Why I champion BAME Networks

Speaking at UK Black Tech

Over the years I have spoken at and supported a number of BAME Networks. For those who don’t understand BAME, it is an acronym for black asian and minority ethnic. The networks, both in house and external, across business and in the public sector, are designed primarily to address issues faced by professionals of colour across various industries and organisations.

As a speaker my content tends to focus on leadership and communications and every time I have spoken at BAME events, there is always an underlying issue of attendees as to how they navigate the workplace issues of communication.

Some of the issues I have come across include the following:
Networking within industry
Career road mapping in industries with low BAME percentages
Leadership development
Finding mentors and sponsors
Conflict management at work
Cross cultural communication
Recruitment and retainment
Changing of names to land job opportunities

My work has allowed me to speak and learn from such groups in education, finance, technology, media and other companies. Each and every one of them brought with them interesting insights into the journeys of professionals of colour.

For many looking on from the outside in, I get the usual questions.
Aren’t these networks divisive?
Aren’t BAME groups racist?
Why can’t we just all get along and not see race?

So let’s address these.

Are BAME networks divisive?
No. Given that most BAME networks have a provision that are inclusive and invite all to come in. Most employment resource groups are sponsored by senior directors and they hear the issues that are raised by said groups. External groups don’t have the pressure of having to shape their conversations to rules and regulations of companies and can even be more open in addressing issues that professionals face.

For those who have attended, rather than comment uninformed, said group events are no less divisive than others that cater to say gender, orientation or ability groups.

Aren’t BAME groups racist?
Of course they are not. Why do people even make such stupid statements?
Racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. BAME groups are set up to represent the voices of minority groups which often are erased or not heard. Often these groups create a platform for those voices to be amplified, especially through the voice of a sponsor.

Unfortunately it’s mostly voices from the majority who ask such a question but in the interests of fairness, some BAME professionals ask the same thing. But hey.

Why can’t we just all get along and not see race?

This question doesn’t even require a response.

Championing BAME networks.
Across a number of industries and sectors in the UK there is underrepresentation. Organisations and articles have highlighted these shortfalls in Media, STEM and Tech, Educational Leadership and Civil Service. Plus a whole lot more.

I personally champion these networks because I have been fortunate enough to have a number of doors and opportunities open to me. Doors that others have not been aware of or even if they get through don’t know how to stay there. As a black professional I know some of the hangups, insecurities and feelings of being an impostor that others outside of the culture cannot empathise with or understand. Some ride the storm on their own, others need a helping hand and thats where the networks come in.

I don’t think there is anything wrong in addressing the fact that some industries will cry out that they don’t know where to look for diverse talent when so much talent is out there. Such networks signpost where the talent is and also provide opportunities as to how to navigate those spaces.

This championing is important for me. The same way I have been proud to champion women professionals or diversity in tech or even raising the educational aspirations for white working class boys.

So for those who think it is racist or divisive, try come to one of the events. 
Try talking to those who run said groups. Try understanding the narrative as to why these groups are formed in the first place before erasing the stories.
In the meantime I will keep on championing.

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