Young, black, working class and female – and not in that order!
06 January, 2020
Society has so many misconceptions surrounding different demographics, and as a young, black, working-class female I sometimes feel like I’m in never ending battles made up of stereotypes, myths and restrictions – particularly in the workplace!
The book The Class Ceiling: Why it pays to be privileged, by Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison, supports my frustrations as it provides a unique perspective of the current ‘mind the gap’ social inequalities within the UK workplace. It highlights that the ‘class pay gap should not be seen as more important or more legitimate than pay gaps based on ethnicity or gender, nor do they work in isolation from one another. Rather, these attributes are intersecting and multiplicative.’ The authors argue that ‘Black, British, working-class women have average earnings in top jobs that are £20,000 less per year than those of privileged-origin white men.’
So, in general, I’m not only potentially being devalued as an employee because of my social status, but also because of my gender and my ethnicity. This hardly seems like a logical tactic for businesses who claim to manifest diversity in their workplace, but beneath surface level their employees do not reflect this at all. I fundamentally believe that my strength lies in the diverse perceptions I can identify with, and that those diverse perceptions are a significant contribution to any company.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all businesses should banish the white male from employment as that would contradict my point of having a diverse workforce, and could lead to a backlash from individuals who fit that profile. Rather, I believe businesses should focus their efforts on achieving an inclusive environment and measure success through the diverse calibre of applicants they attract and retain.
I recently came across an interesting article that analysed the benefits of having an inclusive culture and workplace in order to develop a successful business. It centred on the importance of human capital; that ‘regardless of what your company does, you need people to ideate, design, develop, market, sell and support your offering. Hence, anything that you do that improves the performance of your human capital will benefit your company, while any problems you create for your human capital will have a negative impact’.
The author provided the hypothetical situation of a company hiring two people to fill two identical positions. They both fit the outline job requirements perfectly, are the same age, attended the same school, and as far as the job roles go, they are practically indistinguishable – ‘work twins’. However, they differ in their personal characteristics in that one is male and the other female, but they are identical in all other traits. Apart from the one difference they should, in theory, perform in the same way and contribute equally to the business’s success. However, in practice what differentiates them is the one thing that would cause them to have different experiences within the workplace. For example, if the company’s current employees are all men who do not make it an inclusive environment for a female colleague to work in, she will have a negative experience in the role – compared to her identical colleague – and be less successful within the position.
This ‘theoretical example’ not only demonstrates how failing to have an inclusive environment results in an a unhappy and underperforming employee, but it also highlights that if she is positioned in a role that has an influence in promoting a business’s products and services (marketing, design, sales or support), then the company will be at a potential disadvantage when it comes to attracting female customers.
Unfortunately, as an aspiring PR professional, I am more aware of the biases within the creative sector and believe many businesses are failing to move the dial of diversity and – more worryingly – completely ignoring the concept of inclusivity. It’s because of this lack of inclusivity that companies like Creative Access exist as a way of ‘working towards a day when Britain’s society is truly reflected in our creative industries’. They believe that ‘the absence of diversity in the creative sector is not only bad for our society but is also bad for business – how can the media reflect society, if society is not reflected in the media?’.
So why do I think an inclusive workplace, which embraces diversity, is a powerful asset in business?
• Demonstrates resilience. Being who I am means I must keep pushing forward as giving up just isn’t an option. I believe people from diverse backgrounds can rise to a challenge and not be disheartened: if plan A failed, plan B will be better and plan C will smash it out of the park. As they say, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’.
• Builds loyalty. If businesses go beyond just adding an ‘our values’ page on their website, and instead focus on providing an inclusive work culture, their employees will have more of a positive work experience. They will be committed to helping the company achieve, and through word of mouth will help attract new, diverse and open-minded employees.
• Gives everyone a voice. ‘Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice being heard’. Employees need to feel – and know – that they have a voice for the decisions that can impact their work, and managers need to act as leaders to make this happen.
• Promotes collaborative working. When everyone’s individual strengths and skills are recognised and utilised, a team will feel a sense of connection with one another. This is the key as it doesn’t only create a proactive environment, it also demonstrates to clients that you are a business they would like to collaborate with.
I decided to apply for a position at KISS because of the portfolio of clients it supports, but I choose to work for KISS because of the opportunity for each employee to ‘just be’, to express what inspires them personally and the respect that is given for voicing different opinions.
So, I think it’s about time that businesses recognise that the under-represented minorities can – no will – be some of their best employees. The more they delay the development of an inclusive culture, the more they delay hearing diverse points of views, creating loyal employees, developing a wider portfolio of satisfied customers, demonstrating unity and most importantly empowering affirmations for happiness. After all, that’s all we really want – to be happy!