As a black woman in the current working world, I must admit that I’ve been privy to many traumatic experiences. As a black woman often entering predominantly white spaces it can be incredibly traumatic, particularly in a country that prides itself on its ability to regulate and maintain degrees of diversity and inclusion and diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “surely things can’t be that bad if conscientious steps are being taken by companies to regulate D&I?” Well, sadly I’d have to say that this is not necessarily true. Over the course of last year the deeply insidious nature of racial issues that exist, particularly in spaces such as the workplace, have been brought to the forefront. I myself have worked a fair few jobs each a little different but all providing me with tales of discrimination and an underlying sense of exclusion and exclusivity, here are just a few tales and exploits from my own experiences in the working world. Hopefully through sharing my stories steps can be taken in the right direction towards a more progressive and genuinely diverse working world.
“Can you tone it down…”
“Can you tone it down, it’s a bit much” said the manager to me as I stepped on the main floor ready to provide my hospitality services for the evening, this comment was in reference to my hair. I had an afro at the time. Having spent a number of years working in hospitality I had grown accustomed to the various comments on my appearance, and having worked my way up the ladder, within my company, I was all too aware of the attitudes of those in charge when it came to non-white staff members.
I found myself becoming increasingly jaded as I came to see that these negative attitudes and comments often fell on the heads of the ethnic minorities in the company, “Why was our natural appearance not enough?” I asked myself.
When I had initially interviewed for the job I was sold a dream of jet setting and excitement, being whisked away to work jobs in faraway lands but as I found myself plummeting deeper and deeper into the industry it became increasingly apparent that most of the opportunities for higher-paid roles and fancy jobs abroad were predominantly afforded to those of a seemingly Caucasian nature.
“I wondered what made people such as myself less worthy”
I wondered what made people such as myself less worthy and came to realize that the answers lay in the company’s own colonial views on what constituted as “attractive,” and the wealthy but discriminatory clients they were willing to accept. It was working here that I came to realize the ever far-reaching hand of the colonial mindset and the large role that it still appeared to play with terms such as “menu staff” and “English rose” used in job descriptions to request explicitly white staff.
Surely this couldn’t be a template that was being used in the 21st century, I pondered, I had to question it because it just didn’t seem right to me, suffice to say that my constant questioning of these types of decisions led to my expulsion from this company, a company that claimed to be the so-called rolls Royce of catering staff.
“I had grown accustomed to the potential comments on my heritage and race that would often come from the general public…”
Working in a customer-facing environment I had grown accustomed to the potential comments on my heritage and race that would often come from the general public. This didn’t make it any easier but my assumption had always been that I would at least have the support of my employer. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. I was treated as a liability and discarded with such a degree of ease that it caused uproar amongst the general staff team and my then former colleagues. So you can imagine my surprise when the BLM movement took off and this very same company felt that they could throw in a picture containing a couple of black faces on their social media page and claim to be about inclusion, multiculturalism, and diversity.
By this point, I had been working in a different industry and chose to focus on my new role. But even here in a creative non-customer-facing role, I have seen the insidious nature of white supremacy, with the opinions of the few black staff members often being disregarded or treated as if they were not worth the run. “Surely this can’t be the state of POC employee’s in every industry?” I pondered,
“Maybe this was all in my head…”
“Maybe this was all in my head, and over embellishment of minor things that had occurred.” I turned to friends and colleagues for a second opinion, desperate to see if there were others experiencing the same degrees of subtle and surreptitious discrimination as me. Their stories brought me little solace as the extensive and deeply rooted nature of the problem became incredibly apparent. We all appeared to be fighting a losing battle, rolling a giant boulder up a steep hill, whilst being chased by the elephant in the room, so to speak, as we fought for equality and representation in our various fields. Our skills and diligence often being brought into question for no apparent reason and constant cases of mistaken identity, due to the lazy and unobservant attitudes of those that worked above us.
These subconscious biases that exist for POC are only heightened when the work that we do is perceived to be of a lower status or inferior, with both class and race playing a large part in how we are perceived in the workplace.
A new era for diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Now, as we enter an era of a heightened sense of the need for social change and justice, I find myself constantly being asked the same questions by those deemed to be amongst the upper echelons of the racially graded society in which we live. “what can I do to help combat discrimination in the workplace?”
“How can I be an ally to POC?” and it’s through these, at times somewhat misguided questions, that the need for diversity and inclusion becomes apparent.
Diversity and inclusion if approached in an open and truly sincere manner can open up the channels of communication between employees and employers, leading to a much greater understanding of the issues often faced by POC. Issues that are currently often neglected and overlooked.
“I implore you to listen to those in your vicinity that may be facing some kind of discrimination. Speak up when you see them being mistreated…”
A willingness to hire POC into positions of importance and an understanding of the necessity to include ideas and opinions of those from racially diverse backgrounds would be a step in the right direction if we all truly wish to overcome the racial biases that have existed worldwide for a lifetime. Therefore I implore you to listen to those in your vicinity that may be facing some kind of discrimination. Speak up when you see them being mistreated, and most importantly understand that the hiring of one or two ethnic members of staff does not make you exempt from the overbearing reach of white supremacy.
Diversity & Inclusion is of course, necessary, but it’s a mere cog in a large piece of machinery that we’re trying to build. In order to make it a system that works we must all be more self-aware, outspoken, and diligent in our approach to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
About the author: Sylvia is a freelance writer and an advocate for black women. She writes about the many different challenges and experiences faced by black women in the workplace and within society. Get in touch via email for collaborations
If you have a career story or experience that you’d like to share then please get in touch.
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