What is it like to be a young black woman working for a large, high-profile and mostly white organisation? Thrilling, exhausting, disappointing and parodical, sometimes all at once; often I feel like the unwitting protagonist in a badly-written mockumentary about diversifying the workplace.
The influential organisation I work for, like many others in the UK, is under pressure to better reflect the wider population. A recent awakening as to the (in)visibility of people from varied backgrounds in powerful positions in British life, has sent many organisations into a tailspin as they try to identify a quick fix so they can proclaim themselves the most woke workplace.
Yet, for all the talk about representation on boards and promises to ensure that offices are no longer ‘male, pale, and stale’, my experience of the working environment is that it is at best cringeworthy, and at worst, hostile.
I’ve learned that people are visibly uncomfortable to utter the word ‘black’. I’ve learned that there are senior management teams exist without a single face as dark as a Kardashian who hasn’t been on holiday.
Most people are well meaning, but you can tell that they do not spend any time at all with people of a different ethnic background, race, or class. They would never dare mix with somebody who has a faith, but are aware that according to the rules of liberal metropolitanism, you do not make fun of people who have religious beliefs. Except Christianity. That’s an exhilarating way of proving their very superior sense of humour – we believe in respecting all backgrounds and faiths, but we understand satire because we make Jesus jokes!
The groupthink and assumed shared viewpoints are astounding: there is one reason and one type of person that voted Brexit; everybody goes on more than one holiday a year; people have a couple of glasses of wine each night to wind down; all women want to focus on building a career over having a baby. Suggesting otherwise elicits puzzled stares.
My biggest internal laugh comes when I’m called on for what it’s assumed is my specialist subject – being black. I’m a curious and intelligent person with many interests working for the same organisation as many privately-schooled individuals with degrees from the “best” universities. Yet I find myself regarded as ‘black community outreach staff member’, despite a set of specialisations and skills that span various areas.
When it comes to anything to do with black people, the entire room will automatically look my way, as if I’m the oracle. There are times that I feel like having fun with my superpower of being black-person-in-chief – I’m tempted to say: “Yes, if you do go ahead with this then you will trigger a PR disaster and the entire black population of the UK will send you hate mail while calling for the wind down of this organisation”.
In coming columns I plan to share more about the realities, trials and tribulations of the privileged and sometimes comedic position in which I have found myself. I’d love to hear your experience too - get in touch below.
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• This column is being published anonymously to allow the author to lift the lid on her experience in a high-profile organisation.