1000 Black voices raising the volume for a fairer more equitable society

Dr Elizabeth Shaw founded 1000 Black Voices in the wake of George Floyd. Two years on we ask what's changed

DiversityQ spoke with the founder of 1000 Black Voices about the importance of authentic, equitable inclusion and a better understanding of Black culture. Here is what she had to say…

Tackling the three Rs of racism: representation, recognition, and reward is Dr Elizabeth Shaw’s recipe for a more inclusive and equitable society that would allow Black people to enjoy “a barrier-free journey through life”.

She also believes that an independent national body should investigate racism and discrimination, with a Government report to provide a roadmap to racial fairness.

However, the Government seems reluctant to take action. In particular, the UK was one of 14 out of 193 countries to vote against a global call by the UN to end racism.

“In the UK, there are about six stop and searches for every 1,000 White people, compared with 54 out of every 1,000 Black people,” Shaw states. “Hate crime has gone up 131% over the last nine years. It’s shocking that, in 2021, there was an astonishingly high level of racism in organisations. Discrimination costs £127bn in lost output every year.”

During her distinguished career in education, the corporate sector, and running her own business, Shaw has prioritised supporting and empowering others. This meant helping them to “gain confidence, to be themselves and grow successfully. And not only to have a voice but to raise that voice”.

Combating racial bias

After seeing the harrowing scenes of George Floyd’s treatment at the hands of the police, Shaw decided that enough was enough, and it spurred her on to found 1000 Black Voices. “I had no choice but to act,” she explains. “I wanted to use my experience to show authentic equity in society and drive organisations, investors and the wider community to commit to combating racial bias through purposeful actions.

“Placing a target on one’s neck, detracting humanity because of one’s skin colour has to change. Many events have demonstrated that Black people are still viewed as unworthy of life and unworthy of progression or career growth in recent years. It’s heart-breaking.”

1000 Black Voices was created to further Black inclusion by tackling the disadvantages Black people face at work and in society. It shares stories from around the world on the experience of being Black, serving as an amplifier for Black voices and promoting a better understanding of Black culture.

Shaw emphasises that striving for “authentic equitable inclusion” was key. She points out: “Many organisations bring this wonderfully looking coat of celebrated colours to diversity and inclusion, and yet when you open it up, there’s not much substance on the inside. Culture is an issue; 40% of people are still afraid to use the word ‘Black’ in the workplace.

“In the 2021 study by PwC, 66% of employees said there were no open conversations about race in their organisations. And according to the Gallop report of 2020, 58% of managers were not keen to have meaningful conversations about race and equity in their teams. So, 1000 Black Voices is working to normalise conversations about race in the workplace.”

Inclusion goals

1000 Black Voices aims to achieve its inclusion goals through three areas: inclusion practice, a career hub and accelerator programmes. The inclusion practice involves advising organisations about diversity and inclusion.

“We ask hard questions,” Shaw reveals. “Where are you as a business going wrong? Organisations are still looking at a business case to prove why inclusion is valuable to the bottom line. Why is this proof needed? A call for a business case for diversity and inclusion is a smokescreen. We make the point strongly to businesses that there needs to be movement beyond the ‘business case’ to purposeful action.”

The careers hub provides a network of opportunities. It aims to improve the representation of diverse talent at all levels, while the accelerator programmes support Black business founders that want to scale up.

“We’ve gained support from leaders and industry,” Shaw is pleased to report. “Willing and fabulous companies have suddenly engaged with us, and that is something that we want to continue doing because financial resilience is key to our community.

“1000 Black Voices is looking at removing the barriers Black founders face when talking about growing their business. And we’re doing that successfully – helping them to raise money and broaden their networks.”

There’s also a growing mentor community that supports individuals and organisations. “People that join our community are saying, ‘wow, it’s great that we’re able to have open conversations and feel comfortable doing it.’ This is because we offer a diverse and safe environment,” says Shaw.

She adds: “It is something we talk to organisations about; why they need to provide safe environments and understand the challenges that Black people face.”

Roadmap for racial fairness

Shaw stresses that the venture capital sector needs to change how it generates its pipelines to open the door to Black founders and argues that the Governments needs to get involved.

“The Government sets the language, the tone, the culture in society, so change is clearly important,” she adds. “I believe strongly that an independent call for review is needed and that there should be an independent national body, with a report from the Government that provides the UK with a roadmap for racial fairness.”

Celebrate Black culture

Shaw says there was so much to celebrate and shouldn’t just be confined to Black History Month. There needed to be more insight into Black culture generally, giving a broader view than slavery. She is hopeful that the next generation, who have grown up in diverse communities, will advocate for change.

“It’s important that we celebrate who we are,” she argues. “At 1000 Black Voices, we help individuals and organisations to amplify their voices. It’s key that we are listened to – that there’s open dialogue and understanding – so we can celebrate the wonderful differences that make us a community together.”

To this end, 1000 Black Voices has supported several campaigns, including ITV’s mission and impact on the Black community.

The number 1000 is not a constraint but is meant to be representative of the many. As Shaw says: “We are many together, and coming together unifies us. We hope to continue driving forward with diversity, equity and inclusion within society.”

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