fight for, though challenging, was being female. Working in the UK as a black woman is like a double-edged sword jabbing you in the back. I always imagined working in the UK would mean that I would be free of discrimination of any kind. I dreamt of a utopian world where people could be free of stereotypes, where gender was not favoured, a diverse and inclusive world where being different was celebrated and not seen as a threat. Looking back 16 years later and I question, are we there yet?
My earliest memory of job hunting in the UK was being told that my given name would limit me from opportunities because the recruiter would identify that I was a black woman. I was encouraged to disguise my first name (make it more English, they said), thereby falsely representing my identity and allowing the recruiter to assume that I "married a white man".
Since then, I have lived this dichotomy for most of my adult working life – Anne at work with a persuasive British accent and Olusola at home. Every time I tried to merge both paths, I was reminded that the world wasn't ready to accept me. In 2020, inspired by my sister, the events of Black Lives Matter and the horrible events we all witnessed, though complex and painful, I gained a new sense of hope.
I was party to several discussions where workplaces encourage staff to be true to their identity and "bring your whole self to work and live authentically". Promises from organisations to be more inclusive, to educate themselves on what it means to be an advocate.
The actions of 2020-2021 have given the world the shakeup it's desperately needed for EDI in all respect. I faced a lot of tragedy in 2021; looking back, I see it as a necessary evil because the pandemic and focus on EDI have improved my working life along with many others. I am glad that I work for an organisation that took the effects of the pandemic seriously and worked to equip its staff with the tools needed to work effectively from home. Gone are the days of in-person microaggression on transport, at events, in-person meetings and the like.
Some may say that it is the latest fashion accessory as companies get on board with prioritising EDI and better understand what it means to be an inclusive organisation. Quite simply, everyone benefits from an inclusive culture. It is vital to the organisation's success, growth, and reputation but more a sign that we are a progressive race that value individuality.
This year's international women's day theme, #Breakthebias talks about a world "that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated". It acknowledges that we need to be the change we want to see. "Celebrating our achievements, increasing visibility while calling out inequality". All of which describes my utopia; are we close? I want to think that the world is listening and ready to implement and that we have gone beyond words and accountability will enforce the change we so desperately need.
What do I want to see happening? We have spent the last year educating, speaking up, sharing stories and being more knowledgeable about EDI, now is the time for the practicalities. I would like to see organisations supporting those who have faced bias, discrimination and injustice. I want to know what they have got planned to gain the trust of colleagues who have faced and are still facing these disparities? It could be as easy as offering counsel; easy access to non-stigmatised counselling can work wonders.
I want to see leaders championing change in workplaces and communities, not just through words but through actions. I want to see the bias broken in schools, colleges and universities. We need to eliminate the fear of our children being discriminated against because the world sees them as "being different."
I want to see genuine allyship, not disingenuous because big brother is watching but instead because it is the right thing to do.
To #breakthebias, I commit to keep challenging and keep fighting.
WISH Board member, Midlands
Wednesday 25th August 2021
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