Latest industry research has highlighted the lack of diversity in senior comms roles. We can all play a part in addressing this. But where should be begin?
by Harriet Small
Towards the end of last year, I wrote a piece, Who will be my Ellen? I was challenging my network by asking if any of them would use their platform and status to have real conversations about diversity, but also be supportive of communications / public relations professionals from BAME backgrounds emulating what Ellen Pompeo did during the Big Television Debate with Net-A-Porter. I can honestly say that my network came through overwhelmingly and for that I am grateful.
At this point can I state that I get anxiety when it comes to talking about race because I never want to be perceived as a spokeswoman for BAME individuals working in the British media industry or be known as the one who is always talking about diversity rather than my work as a communications professional. But I will share a part of my story. And as I write this, I am saying to myself “Vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage”.
If by some sheer miracle I became a Head of Communications at a local authority tomorrow I would be a single cholate chip in a gigantic cookie. That’s right, according to the recently published LGA Head of Communications survey 2018 figures show that from 116 respondents not a single one was of African / Caribbean background. While I was still trying to process that figure, I scrolled down to find that only one respondent was from an Indian origin. The PRCA Annual report 2018 data reveal that only 2% of respondents identify as Black / Black British and 3% Asian / Asian British. I must note that the LGA sample was senior leadership while the PRCA had respondents from other levels and includes the private sector, so this is of it ‘self raises more issues and questions.
I have been in the media space for a while, from Newspapers to Magazines, local government communications and soon the private sector but 12 years on I still find myself in rooms where I am the only person of colour.
So could it be time for us to finally have an honest conversation that leads to change where we listen to everyone’s experiences without dismissing them based on our privilege?
When I was at university, I had to adopt my middle name which makes one assume I am of a white background just to get an internship. I have to work twice as hard to have half, and I could win a BAFTA for my code-switching skills. I sit in a space where I am unable to challenge because the label angry black woman will be or has automatically been assigned, so I retreat into a shell. It is why I sacrifice for my own learning and professional development because as a minority I know that I can’t merely be good I have to be outstanding to get anywhere and if you have doubts ask me about my recent job search. But little is known about the conditioning that we grow up with. Where we are told to put our heads down, be grateful and get on with it. My mother would probably scold me if she knew I was writing this or even do half of what I do in the comms space.
People become what they see and can only thrive when they are in a supportive nurturing environment. In my case, a lot of what is seen on the surface is because there is a tribe of people behind me who have chosen to be an ‘Ellen’. But I have had to find them myself and cultivate our relationships. Put aside my fears and ask for help. Some of the people whose ear I have was not by sheer coincidence, and I would be setting any young comms pro from a background not too similar to mine if I told them that this just happened. So I will pave the way and use my connections to start an open impactful dialogue that embraces difference, step out of my comfort zone to be a visible example of what is possible and share my story to challenge prejudices. But I can only do that if the space is accepting of it.
So can we finally please talk about the retention of the BAME talent in the industry, ask how the industry can honestly reflect the diversity we keep saying we want to see through the work we do, and can we challenge the prejudices we have allowed to continue regardless of what aisle of the sector you sit.
So I ask will you be an ‘Ellen’?
Harriet Small is soon to be internal communications manager at Sky and you’ll find her on Twitter at @HarrietSmallies
Image via FilmMagic