Black Panther: Could the UK ever be so brave?

Career coach Derek Appau reviews our 'Being braver around race' event

I attended The Marketing Society’s ‘Being Braver around Race’ event on 20th February. Held at the amazing Facebook HQ, just off Tottenham Court and delivered in Fishbowl style format I knew this would be interesting.

Following the intro by Marketing Society’s CEO Gemma Greaves, the mic was thrown (literally) to Adrian Walcott, co-founder of BAME 20/20 and then to WPP’s Country Manager, Karen Blackett. Both kicked off the conversation with personal, reflective stories about their experiences with race in their career journeys to date. This really set the tone and each speaker that followed fed off this and built upon.

I was hooked, listening intently to every story. It became apparent, very quickly that this was a true example of diversity. Diversity in styles of expression, point of view, upbringing, class, experiences, achievements, career paths. So many differences, way beyond race. Madeline Mcqueen mentioned it when sharing her views, we are all from the human race and we often forget that.

Covering all aspects of such an emotive and important issue in a few hours was always going to be a tall order. Almost as tall an order as the IPA’s existing commitment to help the industry recruit 25% of new joiners from BAME backgrounds and see 15% in leadership positions by 2020. (We’ve got A LOT of work to do but at least there is a measurable target!)

The themes, quotes and takeaways that stuck with me from the evening are:

Racism is still taking place in Britain and within the sector we work in

Almost all the speakers revealed examples of overt racism in their careers and growing up. Many reported this happening despite the senior status and accolades. The reality is that it is negatively affecting many areas of business too. From retention, attraction of top talent, not to mention health and wellbeing.

'Nobody wants white guilt. Inclusive cultures are hard work but damn worth it'

This was a very blunt way of delivering it, but true. Make the adjustments to your business, your team, your attitude because it’s the right thing to do on a moral and business level. Allow your employees to be themselves, they will thrive, but nobody said it will be easy. Prepare for and have tough conversations. The advice Karen Blackett’s dad gave her was spot on. Remind yourself what makes you who you truly are. Your passions, your strengths, your experiences, your interests your background. Own it. Our identity is more than a label or a colour. Same for others.

Fake stories. Fake reality

It’s a dangerous and complex world so our brains helps us out to protect us and make sense of it all. Problem is that our brain often makes stuff up. The output for this sector is marketing based on stereotypes that are often negative and not accurate. Imagine the impact on confidence for young black children when seeing a blockbuster movie that presented black superheroes and black royalty. 

Marvel’s Black Panther movie has been groundbreaking in terms of buzz and financial success. Could the UK ever be so brave?

The next generation

There are some extremely talented young people in the world. If you don't meet their expectations and values around authenticity and inclusive workplaces they won’t engage. They will set up their own cultures and businesses. What strategies, training and development or investment is being done to attract, develop future leaders from non-white backgrounds for example? What should leaders do next if we genuinely want change? In my opinion, it starts with the below:

Recruit from different sources than you have been previously. Try blind CVs too if you’re really brave.

Assess. Open your eyes and take a good look at the culture, the workforce and the work you are doing vs where you want to be.

Challenge behaviour that is not inclusive. (That includes allowing others to challenge your biases.) Conscious and unconscious once you figure them out.

Evaluate. Measure your progress the same way you measure other important KPIs in your business.

Editor's note: This review was by Derek Appau, career coach (ICF, ACC) and facilitator, Limitless Personal Excellence. It was taken from a Marketing Society event which took place in Feb 2018. We're promoting it again, in June 2020, following the death of George Floyd and the protests happening in the US, UK and round the world addressing systemic racism in society and, for us, within the marketing industry.