Diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords across many industries and have become common topics for panel discussions, especially within the professional services sector. Working in law, there are countless diversity events, initiatives and award ceremonies and it seems like everyone has gone a bit diversity mad.
However, when actively working in an organisation where you are either the only, or one of very few Black employees, it can be very irritating to see diversity being spoken about, but that ‘diversity’ never seems to include Black people. I thought it wise to put together a mini-self care and guidance article on how to push for initiatives that support us and our people while keeping your mental health intact.
Start at the beginning and take folks on a journey
When I started working on diversity issues, I soon realised how my own politics were far more advanced than those of some of my peers. I lived in a completely different world to those who had become accustomed to only seeing white faces in a workplace and thought that any diversity other than that of white, heterosexual, Christian (or of Christian backgrounds), middle class and Russell Group educated men was the extent to which change was needed.
I had to break down the various issues certain groups faced and why this was a problem. I quickly learned to detach myself from the feelings of anger when faced with ignorance or direct anti-Blackness. Making organisations create policies which are inherently inclusive with specific targets to increase diversity is a long term journey not a short term dash.
See the bigger picture
It’s essential you know where you want to be and stay fixed on that goal. When setting up my firm’s first LGBT and Black History Month celebrations, the red tape and amendments to my words were irritating, but I had to let it go or nothing would go ahead. The minutiae of political months and movements are very important, but when in the position of David, you have to be very strategic with taking Goliath down. Keep the wider message there and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Keep it accessible
It’s easy to think everyone should just catch up with your thinking, but to many people, we’re tipping their worlds upside down and decentring them from conversations. Be sure to explain political or technical language to people in accessible formats. I used visual imaging to push certain points home and to get conversation going in the office with tabs highlighting terms such as ‘orientation’ and ‘gender expression’ on certain parts of genderbread people for example. It worked like a treat!
Maintain the politics but dress it up nicely
Many of my political friends will vehemently disagree, but when working in conservative and undiverse environments, you have to fight your battles strategically. Your message has to be capable of being engaged with universally. If it is not, then it won’t have the desired outcome and you’ll face even more barriers. Sure, this is not a great situation to be in but swallowing my pride has enabled me to push through what I could. Start out small, subtle and specific. Rome was not built in a day and neither will your movement be.
Take a deep breath, go for a walk and count to ten
I recall critiquing the white-washing of Black history for an article written for Black History Month and the very blunt anti-Blackness I received back by return. I reacted rather angrily, as anyone would. However, as the only Black man at my level out of around 130 juniors, and one of 5 Black/bi-racial Black juniors, I am very much alone and that situation hammered that point home. I then decided to never let external forces ruin my peace and joy. Whenever I face push back I internally laugh it off or roll my eyes in my head. The fury we give to anti-Blackness/racism can consume us if we aren’t careful and we have to control how much we give lest we burn out.
Always remember that we are all going through the same issues in our organisations – the slow change, the lack of understanding of Black issues and the painfully poor numbers of Black candidates being hired. It’s essential you protect your peace and mental health because it can be very triggering having Black issues not taken seriously. Do what you can and remember to mentally clock-out once you check out of the office for the day.
Isaac (@aChildof2Worlds) – Co-Founder of the Black Men in Law Network