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How do we share the burden of change?

The status quo that our society has been built upon is not fit for purpose. Racism and systemic racial disparities haven’t just come to light this last week. There's a reason why people from a BAME background have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; a reason why fines for breaching lockdown are skewed towards those of a BAME background, particularly unsurprising to the black community who have long felt excessively targeted by stop and search tactics.

There's also a reason why the IPA report that BAME representation at a C-Suite level in UK ad agencies is under 5% having dropped from the previous year. It’s important to draw a line between correlation and causation as there isn't a single determining factor for these. Nonetheless, the statistics are far less significant than the emotional impact and the historic unspoken reasons behind the numbers.

Being part of The Collective, a Grassroots diversity & inclusion initiative at Spark Foundry UK, is in some ways strangely therapeutic. Mutual encounters of discrimination and ignorance faced proves to be a powerful motivating factor to promote positive change. We've done a lot to help educate and spread awareness internally of certain topics from Imposter Syndrome to Code Switching, with encouraging support from senior leadership. However, although these pertinent topics of conversation will continue, in some ways this is only scratching the surface. As an industry, we’ve seen great examples such as Clear Channel collaborating with the 56 Black Men project. An unapologetic and powerful challenge to the stereotypes black men routinely find themselves under on a daily basis. Important not just in addressing this internally amongst peers but to boldly confront the wider public in an attempt to change the narrative.

As an industry we also need to address the fundamental barriers to entry into the industry. Something the likes of Brixton Finishing School and Catch 22 have been ahead of the curve for a while. By recognising early on that socio-economic reasons have contributed to the demographic makeup of the industry, they’ve collaborated with industry groups to provide a huge leg up to individuals from an under privileged background.

A big step for those in positions of power is to accept that there is a deep underlying problem. It's no longer enough for this to just be a burden for the BAME community to try to resolve. If there is a genuine desire to improve the situation, then diversity and inclusivity needs to be viewed as the solution and not just a problem to resolve. A transparent top-down approach is required to demonstrate clear steps for promoting diversity at a senior leadership level. This shouldn’t be done just to hit a target number, rather to demonstrate a clear willingness to construct proportional representation of staff and the general population at large. A bolder approach to understand and then communicate internally and externally is also key to gaining the trust of employees. Black people, particularly during this period of unrest, do not have the privilege of sitting on the fence. Organisations have a clear responsibility, now and moving forward, to ensure their workforce feels motivated, appreciated and supported. The principles behind what a company stands by has never felt as important as in this moment.

Those that have been promoting D&I are not asking for preferential treatment. The plea is simply to remove discriminatory bias, we're trying to level the playing field. We're trying to create an environment where we can all be valued on merit. An environment where we can be judged for our own actions, rather than those of an individual who vaguely resembles us. An environment where we can all breathe freely.