I have to admit that when I first began working in the City, it was a huge culture shock.
As a mixed-race man who went to a diverse secondary school, I grew up with an unrealistic view of how an office environment might actually look.
I remember the summer after graduating from university applying to anywhere and everywhere for work experience, internships and graduate schemes in PR – and whenever I received feedback the usual ‘lack of experience’ line would be thrown in my face.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think my ethnicity was a direct contributor to those rejections. But after I finally got my chance through the Taylor Bennett Foundation, I began to understand why race can limit the chances for many young BAME professionals to build a career in the industry.
I soon found out the real-world picture is not quite as diverse as I thought it would be.
The PR Problem
One of the reasons diversity programmes such as the Taylor Bennett Foundation exist is because the ‘lack of experience’ tagline can create a never-ending inner circle that’s tough to break.
It’s much easier to land work experience if you’ve already got an ‘in’ with a company but many networks are not diverse enough.
Consequently, fewer people from ethnic minorities are able to get that initial foot in the door – making it even tougher to secure competitive entry-level roles.
I don’t think agencies intentionally turn a blind eye to BAME talent. However, there are fundamental issues with the way talent is sourced that unintentionally disadvantage those people.
The issue stems from the fact that the PR industry is 92% white, with the latest CIPR stats suggesting the number of BAME employees fell from 11% to 8% in 2019. It highlights that there are cultural issues in the industry in both recruitment and retention that are hindering any progress.
And if we continue to lose ethnic minority staff due to issues related to racism and culture, why should the next generation of BAME talent even want to consider a career in PR?
We still have a long way to go.
Breaking the barrier
I consider myself lucky not to have experienced any discriminatory actions against myself in the workplace because of my ethnicity.
But it is sad that I even consider it luck. I’ve heard some horror stories which are simply unacceptable.
No employee should have to worry that one day someone will make judgements about them or speak to them differently based on the colour of their skin.
Black History Month is a fantastic reminder for us all to continue to learn about the successes and challenges faced by black Britons. But that should not be limited to one month – we should continue to show this interest all year round: let’s make every year a ‘Black History Year’.
Continuing to educate ourselves can help us identify and call out microaggressions, stereotypes and actions that make black employees feel uncomfortable.
Ensuring people from all cultures feel like they can be themselves in the office is an important step in putting the PR industry back on the right track.