The month of October in the UK is Black History Month. A month to showcase and highlight our journey as Black people in Great Britain whilst looking at the amazing work we are currently doing in our communities, speaking on accomplishments we plan on achieving in the years to come.
I want to say a massive thank you to Mary Kemi Agbesanwa for profiling me on Day 12 of her #31DaysofBlackExcellence! 31 days of different Black men and women doing amazing work in various areas of corporate, academia and entrepreneurship. Check my profile right here! Mary is a Management Consultant at PwC where she is also the Co-Chair of the PwC Multicultural Business Network and No.13 in the EMpower 50 Ethnic Minority Future Leaders List. Check out the amazing work she does on her Medium page right here! Thank you again Mary.
Writing my post and reading the other days on #31DaysofBlackExcellence made me think more about being Black and working in a predominately white environment and the effects it has to our minds, wellbeing and futures. Coincidentally, I also attended the Black Men In Law Network (“BML”): Mental Health and Black Legal Professional event where I was enriched and learnt so much about understanding trauma, navigating the workplace as a Black person and how to grow in my career. I also want to thank Guilaine Kinouani for her encouragement, passion and intellect. She taught and equipped us with so much guidance and advice.
Being a 1st or 2nd generation Black British might mean a number of things. The first in your family to go to university. First to be offered a graduate job in the corporate world or the opportunity to establish a start-up and be an entrepreneur. In each of these areas you’ll most likely stand out for something you can’t change… the colour of your skin. That alone can bring on pressure, build anxiety and affect your mind.
In many institutions you may be the only Black person in your team, on your floor or maybe in your building. However, as so many young Black people are entering the corporate, academic &/or entrepreneurial world we need to ensure that there are more people who look like us entering through the doors right behind us. This will enable us to have a stronger representation of Black people in these spaces, developing a stronger support system across the different sectors and a network of people.
At the BML event I learnt more about how racial trauma is real and understanding that the foundations of our surroundings were built on institutional racism and unconscious biasness. So to navigate through all of that we need to look after our minds and wellbeing, developing positive habits for us as Black people to overcome the underlying issues that affect and negatively impact us everyday.
In addition to having a support system and building a network of like-minded Black people it is also important that you speak out and against any abuse, racial or not, that you may experience in the workplace to reduce and eliminate any negativity that will impact your working environment. Try and seek out a mentor, someone more experienced than you and find out about their experience growing up in a different era and how they worked through it.
I failed to realise that that many Black people feel the pressure when it comes to being the ‘poster child’ for Black people in the workplace. There can be immense pressure on people to perform, over-exerting themselves to sickness trying to be the perfect employee, whilst their white counterparts have the luxury of being mediocre candidates.
But I learnt from Guilaine that we shouldn’t “internalise the harsh notion that we need to be a certain way or work harder” and to feel proud of our position as “we have worth irrespective of professional status.” And I felt that.
All in all make sure that YOU are your first priority. Not the salary, not your manager and not the institution. Know your triggers and develop healthy mechanisms and behaviours that best serve you to be the best you can be in and out of the office.