Here in the UK, October is observed as Black History Month. A time to celebrate black excellence; a time to reflect on how black people and communities have helped shape our history.
As Black History Month has just come to a close, I thought it would be the perfect time to reflect on my own personal experiences of working in the PR and communications industry as a young black woman, and my personal perspective on the industry’s progress to date towards achieving diversity and inclusion.
Representation of black PR professionals has increased over the last few years, however there is still a lot more that can be done to remove racial barriers in the industry and attract more black talent. When I first embarked on my career in communications, I was surprised with the little response I received from potential employers when sending out applications. I sent my CV to my career mentor to see if there was a way I could better improve it, and he agreed that my CV was strong and was surprised that I wasn’t receiving any call backs for interviews. I decided to try changing tact and use my biblical middle name, Abigail instead of my Nigerian first name on my CV to see if that made a difference. The interviews started to roll in.
After securing my first role, I learnt very quickly that as a young black woman, I had to adopt a work personality to survive in the workplace.
Based on previous experiences and from my experiences within the black community, certain aspects of my culture are seen as less professional in the workplace. I knew that I had to carry myself in a certain way to ensure that I was taken seriously.
Going into work and not seeing anyone that looks like me can be really difficult. When Breonna Taylor tragically had her life taken earlier this year in March, I didn’t have anyone at work that I could speak to openly and honestly about it. No one understood what it felt like to continuously see people that looked like me suffer at the hands of police brutality everyday on social media. It’s important that everyone is able to feel comfortable in their workplace and this is why representation matters. Since joining Vested, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with great colleagues, where I am able to have open, honest and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about race, with the hope to move the industry in the right direction.
The communications sector can do more to ensure that those from diverse backgrounds currently working in the industry feel heard, valued and included. It’s also important to acknowledge that having a diverse team will ultimately bring something different to the workplace and the type of work that’s delivered to clients.
As Thomas Berry famously once said “the greater the diversity, the greater the perfection”.
Having a mentor in the industry has inspired me to work hard and grow in my craft to deliver great results. If it wasn’t for my mentor and programmes such as BME PRPro’s, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There are a few schemes and programmes available that support young black PR professionals trying to enter the industry. Here are a few that I recommend: