Over the past few years black braided hairstyles have experienced a surge in popularity. The hairstyle which is easy to maintain and can be worn in different styles has been sported by the liked of Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Brandy. So it wasn't surprising that south Londoner Simone Powderly decided to follow suit. But after being told by a luxury recruitment agency to remove her braids to reduce the risk of missing out on a job opportunity, serious questions have been raised about how 'diverse' ethnic minorities are actually allowed to be in the workforce.
London is one of the world's most ethnically diverse cities with 3.3 million of its population coming from Black and Minority backgrounds but have we really created cosmopolitan workspaces in which people feel that they can fully express their cultural identity without being told to water it down in order to fit in? Up until recently the answer to this question perhaps might have been a simple yes but after a young black woman was told to replace her braids with a more 'socially-acceptable' hairstyle perhaps it's time to review our so-called diversity initiatives before we boast about our workforce being embracive of our diverse population.
Whilst recent figures suggest that employment is on the up, it only tells part of the story. DWP figures show the jobless rate of 45% for young black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers compared to 19% for whites aged 16 - 24.
The UK employment gap between white and minority communities is worsening and will continue to widen if this issue isn't addressed.
To adequately address this issue we need to look at why most of the company boardrooms are still overwhelmingly run by white middle-class men; why is there still a lack of black football managers despite the sport being so multi-ethnic, and why is just 4.2% of MP's from an ethnic minority? It's time to wake up to the fact that something is going drastically wrong when it comes to representing the diverse ethnic mix we see on London's streets.
The issue of representation and unemployment has been a long-standing issue in Britain. In 2001 Grey Dyke infamously announced that the BBC was 'hideously white,' stating that the organisation was unable to retain staff from ethnic minorities and questioned if they were made to feel welcome. During my own time there as a young trainee 4 years ago I observed a very similar pattern, a lack of diversity behind the cameras, a lack of opportunities for career progression and the inability to fully integrate its members of staff who were from working-class ethnic minority backgrounds. Not surprisingly BBC employees from BAME backgrounds have fallen by a third to 5.4 per cent prompting celebrities like Lenny Henry to call for the corporation to reverse the sharp decline in the number of BAME people working in television.
So what needs to change? It's not enough for corporations like the BBC to give blanket statements about being committed to diversity, what does that actually mean in the practical sense? Diversity is not about adding a few token faces to a mostly white working environment it's about creating cosmopolitan work spaces in which people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds are encouraged to be themselves without feeling that they need to sanitise their cultural identity in order to fit in. Just because an organisation has a few black or Asian faces does not mean that they actually feel like they are an integral part of the team and that the insights they could potentially bring to the table will be valued.
The cultural diversity in London is one of our strongest assets but we are also in danger of it becoming just another buzz-word which has no true value within most workplaces in the capitol.