By Nadia Opoku-Addo, development officer, Sovereign.
Black History Month is a time for celebration, reflection and questioning. Across Sovereign, we’re in full swing celebrating Black History and all it has to offer with talks, seminars and a nice amount of African and Caribbean food too.
Colleagues are being encouraged to share insights and talk about influential black figures that have inspired them. Across the organisation, we’re reminding ourselves of the fabulous achievements of individuals with African and Caribbean heritage – from Barack Obama to Martin Luther King and Marcus Rashford.
Celebrating the lives and achievements of black people is vital, and something we should all get behind. Black History Month isn’t simply a celebration for black people to take part in. It’s one for all of us, regardless of our skin colour.
It’s great to have a national month-long celebration here in the UK. But, at the same time, we each need to recognise that there are 11 other months of the year in which we should be celebrating Black History. And sometimes change takes much longer than a month to achieve and get right.
I’ve been a part of the Caribbean, African and Asian Network at Sovereign for a few years now. Just recently I stepped up to become co-chair. I knew it’d be a good opportunity for me personally – and its timing couldn’t have been better. I enjoy being part of the group, so having a greater say in its strategy and direction is the next logical step.
The group has fantastic intentions and this, for me, is key. Diversity in the workplace is a journey. It’s not something you achieve overnight. Some organisations are far along their journey; others are only just starting. And this is okay. What one company does as part of its journey may not work or be right for another.
But there’s plenty to share and think about.
I attended a seminar recently with speakers from another housing association and a large bank. The speakers talked about some of the radical solutions they had introduced to improve diversity and reduce gaps across their organisation.
They had ideas of overhauling things from the top down. The speakers were clear on what they wanted from recruitment, had the backing of their senior leadership team and some even had bonuses linked to diversity!
But the good work doesn’t stop there either.
Before I become co-chair at Sovereign, I’d researched other companies to understand what lessons we might be able to learn and take from them. I found companies had diversity champions and diverse recruitment panels – and the one thing I really loved was seeing how some companies were embedding diversity into the short and long-term company objectives.
Diversity wasn’t treated or positioned as some separate project; it was at the core of the organisation. Others have introduced reset days for employees; a one-day event designed to get colleagues talking about the issues which matter to them and what’s needed to bring about positive change. It’s this commitment to an open environment which must be the foundation of any EDI strategy.
Organisations have also begun to take an innovative approach to recruitment. Many are starting to see the benefits of bringing in specialist agencies to help them recruit ethnic minorities. I find this incredibly powerful and symbolic too.
Seeing all this work going on has left me inspired – so I have bold ambitions for Sovereign too.
As a team, I want us to really think differently about what we’re doing well and what we need to improve. Many of the challenges and examples of prejudice which exist in our world are well known. It’s how we deal with them the matters. The question is how we address the challenges, come up with solutions which have the most meaningful impact, and tackle things like barriers to progression and the race pay gap.
We’ve made a good start on some of these points by launching a series of ‘Let’s talk about’ sessions earlier this year. We’ve brought these in to help us create an open and honest environment – and one where we can have difficult conversations about things like race, sexuality, disability and a whole lot more.
But we know we have more work to do and for this we’re going to try and think differently and expand our thinking. We also need to be open, and receptive to having the conversation and taking accountability.
Black History Month is a time for celebrating diversity and understanding where we are as part of our own journey. Sovereign aspires to be a force for change on EDI and I’m looking forward to turning this ambition into a reality.