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BAME practitioners reflect on the racism, microaggressions and unconscious biases they experience

Today in My Shed, we’re talking about the Race in the Workplace: BAME lived experiences in the UK PR industry report from the CIPR with Avril Lee, chair of the CIPR’s Diversity Inclusion Network and MD of health at Red Consultancy.

This research looks at the actual lived experiences of 17 BAME PR professionals, it aims to go beyond the numbers and highlight how BAME PR practitioners are made to feel.

For background, and to remind people of the extent of this problem, The CIPR’s State of the Profession report found that ethnic diversity within the UK PR sector has apparently declined from 11% in 2015 to 8% in 2019. 

92% of the profession come from a white British background.

Here’s a summary of what Avril and I discuss:

Avril reflects on her powerful foreword to the report where she says BAME PR practitioners have:

A lack of equal opportunities and fair treatment, microaggressions, and unconscious biases that eat away at an individual over time and lead to feelings of not fitting in’ or not being ‘up to standard’. 

“It points to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) practitioners being unable to progress in the same way as their white counterparts, and feeling that there is an unequal playing field leading to a lack of fair and equal opportunities.”

Avril and I discuss the various themes and experiences that BAME practitioners identify in the report and how these tended to manifest themselves in behaviours.

  • The first of these is institutional racism and microaggressions.

Here are some quotes from the report on how institutional racism and microaggressions make PR people feel:

“I feel there is a real misunderstanding of what racism is. It’s politically incorrect now to be overtly racist so it is repressed in people and they divert the conversation.”

“You can’t invalidate someone’s experience just because you can’t relate to it... Some people say racism doesn’t exist. If you can’t have a conversation about it, we can’t get anywhere. It’s important to acknowledge and embrace our differences; do not suppress them.”

“I have to say being completely honest I don’t really think white British people care. There is no active interest on their part to actually understand.”

  • The report also identified Inflexibility and non-inclusive culture as factors that are a theme and an experience for BAME PR practitioners.

Here is a quote on how inflexibility and non-inclusive culture make BAME PR people feel:

“You need to say the right things and speak the right way. I’m not posh at all, it has been years of tailoring my voice, the way I sound and act.”

  • A lack of equal opportunities and progression were also identified as big issues.

Here is a quote about how a lack of equal opportunities and progression has impacted a BAME PR person’s feelings:

“My dad had always said to me ‘Son, you’ll have to work twice as hard to get what the white man has got’. He wasn’t wrong! It certainly has felt like that in PR.”

  • Unconscious bias also plays an important role in this circle of unfairness.

Again, here is a quote from the report on the consequences of unconscious bias:

“As I’ve progressed I’ve come to realise that some, a minority, question my ability based on the colour of my skin.”

“We don’t have enough BAME people in senior positions, I think it’s unconscious bias. We don’t, therefore, have enough senior mentors and role models around to show us how we need to develop to get into senior positions.”

  • As a result of all these trends, do BAME practitioners often go freelance to achieve their career aspirations?
  • Where does PR start to attempt to sort this out?

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