What she didn’t realise when she came to that conclusion last summer, was how unaware she was of the issues facing her BAME colleagues on a daily basis. Here is her journey to enlightenment, learning about race…
To get a better understanding of how it feels to be a BAME individual working here at Sky we set up a listening group run by an independent company so that people could speak freely about their issues and concerns.
Learning about privilege
The report made for an uncomfortable read and was eye opening for me. The biggest shock was that the leadership – which includes me – was described as privileged. My initial reaction to this was that I was not privileged – I do not come from a wealthy background, I was not privately educated and I was the first person in my family to go to university.
As a senior leader in business, I was so used to thinking of myself as part of a minority (as there are still fewer women than men in the most senior roles) that I couldn’t get my head around being part of the majority. But after reflecting I understood that I do have and have had an advantage in my life as a result of being white, and part of the majority in the workplace.
It’s crucial to understand this for two reasons. One, is that as part of the majority I must use my influence to make things better for people who are not in that majority. Two, it’s impossible to help make things better for people who are not in the majority without accepting and understanding the experience of being in the minority.
Only white person in the room
The next phase on my road to a better understanding of the issues facing my BAME colleagues was when I was invited to speak at an event at the House of Commons where I found myself being the only white person in the room. Of course on many occasions in the workplace I had been the only, or one of only a handful of women and so I knew what that felt like.
But I did not know how it feels to be in a different kind of minority, based on the colour of my skin, until that point. But this is what people from a BAME background face every single day. And yes, it was uncomfortable.
I heard how people struggled to progress in the workplace; how they were told not to be themselves; and how they could not speak up when they faced discrimination because it would harm their careers. But being in that room with so many amazing women was also a brilliant and inspiring experience. I saw how proud they were of their ethnicity. And I saw how we all have in common that we are human beings and we can all be inspired by and learn from each other, irrespective of ethnicity.
Broader minority connections
Two more things have really helped me to become more aware. I’ve broadened my circle both via networking and social media so that I’m now connected to more people from a BAME background. This has exposed me to different points of view and has lead me to have a better understanding of the things we can do to start to overcome issues in the workplace, such as really listening, empowering our employee networks and raising awareness of unconscious bias.
And I have an awesome “reverse mentor” Rebecca Strong who has taught me about her background and experiences growing up and helped me to understand better what it’s like to be from a minority background.
Rebecca put it brilliantly to me – she said even if you don’t feel part of the issue (because you don’t discriminate), even if you don’t see any issues (because you personally have not seen any discrimination), you need to engage with those in a minority who are telling you there are issues, because your privilege might be invisible to you.
So in light of The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, here are some practical tips:
- Create a safe space where people from a BAME background can freely talk about their experiences at work and in society
- Understand that if you are in the majority then you have an advantage
- Accept that if you are a senior leader who is white, you have a responsibility to use your influence to make things better for people who are in an ethnic minority – because it’s easier for you
- Expand your network, reach out to people who are different
toyou and expose yourself to different views
- Find a reverse mentor to help you understand what it’s like to be in the minority
- Above all else, truly listen and be aware
About Vicky Sandry:
Vicky is the General Counsel for Sky UK and Ireland, heading up the team which advises on all legal and regulatory matters across the UK and Ireland. Sky’s Legal Department exists to provide high quality, business focused legal advice to its business partners.