Learning about race – my journey

In a fascinating article Vicky Sandry, general counsel at Sky UK and Ireland, explores some of the challenges of diversity and inclusion. While a passionate advocate for equality, she was unaware of the issues her BAME colleagues face every day. Through a process of organisational learning and self-discovery, she has developed a fresh perspective on diversity and inclusion which she shares with Practice Business

To get a better understanding of how it feels to be a BAME individual working here at Sky we set up a listening group run by an independent company so that people could speak freely about their issues and concerns. The report made for uncomfortable reading – and was eye opening for me.

The biggest shock was that the leadership – which includes me – was described as ‘privileged’. My initial reaction to this was that I was not privileged; I do not come from a wealthy background, I was not privately educated and I was the first person in my family to go to university.

As a senior leader in business I was so used to thinking of myself as part of a minority because there are still fewer women than men in the most senior roles. Initially, I couldn’t get my head around being part of the majority. But, after reflecting, I understood that I do have and have had an advantage in my life because I am white – which makes me part of the majority in the workplace.

I understood that I do have and have had an advantage in my life because I am white – which makes me part of the majority in the workplace.

It’s crucial to understand this for two reasons. Firstly, as part of the majority, I must use my influence to make things better for people who are not in that majority and, secondly, it’s impossible to help make things better for people who are not in the majority without accepting and understanding the experience of being in the minority.

Minority report

The next phase on my road to a better understanding of the issues facing my BAME colleagues occurred when I was invited to speak at an event at the House of Commons; on arrival, I found myself to be the only white person in the room.

Of course, on many occasions in the workplace I had been the only woman – or one of only a handful of women – so I knew what that felt like but, until this point, I did not know how it feels to be in a different kind of minority, based on the colour of my skin. This is what people from a BAME background face every single day – and, yes, it was uncomfortable. I heard how people struggled to progress in the workplace, how they were told not to be themselves and how they could not speak up when they faced discrimination because it would harm their careers.

However, being in that room with so many amazing women was also a brilliant and inspiring experience. I saw how proud they were of their ethnicity and I saw how we all have in common that we are human beings and can all be inspired by, and learn from, each other, irrespective of ethnic background.

Two more things have really helped me to become more aware. I’ve broadened my circle both via networking and social media so that I’m now connected to more people from a BAME background. This has exposed me to different points of view and has led me to have a better understanding of the things we can do to start to overcome issues in the workplace, such as really listening, empowering our employee networks and raising awareness of unconscious bias.

And I now have an awesome ‘reverse mentor’ – Rebecca Strong – who has taught me about her background and experiences growing up, and helped me to understand better what it’s like to be from a minority background.

Rebecca put it brilliantly to me – she said, “Even if you don’t feel part of the issue (because you don’t discriminate), even if you don’t see any issues (because you, personally, have not seen any discrimination), you need to engage with those in a minority who are telling you there are issues, because your privilege might be invisible to you.”

Practical advice – what you can do

As a leader, there are some practical things that you can do to improve inclusion in your workplace. Here are some ideas and personal challenges:

  • Create a safe space where people from a BAME background can freely talk about their experiences at work and in society.
  • Understand that, if you are in the majority, you have an advantage.
  • Accept that, if you are a senior leader who is white, you have a responsibility to use your influence to make things better for people who are in an ethnic minority – because it’s easier for you.
  • Expand your network, reach out to people who are different from you, expose yourself to different views.
  • Find a ‘reverse mentor’ to help you understand what it’s like to be in the minority
  • Above all else, truly listen and be aware.

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