It was a lie…
I was lucky growing up! I was taught from an early age that everyone matters. There was no prejudice in my home. We had friends visit and music played by people from all walks of life. This was in the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
In the mid 70s I started secondary school. I went to a south east London comprehensive that had a fifty-fifty black/white mix of kids. I was surrounded by, and part of, a rich cultural heritage. I came to believe that this was a ‘normal’ representation of how life would be … I was wrong!
I’m partly responsible
Anger isn’t enough though, and heartbreak is an internal emotion that doesn’t necessarily, and certainly not in my case, propel action.
So, I find myself now, feeling ashamed at my inaction.
I remember stepping into my first larger organisation to work and thinking — “Where are all the black faces?” then I thought, perhaps it’s just this company…
I have never worked as part of, or stepped into, an organisation since where there is a racial balance that is an indicative representation of the society in which I live.
And yet, I have failed, totally and completely, to do something (anything!) about it. Do you know why? This is why, it’s because I have always harboured a thought that black people probably wouldn’t want the help of a white woman to fight their cause. I didn’t ask, I just assumed …
And yet ask me about the injustice I feel around gender inequality and I will tell you in a heartbeat that women will not win this battle without men around the table. So, it stands to reason that if we are to create balance for all, or any, diversity, we need representation and overt support from the very people who have more privilege in this space.
Shame on me!
What makes my privileged, white, skin crawl, is observing in many, too many, places that there are a number of black people employed giving the appearance of balance. Their roles though are not commensurate with the majority of the white workforces I see — they are often in lower-paid positions such as cleaners, security, catering … this skews the picture. And I prefer pictures that are clear!
I read books on inequality and see movies about it. I weep for the brutality against all life and especially people of colour. And yet, still I have failed to act…
Perhaps, if I was kinder to myself, I’d say I feel helpless. I don’t know how to change this. Although, instead of finding out how, I keep myself contained, a locked in, unheard battle. Because, inside, about this and so many other things, I am screaming (very loudly) for change, for the human race to do better, to be better, to embrace difference fully and to stop brutalising through lack of understanding, and fear.
Where is the leadership responsibility?
I am a leader. I have a clear and well-articulated purpose in my work (and in my life). I believe I am here to challenge organisations (i.e: the leadership of organisations) to place humanity right at the centre of everything they do. And when I do that well and honestly, I am calling out the imbalances, the perceived injustices and inappropriateness of some decision making.
Here’s the thing though, if organisations can only see these things more clearly with the aid of an external leadership consultant then something is very broken. The responsibility of leaders is to take a full and clear view of what they are presiding over. So, here’s a challenge to ALL leaders. Start looking to truly see — what have you created, what are you perpetuating, what is being allowed on your watch that could be putting your entire organisation out of balance?
And then, when you have the clear picture. ACT! Make change, stand for justice, be courageous, stop holding back your voice for fear others won’t want it or appreciate it. Because it’s in these moments of bravery that change truly takes place.
To my black friends and colleagues — I am asking now what I should have asked when I started work at the age of 16. What do you need from me? What can I, a white woman in her mid-50s — who has experienced prejudice for being a woman and for being gay — do to support you?
I apologise for not speaking up and asking sooner!
Tania Watson is the founder of Creative Coaching and an executive coach, organisational consultant and leadership specialist. Creative Coaching is a successful company dedicated to the development of senior leaders in organisations through one to one coaching, intact team development and group facilitation. If you or someone from your organisation would like to have a no obligation conversation about how Creative Coaching may be able to help, please email Tania directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.