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“Please Ask Your Black Talent If They Are Okay”


Maria McDowell, founder of lollipop mentoring, on Black History Month fatigue and how to be truly anti-racist

“Please Ask Your Black Talent If They Are Okay”

I have a dual relationship with Black History Month. 

On the one hand, I love seeing many companies spring into action, making positive leaps forward and giving Black talent the confidence to be seen and heard. Those businesses that put the effort in show their Black employees that they care.

But then on the other hand, why does it all stop once the month comes to an end? 

Yes, Black History Month is supposed to be a month of awareness, but that doesn’t mean that the progress made during this time should just go on pause for the rest of the year. Until you’re prompted to do something about it again next October…

The problem is, while Black History Month gives the Black community some hope that there are companies out there who care about us, what happens next is disheartening. Because once you start digging under the surface and see what most companies are about at their core, you tend to find that the words and gestures surrounding DE&I efforts only sit at the surface. They do not run through the whole being of the company. And that makes it seem like a performative move rather than a move for real change.

If you’re just going to focus on the surface while the reality of working within your business is a different experience, then diverse talent cannot trust you and will not want to work with you. Focusing the majority of your DE&I efforts into Black History Month is a short term view. 

So what can you do if you want to make real change and support Black History Month but have not yet got a robustly inclusive structure within your company?

Be HONEST about it! 

We understand that change can take time. But just be transparent with it. Have open dialogue, talk about your intentions and what you’re planning to do to improve. That’s what will give us hope, inspire others and help Black people get on board to help you make it happen.

Now I can hear some of you thinking, “But I believe in equality for all”. Yes, me too. No one is saying that not everyone is equal. The issue is that in reality, Black attainment levels and representation seems to always be on the lower end of the scale. We’re the ones that need the most support here because we have been marginalised for centuries. 

If you’re shouting about equality for all then you’re completely ignoring the real problem and the message gets diluted. So we must all make some noise to drive movement. Because it’s not just down to Black people. Black women in particular have been made to feel responsible for DE&I and Black History Month initiatives. How do I know? I run an entire network of Black mentees and mentors whose stories and experiences prove it.

Black History Month is there to educate everybody. Leaving it up to us as if it’s just “our problem” is completely misguided. All allies need to hold themselves accountable and place focus on those that are being most marginalised. And that’s Black people.

Because we’re tired. We’re tired of the fight just being down to us. We’re tired of only being important during Black History Month. The fatigue is real and yes, I am the angry Black woman. I am not okay with how things stand. 

The thing that really gets to me is that it's really not difficult - which makes it all the more annoying that we’re not seeing enough people doing this already. There’s so much fear and uncertainty surrounding how to approach this “sensitive” issue. We need to stop looking at it this way. We’re all human. Let’s just have open conversations and start to understand each other better - it costs nothing.

Speak to the Black people in your company and ask them how they feel. As somebody who's mentoring lots of Black women, please ask your Black talent if they are okay. Because from what I’m hearing, a lot of them are not. 

If you can’t have direct conversations at the moment because you’re unsure of how to approach it - get third parties in to mediate. Or create an anonymous survey so that employees feel safe to be honest. 

Open conversation is about creating a non-judgemental environment where there are no bad questions. Until we actually let the truth out, we cannot move forward. Only when you confront things can things be sorted out.

So my question for you - not just this Black History Month, but for every day - is, are you certain that you are doing all you can to make sure you are anti-racist?

That may shock you to hear, but being anti-racist actually means doing what you can to COUNTER racism. Not just believing in equality. 

Do the right thing. Don’t just do what’s easy because it doesn’t affect you. Use what is in your power to make Black people feel welcome and truly supported. And do it all from an educated place. 

It’s up to us all to get clued up, have open discussions and keep things moving in the right direction.

For now, I remain optimistic. I believe that people are inherently good. So I look forward to seeing what we can achieve over the next year but time will tell. Until next Black History Month.


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lollipop Mentoring, Mon, 31 Oct 2022 10:17:00 GMT