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Celebrating Black History Month U.K.: What representation means to me

  • Posted on October 25, 2023
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Celebrating Black History Month U.K.: What representation means to me

October is Black History Month in the U.K., a time for celebrating the culture, heritage and achievements of people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. In honor of the commemoration, we asked three people across the U.K. and Europe to talk about the importance of representation in the workplace and beyond.

“You can’t be what you can’t see”

Representation is very important at every level, everywhere. I’m from Mauritius and my dad is a Black man, while my mom is of Indian descent. I’ve participated a lot in inclusion & diversity initiatives at Avanade over the past five years, and one of the things that sticks out to me from that time is when I first came across Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “What is your life’s blueprint?” In the speech, he says, “Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.”

This idea is what drives me in my work with clients and colleagues: I like my job to be done very well. Another quote that’s often on my mind is, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” If you don’t see Black people – or people from an ethnic minority – being represented, then you will feel it’s not possible. That’s especially true for young people, who need representation to show them what’s possible and to open their minds to new possibilities.

For example, my young son said to me recently, “Girls shouldn’t play football.” I told him that wasn’t true, but then I realized he only thought that way because he’s never seen an example, so of course he thinks it isn’t possible. Sometimes we just don’t think we’re able to do things, but when we see someone attaining a new level, we’re encouraged to imagine new possibilities.

Marie-Michèle André, Group Manager, Digital Advisory based in Paris, France

“Representation is more than just a seat at the table”

In a world where representation matters more than ever, I yearn for the day when walking into a room doesn't mean carrying the weight of my differences.

I think one of the challenges that we face is that you can have diversity under a number of parameters – of age, of ethnicity, all sort of different things – but without proper support, those people’s voices aren’t actually heard. To me, representation is more than just a seat at the table; it's the freedom to be oneself without the cloud of prejudice overshadowing my voice. Representation means the confidence to speak with the assurance that I'm heard, respected and given an equal platform. True representation is when I can shed the armor of my differences and step into a space knowing that I belong, just as I am.

At Avanade, we see this example through our employee network leads. Our organization evolved to put structures like our Inclusion & Diversity team in place, which empowered our employee network leads by really giving them a voice. As a lead for Beyond – our multicultural employee network – I can reach out to the vast majority of general managers across the business and they will respond quite favorably to what I have to say and suggestions that I have to make, and I feel respected.

Eventually, I hope we get to a point where we look at diversity holistically, so we can take the parameters that constitute us as human beings – not only gender, ethnicity, neurodiversity and age, but also all of our lived experiences – and place the individual at the forefront.

Rioh Burke-Derby, Senior Consultant, Digital Advisory based in London, United Kingdom

“I am a proud Afropean”

Representation matters to me as a Black person living in Europe for several reasons.

First, it helps create a sense of belonging and community. I’m originally from South Africa, where I’m not considered a minority. But here in Germany, there aren’t nearly as many people who look like me. When people of African origin or descent see themselves reflected in the workplace and in government, they feel more welcome and accepted. This can be especially important for new immigrants, who may be struggling to adjust to their new home.

Second, representation helps challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Black people. When people of African origin or descent are visible and successful here in Germany, it starts to break down negative stereotypes that are often associated with Black people. This can lead to more positive attitudes towards Black people and the African culture. For example, on the special occasions when I wear lederhosen – the traditional leather breeches you often see at Oktoberfest celebrations – people often ask, “Why are you wearing that?” I respond to them in German, and they might be perplexed at first, but then they are appreciative that I am taking the time to learn their language and culture. By taking the time to learn about German culture and language, I am able to feel more connected to the German people and feel more at home in Germany.

Third, representation helps to inspire and empower the next generation. When young Black people see successful Afropeans, it shows them that it is possible to achieve their aspirations and dreams. This can motivate them to pursue their education and careers and contribute to their new society. Overall, representation matters to Black people living in Europe because it helps create a more inclusive and welcoming society, which empowers the next generation of Black people calling Europe their home. I have two young boys and it’s important that they know they can be proud of their cultural heritage, being part German and part African. I am a proud Afropean.

Trevor Herrendoerfer, Cloud and Infrastructure Security, based in Munich, Germany

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