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Perkbox Live Webinar with Nancy Evbuomwan: My Black Experience in the Tech & Startup World

This article was written by Paul Brown, our People & Culture Business Partner at Advantage Group UK.

I listened with great interest to Nancy‘s experience of racism via a webinar on Perkbox Live, which aimed to use “the power of storytelling to educate us on what it’s like to be a person of colour in the Tech and Business world”. This covered the earliest experiences at school, such as racism in the playground and standing up to bullies and, shockingly, even their parents. Following these experiences, Nancy discussed her encounters with prejudice, such as trying to enter an exclusive London club after moving to the UK at 21.

Moving from the personal sphere to the professional, Nancy reflected on how racism within organisations can often be subtle and part of a culture, subconscious or otherwise, thus making it difficult to address effectively. Addressing “banter” culture and how it can quickly excuse bad behaviour, Nancy remarked that when we apply banter to every situation, we create an environment where people feel like they cannot speak up when something happens.

I have since contemplated these remarks, particularly one of the final messages of the webinar, which focused on the importance of challenging the underlying prejudices and discriminations in which racism spreads like a rot. This comment struck a particular chord with me, as I have always been a passionate believer in equality for all. Watching To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager left a lasting impression that still resonates with me to this day. I also incorporated this enthusiasm and idealism into my Undergraduate Dissertation, which addressed different race relations models across English cities.

Despite this passion and my good intentions, I know I need to do more. All of us, particularly in our younger days, probably had moments where we had let unacceptable comments go unchallenged. However, it is these moments, which, when left unchallenged, allow such beliefs to ferment and spread. In my profession, it’s imperative to understand the unconscious biases and prejudices that can enter recruitment and selection processes, and prevent them from taking hold. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I can always try to better myself.

Nonetheless, I do know that Nancy Evbuomwan’s webinar has made me think differently, and that is the first step in any change in approach.

At Advantage Group UK, we have a firm commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. We ensure that all employees, irrespective of their background, feel welcomed and valued within our business. Diversity and Inclusion is not simply an add-on or a quota to fill - it forms part of our code of conduct, as well as our values and behaviours. To further underline how important this is to Advantage, we have revamped our Diversity and Inclusion principles to ensure they are considered part of everyday business activities, further reducing the possibility of the type of behaviours Nancy described happening across UK workplaces.

The importance we place upon a positive, inclusive working environment is communicated to our employees from their first day with us, in part via a video that we show as part of our corporate induction which highlights the ways in which bias and preconceptions can creep into our everyday working lives.

Equally, one of our key corporate values is Respect, where we underline that we treat everyone with dignity, do not tolerate discrimination, and embrace diversity. This is also highlighted in our Corporate induction presentation so that employees can see how seriously we treat this value from Day One.

However, without the behaviour of leaders exemplifying the importance that Advantage places upon a diverse workforce and an environment free from discrimination, much of what I have written here could be regarded as empty words. One very recent example of the tone that is set from the top at Advantage is Board Director Joanna Oakley’s article on ‘Racism and the Workplace’, which underlines how seriously Diversity and Inclusion is taken within our business.

We as Advantage are not perfect. We know that we have gaps. We do not, for the most part, have an ethnically diverse workforce, and certainly our Senior Management Team could not be described as diverse. We must ensure that there are no barriers that prevent candidates from BAME backgrounds from joining us and that we gain fresh perspectives as well as differing viewpoints within our business. The changes that we have begun to make, as I have outlined here, increase our chances of doing just that.