Black Inclusion Week: Ekow Sanni-Thomas on finding safe and thriving workplaces for Black employees

Sanni-Thomas spoke about his journey and the circumstances that led him to create Inside Voices

Launched by Black activists following the murder of George Floyd, Black Inclusion Week supports an inclusive Black community that embraces diverse identities, including women, parents, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community.

This year, Black Inclusion Week invited speaker Ekow Sanni-Thomas to discuss how businesses should show their commitment to Black inclusion. 

Whilst interviewed by Sue Liburd, MBE DL, Vice-Chair of our Armed Forces Patient and Public Voice group and Hannah Litt, Resource Inclusion Manager, Sanni-Thomas shared his journey and the circumstances that led him to create Inside Voices, known as the Glassdoor for people of colour.

During the event entitled: ‘Spotlight – Inside Voices, Finding Safe and Thriving Workplaces for Black Employees’, Sanni-Thomas, a DEI advocate, reminded listeners of the importance of sharing the experience of Black people in the workplace. It was his negative experiences with bad managers that drove him to create Inside Voices to help the Black community. “Not all administrations are ready to change,” said Sanni-Thomas, “but I was sure I wouldn’t go away without saying and doing something.”

Mental safety

Many participants in the online chat expressed their difficulty with talking about discrimination, harassment and racism in the workplace – sharing that they did not feel allowed to speak out. 

Asked what those who want to change but find it hard to speak up could do, Sanni-Thomas highlighted the importance of caring and having an awareness of mental safety and said: “Talk to other Black colleagues. You can learn from their experiences, and remember that no one is asking you to fight on your own!” 

Sanni-Thomas was full of pragmatic advice, some of which had emerged from conversations on Inside Voices around what type and from where employees of colour could get support.

He said: “First, we need to focus on what we want from companies: transparency, honesty. Many tools can be used within the organisation.”

Stressing the importance of allies, he said: “Allies can refer people of colour, help them find a good job and give them the opportunity to work in the right workplace.” 

Sanni-Thomas also pointed to the importance of having a DEI audit to back up discourse, especially on emotive topics. “Don’t be emotional. You have to learn to tell your story with data, and always use it first,” he added. 

Use data first 

Having data is the first step, but it’s time to go further to accelerate change. Sanni-Thomas feels this will only be achieved with a robust DEI department with a decision-making impact in the C-suite that drives real results beyond monthly celebrations. “Just as finance is there to make money, sales to attract customers, DEI is accountable to the CEO. It’s more than HR.” 

The online guest also shared tips on staying mentally secure, especially when nothing changes and many companies only use DEI for communication campaigns and showcasing. One piece of advice shared was to “develop your network with people who are really influential, not just at your level, even if it is difficult. Be aware of having a good relationship with the people who support you.”   

If that’s not enough, and you’re in an area that refuses to recognise your worth, making you feel small, Sanni-Thomas was adamant that: “People should leave! It’s the best decision for them.”  

Inclusive recruitment

The session also focused on inclusive recruitment. Usually, microaggressions start during the recruitment process, so it’s important to ask the right questions during the interview to avoid joining “a messy workplace”. Questions such as, “what are your DEI objectives?” because if the business does not have a DEI vision, things could become complicated; it’s a red flag.   

Sanni-Thomas’ honest and optimistic speech gave much hope for the future. He concluded with a vision of unity. “We are all different; we see tokenism, but don’t worry about what separates us. Most of us want the same thing, a better future with more inclusion.”  

For more information on Black Inclusion Week, click here.

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