I’ll be honest and say that in the past, I didn’t give it much thought. My initial impression was that it was an initiative that was mainly American – it was a time when everyone focused on black achievements and issues for one month of the year. October would roll around each year, LinkedIn profiles would change, people would strive to do better to listen to black issues and then November starts and we’re wondering when to put up our Christmas decorations.
Now that I’m at Immersive Labs, and I’ve taken on the mantle of showcasing black achievements to my colleagues, Black History Month has provided a focus on my whole life rather than one month.
It has made me think about what my life has been like personally and professionally. Despite what the media wants you to believe about black individuals, it is not the life I’ve led.
I’m originally a Londoner that lived in East London:
- Never been involved in knife crime
- Would have no idea where to look for/get drugs
- Both my parents are still married
- Went on holidays abroad
- Had a decent education
- Have children and I’m still living with them and am actively involved in their lives
Professionally, I’ve usually been the sole black individual within the tech department or I could count the number of black people in the company on one hand. Am I bitter about it? No, I just put it out of my mind and just get on with the work.
Have I experienced racism at work? As far as I know, I haven’t. Does it exist despite what some governments report? Of course – but the closest I’ve felt to experiencing overt racism would be when random drug tests didn’t feel so random. I’m not complaining now, but it did make me feel like an outsider.
So again, I ask the question:
“What does Black History Month mean to you?”
When I sit down and think about it, I focus on the achievements of people that have done great things and are currently doing great things in elevating the black experience. People like Justin and Dawid Konotey-ahulu with their #talkaboutblack campaign, Femi Oguns MBE who set up the Identity Acting School to raise black representation within Hollywood, our own Marissa Lewis-Peart who is part of the Shift Speaker Database that helps to promote diverse speakers within the South West (and is a board director for Bristol Creative Industry).
There must be countless others that I don’t even know about. When you read about other people and what they are trying to do for people with black heritage, you cannot help but be inspired.
It’s about being motivated to do something similar so that my children (who are mixed, so let’s not forget their representation) know the achievements of others, know that they have a rich history that they can draw on, that they can enter the workforce and have a network of like-minded people.
- I want to be part of a movement that allows them to:
- Strive towards membership of the elusive C-level board if they want to
- Become parents in a world where they don’t have to say to their children, “You have to be the best behaved “boy/girl” in your group in case the police stop you”
- See paths and avenues that are available to them when they look at the structure of a company;they see senior management and think “I can do that”
- Work and live in an environment where their peers don’t get comments based on their accent or using the wrong word in a presentation because English isn’t their first language
So let’s bring it back to Immersive, and I thought the best way to articulate my feelings about Immersive and their effects on diversity and Black History Month is in the form of these questions.
Do you think Immersive Labs is diverse / addressing diversity?
Immersive Labs have an active Diversity and Inclusion group and as soon as I knew they had one, I joined straight away. Now, for Black History Month, some people may say that it seems tokenistic that a black guy is promoting Black History Month. This is what I would say to that:
I feel that by doing it, I have had the opportunity to showcase black culture to the rest of Immersive Labs. They get to experience what I enjoy in terms of food, music, and how black hair care is different from what they are used to. They got to see the contributions of black people that impact their lives, especially within the cybersecurity field.
They are also mindful of other “groups” and regularly inform us about women’s, LGBTQ, disability, etc issues. The group has gradually grown and as we get different viewpoints, we can only improve.
What is the culture like within Immersive?
I’ll keep it simple. The culture is welcoming and I was accepted from day one.Everyone that I’ve met has been friendly, willing to listen to my ideas and if you have any questions about culture, there are people that you can turn to for advice.
Would you recommend Immersive Labs to the black community?
I would and I’m not just saying that because I’m employed here – I’m saying it because I believe that Immersive Labs are making strides to make a difference in regards to diversity. I don’t feel like they are performative in what they do.
Selfishly, it’s nice to meet like-minded people in the business. I’ve met more black people within Immersive Labs than I have in my twenty-odd career.
What does it mean to you being a black individual at Immersive Labs?
Being black in Immersive Labs has been a positive experience – I’ve been evaluated on my skills and contributions rather than my skin colour. If I do want to reach out to people with Black heritage, I can do so and not feel isolated.
Plus showcasing Black History History month has been rewarding and I think my profile has made me known around the business (which is never a bad thing).
In terms of recruitment, do you think they are doing enough to hire from diverse backgrounds?
First, Immersive Labs are strong on making sure that there is a wide range of people that can interview prospective candidates, so anyone that is interested in interviewing has the chance to do so.
I think that Immersive Labs is a company that values action over soundbites. They don’t give off the aura of tokenism or just have the optics of being diverse. Many times, you see on social media, companies that change their logo or have a black square and say they support the cause in question. But often it leaves you thinking “what have you done to address this within your own organisation, what steps have you taken that show that you mean this?”
At Immersive Labs, I believe that these actions can be seen as recently as their appointment of their Chief Marketing Officer. They could have easily gone to the tried and true avenues of recruitment, but I remember our CEO, James making it a point in one of the company-wide meetings that they would be different in their approach, they did and now we have our new CMO, Evelyn Swaim.
It’s the little actions that matter.