How we should really celebrate Black History Month

October is Black History Month in the UK. However, the celebrations and awareness go beyond displays of rich African fabric, an “exotic” menu in the company canteen and the back-to-back “diversity” panels. It’s about putting Black employees front and centre of your organisation. It’s about celebrating the rich heritage, dynamism and diversity that doing this brings to the UK, and to an organisation. 

My thoughts on how to celebrate Black History Month have changed over the years. At one point I refused to join in with the celebrations and thought it should be cancelled all together. We should be celebrating Black history, heritage and excellence all year round. 

Now, I feel like it’s not the month itself that’s the problem. The corporate way of celebrating Black History Month can drain its authenticity. In a previous job I was asked by a colleague to give “some brief remarks” or join an “esteemed panel” to discuss race and diversity (or something along those lines) as part of their “month-long celebration of Black British heritage”. It’s 2022. In my view, we shouldn’t be overdoing panel discussions on racism. As if we haven’t had enough uncomfortable conversations! For some reason, unknown to me, they thought it was my duty as a person of colour to make the organisation appear more “woke”. I was made to feel like I should have been honoured to be asked to take part. 

The reason I say this is to shine a light on the fact that current efforts by a lot of organisations to celebrate Black communities with empty graphics, fun facts and marketing aren’t addressing the core issues. If you really want to celebrate Black history, you should be trying to actually make Black history within the organisation.

There has been progress made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (previously known as the  Commission for Racial Equality) – Britain’s equality regulator. For example, they published a report that explores the ethnicity pay gap, which includes recommendations for what needs to change to tackle it. But organisations need to actually take action. 

If you’re working for an organisation that has a huge racial pay gap, lack of diversity on the board, and/or poor senior leadership representation, the organisation is part of the problem. No social media posts or panels are going to do anything to address these systemic issues. Confronting discrimination in the workplace is the best way to truly celebrate Black History Month.

Giving to Black causes has often been a way for companies to show they care and understand the issues faced by many people of colour. Instead, look inward and tackle the root cause issues closer to home. At Made Tech we’ve made enormous strides to promote Black employees, visibly address our leadership and hiring practices and pay inequities. These are just a few steps organisations need to take to show they’re committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. We need to show that change is possible. 

Previously I thought it was near-impossible to expect organisations to use this month to announce things like the promotion of a Black executive, closing racial pay gaps and focusing on ways to develop and empower black communities within an organisation. Made Tech’s helped me see that it’s not as far-fetched as it may seem. 

For me, addressing racism is about addressing power imbalances and unconscious bias which perpetuate many of the issues above. If a company’s unwilling to engage in a serious conversation about tackling these issues, should they really be celebrating Black History Month?

Let’s practice being adaptable and make it the norm

I’d love to share a little about how my own experiences have contributed to my success in the tech world. 

I was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, before moving to London with my family where times were very hard. I experienced something commonly referred to as “Farming” in Southampton as a child – where Nigerian immigrants would temporarily give their children to foster families, sending money for a child’s upkeep while they worked or studied to try to make a better life for their families (there’s a great movie called Farming with Damson Idris that came out in 2018 about this).

When I came back home to London in my formative years, I had the task of balancing my football academy responsibilities, social life, and education. Then came internships with financial institutions that took me to Switzerland, Italy, and France, before coming back to London and then ultimately, moving to Manchester. 

In hindsight, it’s very clear now that all of these experiences cultivated one key skill that has been critical to my success as a delivery lead – adaptability.

Being able to adapt to new skills, ways of working, technologies, and new market trends is one of the most important skills for any delivery manager. Our job is to constantly question the status quo while creating a space for thought provoking conversations. We need to push our teams to develop as well as maintaining resilience in the face of constant change. We need to remain calm and composed especially when faced with difficult and often disruptive changes in order to maintain that drive to deliver.

As the Agile Manifesto reminds us, we must “embrace change over following a plan”. It’s much easier said than done, but we can practice being adaptable. Let’s make it the norm. In the words of influential management thinker Peter Drucker – “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”. 

If you want to learn more about how we’re working to create an inclusive environment for everyone at Made Tech, read our latest insights on Diversity & Inclusion

About the Author

Ayo Olatunde

Lead Delivery Manager

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