Beyoncé broke the internet this week with rumours that she used her power and influence to hire 23-year-old photographer Tyler Mitchell to shoot her upcoming US Vogue September issue cover. If the rumours are true, it will be the first time in the magazine’s 126-year history that it features a cover shot by a black photographer.
Expectedly, countless articles were written within minutes of the apparent power move surfacing online, and Mitchell’s Instagram page is now deservedly flooded with hundreds of congratulatory comments. But while it’s inspiring that Beyoncé used her position and platform to create a career defining opportunity for a young minority talent, many qualified people from underrepresented groups including women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ and mentally and physically disabled persons could use similar support in almost all industries. And it’s everyone’s responsibility to make it happen.
It’s no secret that certain industries are notoriously challenging for minorities to first break into, and then succeed in. The UK finance, tech, fashion and journalism sectors are all recognised as having lagged behind in terms of establishing inclusive workforces despite the fact that diverse talent pools exists locally. The same is true of politics and academia.
The good news is that powerful companies and influential leaders are waking up to the business (and moral) case of building diverse teams and inclusive work spaces. Many studies point out that diverse companies are more competitive than industry peers who are not. But although the benefits of diversity and inclusivity can’t be denied, neither can the existence of trends and barriers that represent obstacles for many minority groups. In the UK, only one out of every 16 top management positions is held by a person from an ethnic minority background, and among the FTSE 100 companies there are more male CEOs called ‘David’ than there are female CEOs in total. In medicine and criminal justice, only 4% of UK doctors and 12% of UK solicitors are from working class communities. The BBC is currently trying to ensure that at least two out of the 15 people on its senior management will be from a black, Asian or other minority ethnic (BAME) background before 2020.
I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that other industrialised countries exhibit similar trends.
But organisers, businesses and powerful figures like Beyoncé are trying to steadily reverse these statistics. Recently, grassroots activists have succeeded in making all-male panel line-ups a corporate embarrassment and it’s increasingly common for large companies to insist that their banking, legal and accounting advisors ensure diversity in their teams. The most active push for diversity has arguably been made in the media and led by some high-profile editors who embed diversity into the pages of their publications and the teams that produce them.
Despite this, it will still take a shared effort from us all to achieve greater professional inclusivity and parity in opportunity. Anybody in a position of power or success (whether it’s relative or not) should think about how they can contribute.
If you’re a member of an underrepresented community, you can share your experience of success to let others know that it is possible to achieve. Employers can ensure better access to the opportunities they create by thinking carefully about how job posts are advertised and the methods used to screen applicants. We can also focus on countering the negative impact that government policies and laws can have on the ability of asylum seekers and refugees to participate in work.
But even when this is done, we should still continue to recognise that our workplaces should serve everyone by protecting religious freedoms and preventing discriminatory behaviour.
Unlocking the ability for everyone to participate fairly is not just good for business, it’s important for social justice too. If it’s not prioritised, it could further undermine social cohesion in our communities and threaten our collective security.