It’s Black History Month in the UK, (different dates in the US), and someone who I connected with at PRFest, and who has been a dose of reality coupled with positivity, has agreed to guest blog for me.
Louise Chandler is a media and communications specialist with over 20 years’ experience of working in TV, Radio, print and online media for BBC and Commercial brands, businesses, and local authority organisations.
Working with names such as HSBC, Superdrug, LloydsPharmacy and Prince’s Trust to name a few, Louise creates and delivers pro-active and creative media content to share key messages and generate engaging and creative campaigns.
Over to you, Louise…
As a black British woman of Caribbean descent who has been on this earth for almost 40 years- this year feels different for a lot of reasons when it comes to talking about Race.
Make no mistake about it. Watching George Floyd lose his life in less than 9 minutes due to brutal and inhumane treatment left the world stunned. Protests, marches, speeches, meetings, discussions, interviews forced everyone to stop and listen to cries of: ‘black lives matter’. Some people questioned the statement and what it meant BUT it meant people were listening and talking about race on a wider and larger scale.
For the first time I have heard phrases such as ‘allies’, ‘micro aggressions’ and ‘woke’ more than ever before. There seems to be an open willingness to listen, learn and absorb while also possessing an ownership and accountability to to ensure improved diversity ripples across all society and particularly throughout the PR and communications industry. For all sakes.
So, as a Marketing and PR gal, I wanted to share my perspective about my experiences of representation, and diversity in our industry and why it should be opportunity and not a tick box exercise:
Our working history can be an asset
When I told my secondary school careers teacher that I wanted to be a journalist, I was told no – it would never happen. As the youngest of six kids, raised by a widowed single mother – the odds were stacked against me to enter a world that relied on contacts and privilege.
So, I started my working life in retail with my first job being a footwear salesperson at River Island for £2.88 an hour. Weekend shifts at WH Smith, Dorothy Perkins and Marks & Spencer during my student and university years would follow and I think it was the best preparation for working in the media industry. I learnt some valuable lessons about having a work personality and how you conduct yourself. Body language is important for all interactions; arms folded across the body can come across as defensive, avoiding eye contact can seem evasive and a genuine smile can go a long way to building rapport.
I also learnt the essence of being professional, having a can-do approach to problem solving and being reliable for a job. It is these values that we find early in our working lives so don’t be afraid to go back and re use them.
My working values have stayed with me throughout my media career and when I bump into ex colleagues, these are the things that people still remember about me all these years later! In all of these scenarios I was often the only black woman and I felt that I had to work hard and maintain a work ethic to represent myself and my race and it gives me extra values to work with integrity and truth.
Embrace the diversity of colleagues who can ‘double up’
No man (or woman for that matter) is an island and there is no ‘I’ in the word team. I know from my experiences that I have had the pleasure of working with, and for, some great, talented people who have been supportive mentors and showed me great kindness. Nurturing and building positive professional relationships are key to operating in the media industry. To have trusted people you can speak to for advice, guidance, and ideas when you are stuck and need help is always a valuable thing. I have a tribe of work friends from all backgrounds who I respect, and trust and we work well together. I always believe that I have a certain advantage in any team – I can speak with a diverse voice and I can also tap into the cultural competencies of ‘typical British life’. I mean I can equally cook fish and chips but also make a good pot of rice and peas (west indian style) without flinching. To me this is the essence of ‘doubling up’ for dual identity – a true bonus in an ever evolving world.
Don’t apologise for being the only one in the room
When I ran my own business, I would attend business networking meetings and I was often the only black woman in a room of ‘pale, male and stale’ middle class men. This was an obvious thing, and I could often feel being separate and different. Sometimes I would approach people to talk and make pleasant chit-chat and I often felt like I experienced sneering expressions, cold shoulders, was sized up and dismissed at first glance. There was a pattern of this, and I decided it would not deter me. I made a conscious effort to always approach the people who treated me in this way and make a point not to hide or make myself small. My talents and skills are just as good as anyone else and I was not prepared to be relegated to the bottom of the pile for no good reason. Remember to treat everyone with respect.
Be bold about your achievements
Celebrate you and all the great things you do! We achieve great things in our personal and professional lives so why do we not shout about them enough? I meet many women of colour who are talented and do fantastic work, yet we refer to the ‘imposter syndrome’ of not being good enough. I believe that self-esteem and confidence blossoms, but it starts with us. Celebrate what you do well and what makes you different. I take pride in being a chatterbox because my ability to articulate and communicate led me into a broadcasting career and this is something that I am always proud to share.
Just imagine introducing yourself to someone new and how you would like to be remembered, this will help you to stand tall and speak up to represent everything you have worked to achieve. If someone in your team is lacking in confidence, encourage them to speak up and nudge them forward to showcase their skills and diverse voice. I’m sure they will appreciate it!
Curious to know what you are missing? Great! It is never too late. Here is a brief list of what to read, listen and discover when it comes to black creativity and history:
For discussions around black culture and creativity:
- The BBC CDX was a two-day virtual festival held in the summer of 2020 that unapologetically celebrates proud and diverse talent. Take a look at a series of talks to inspire and empower a generation: https://www.bbc.co.uk/creativediversity/cdx/watch-again
- How are brands acknowledging, celebrating, and endorsing black history month this year? The Drum tells you more: https://www.thedrum.com/news/2020/10/12/after-decisive-year-how-are-brands-celebrating-black-history-month-uk
To discover ideas, stories, and unique insights in black history:
- Black History Month magazine 2020: https://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/bhm-intros/welcome-to-the-2020-edition-of-the-annual-black-history-month-magazine/
- Museumand is the National Caribbean Heritage Museum, a social history and community museum celebrating and commemorating the Caribbean contribution to life in the UK: http://museumand.org/objeksandtings/index.html
- Black Cultural Archives is the only national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people: https://blackculturalarchives.org/
- The Sista Collective: Real talk by women of colour – at times light, at times serious, but always honest #siscollective: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/p06ptdhf
- BBC UK Black: UK African and Caribbean news and cultural programming highlights from BBC Local Radiohttps://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056flsw