Welcome to my first CEO blog!
October is Black History Month, and this is our second year celebrating at ThinkForward. For our first year of marking the occasion, I took a lead and we made efforts to encourage lots of staff interaction. With a focus on learning and exploration, we aimed to deepen our understanding of what Black UK history looks like, including the significance of the Windrush generation, tracking the presence of black people back to Tudor times and we also did some myth busting surrounding common stereotypes.
This year we have taken a slightly different approach and pulled together a group of people in the organisation that have a real interest, passion, and energy for that celebration. We are staying conscious of the cynicism around Black History Month, we too agree that celebrating the contribution of black people to global culture should not be reserved for one month in the year. That said, we have chosen to see it as an opportunity to deepen our learning but also, to celebrate a community which has been such a significant influence on UK culture.
Following last year, we have resurrected a regularly held book club celebrating black authors whilst increasing our knowledge around race, race equality and allyship. This time of year has now become significant for me because I did so much personal learning during the peak of the pandemic, I remember that time was incredibly intense (not forgetting the global Black Lives Matter movement which gathered momentum in response to the death of George Floyd).
I was keen to do something experiential this year, making effort to go beyond what we have previously consumed. Through celebratory and collaborative efforts, staff have been invited to share their cultural heritage and history where we can get to know them on a different level. Excitingly, we have commenced the release of a series of videos with members of staff expressing ‘What being Black means to me’ and young people and staff sharing black icons/heroes.
This is super important to me because at a time when we are trying to be more culturally sensitive, it presents to me as a leader the rather uncomfortable truth that we don’t see the richness of people’s culture when they come to work. What we see is a version of them, which is only one dimension of them. It struck me that we need to do more, and we need to be more intentional about the way in which we create and highlight a diverse workforce.
I thought to myself how can I go beyond just what we learn in equality and diversity training? How can I produce something which is much deeper and much more intentional and potentially much more lasting in terms of the culture? Our equalities manifesto outlines our dedication to put equity, diversity, and inclusion into the heart of everything we do, we don’t want the focus of our equalities work to be short lived. It’s something that we want to ingrain into the heartbeat of the organisation in a way that had never been done previously.
Our ‘Young & Black’ project is also reflective of this, where through a digital exhibition and curated book, our black young people will have a platform to tell their stories, express their feelings and campaign for change. At the same time, we wanted to create a wider understanding amongst our white young people of allyship and what it means to be anti-racist.
We want young people to see that when they look at our staff, our images, and our communications, they feel represented and be able to identify with who we are as an organisation and what we’re trying to achieve. We are an organisation that is representative of them, and which exists for them. That is our sole purpose, supporting them in a way that is appropriate and allows them to feel connected.
I look forward to speaking more in future blogs about our strategy and the work we’re doing towards delivering on that strategy. Exciting things are coming so watch this space!