Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Combating the Under-Representation of People Of Colour In The Workplace

I moved to a new department last month and it’s very different to what I have been used to during my three years with my current employer. I am one of the oldest (in age) within the team (I’ve not left my 20’s lol). The majority of the staff are trainees and apprentices, so aged between 16-22 years old and from Black and other ethnic minority backgrounds.

I’ve never worked in a team so diverse like this. I was quite surprised because of the nature of the work we do and the people we serve (our local councillors). However, the more I am here the more I see why the team is so young and diverse; representing the community we live in and preparing the younger generation for work within a large organization, corporate office or for a career in politics (one of our councillors is only 21 years old), social policy, law, or whatever field they choose to embark in where at present, black and ethnic minorities are underrepresented.

The apprentices and trainees are working under a training scheme that provides equal opportunities for people of colour and from low income backgrounds and who do not have higher education qualifications. The organization is called PATRA incorporating ACDA. I am familiar with the organization because I did voluntary work and training with them back in 2010 while I was unemployed.

I remember having a discussion with a former employee of mine who was against the idea of such traineeships only being afforded to people of colour and that it should be ran for everyone. Although I understood her point of view and agree that everyone should be given the same opportunities, this particular organization and others were specifically set up to give black and ethnic minority groups an equal standing in the labour market where once upon a time, this was not happening.

Although times have changed, why devalue the work and stop it when it’s actually been successful? Some of these apprentices have gone on to have full time permanent positions and are doing well. Who’s knows where they would have been if such opportunities were not created specifically for them?

We have to remember that people of colour were not given opportunities to work in corporate offices or in senior positions before and it’s through these types of initiatives and organizations that tackled this issue under legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010, that more opportunities for us were created.

I can remember as a law student at university being told (by another black person) that I shouldn’t think about a career in law because that’s a “white man’s job”. And true it was, until people of colour stepped up and decided to fight for equal rights for us to establish careers in predominately white sectors.

Maybe that particular person who made the comment grew up in a household with that mentally and therefore couldn’t see beyond that. But having organizations such as PATRA opens the minds of our young black men and women, where at home, they are not being aspired to see beyond race as an obstacle.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Why Black History Is Important To Me

Last Thursday while I was going through some old things at home, I came across my school picture from 1998 when I was 11 years old. I remembered the picture so well because I had just come back from a five week family holiday to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Zimbabwe is the birth place of my parents and I have family living in South Africa too. It was my first time stepping foot on African soil and learning about where I come from, where my parents grew up etc.

Over the years I have been learning more about my family’s history how and why they left their home country to study in America and settle down in the UK.

Growing up in a predominately Caucasian neighbourhood and school, I didn’t understand where I came from, why we were classed as a minority, why we were treated as insignificant and the only lesson on black history we received was in year 9 in two one hour classes during Religious Education which baffled me because I didn’t understand why Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks were taught in Religious Education. It should have been part of the history class, but anyway that’s all I got. I remember going home doing my own research as a 14 year old school kid wanting to find out more.

Over the years that’s what I have been doing and learning more about the history of not only my country of origin but also my race. It has actually helped me to understand the struggles my forefathers went through, why family members, especially from the older generation had a particular mind-set and attitude towards certain things and why my parents were so insistent on us furthering our education all the way to university. I remember we even had a private tutor for subjects we weren’t excelling in and we had to get jobs the moment we finished school at 16 instead of depending on my parents. They sacrificed a lot, even their own lives just for us to not have to struggle and live the life they did.

When we know where we come from and what those before us have had to go through, it motivates you (well at least it does me) to work harder, to aim higher, because we have access to things that they weren’t allowed to by law. Because of them, we are able to advance academically, professionally and socially like never before, because of what they did for us! That’s why black history is important for me.

This time of the year is the only time we have events and workshops dedicated to our history where we can learn and appreciate where we come from and continue to invest in ourselves so we can be an example for the generation to come, because boy are they in need positive examples!