Black History Month 2019

I get excited for this month every year, not just because of TV guides sudden influx of movies, documentaries and shows about the Black experience, but because it encourages the whole country to remember the moments and people who transformed history.

It invites everyone to celebrate, inspire and promote Black British achievers.

This is especially important as Black British History often falls under the radar. The very first UK Undergraduate course in Black Studies began enrolment in Birmingham City University just in 2017, studying the African and Caribbean diaspora’s experience and contribution to society. This is one of the first of its kind in our country, highlighting how important this month is. It’s a time to reclaim a history that has been skewed over time and the hidden voices that undercurrent our society.

The power of history is not only in how it shapes society, but how it guides our choices. Following recent political events, it’s now more important than ever to think about BME experience relating to diversity and inclusion. When we look at business, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go until we truly reach equality. In my experience when discussing such issues, statistics are a perfect way to convey disparity in diversity. So, here are a few:

  1. There are more ‘Davids’ and ‘Steve’s’ that lead FTSE 100 companies than women and ethnic minorities.

  2. BME individuals represent 10% of the workforce but hold only 6% of top management positions.

  3. Only 3% of the most powerful, prominent 1,000 people in Britain are from Ethnic Minorities.

These figures are just a glimpse of inequality in our society. It’s not on everyone’s radar, but promoting diversity should be a no brainer especially when we look at how diversity practically benefits business; McKinsey's 2015 study found that companies with greater gender diversity were 15% more likely to outperform more homogenous firms, and that figure rose to 35% for companies with greater ethnic diversity. Economically, in the McGregor-Smith Review suggests that utilising the full potential of black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals can contribute £24 billion to the UK economy after a year.

Having a diverse workforce also positively impacts society. By having more BME people in senior positions you’re helping to create more tolerant communities by exposing people to different cultures. Diverse and Inclusive workforces also play a part in changing stereotypes pitted against people of colour which, while you may not believe, plenty of people still believe. You also create role models for future BME workforces by increasing their representation in your industry. So, in the future, when they look at your company, they will be able to imagine themselves there.

A diverse team creates a vibrant workforce that promotes innovation. The combination of diversity of expertise and culture creates a unique pool of ideas, approaches and passions; an essential mix for modern-day businesses that opens the door to a wider talent pool. Diversity influences diversity of thought that invites fresh and new perspectives. It’s a trick we can’t keep on missing and a way to make sure we don’t add to the limitless list of hidden figures from our history.

One such historical hidden figure now stepping into the limelight is Mary Seacole. During the Crimean War, she volunteered to the British War Office but was denied entry. Instead, she set up her own British Hotel to care for the wounded and grew herself a sparkling reputation to match Florence Nightingale… whose name is, however, the one most people know. Seacole’s story is now more widely recognised and in 2016 a memorial statue was built opposite the Houses of Parliament outside St. Thomas’ Hospital. If you want to know more Black Britons who’ve made history, check out social historian Emma Dabiri’s presentation and blog here.

Black History Month is a chance to celebrate and promote diversity. We can’t inject it into every workplace overnight, but we can make sure to celebrate diverse role models and advocates, supporting those making change. This is something we’re proud to support here at the Sussex Innovation Centre, look out for posters around the building promoting historical heroes and information about events!

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