Black History Month 2024: Black Thought Leaders on Diversity & Inclusion
Ahead of Black History Month 2024, here at the BAME Speakers Agency, we wanted to honour the Black thought leaders driving the inclusion revolution.
Each of these Black History Month speakers took part in our exclusive interview series, where we sat down to discuss what diversity and inclusion mean to them – do not miss their inspiring insight! Firstly, let’s start with some commonly asked questions about Black History Month.
When is Black History Month?
Black History Month will take place from the 1st to the 31st of October 2024.
Source: Culture Amp
What is Black History Month?
Black History Month UK was born from the US event, which takes place in February. In 1926, civil rights activist Carter G Woodson pitched the first BHM event, and since 1976, every US President has recognised February as America’s Black History Month.
The event celebrates the contributions of historic Black figures across the world. Black History Month is a vital event that should be recognised by businesses and organisations across all industries, to support their Black employees and prioritise inclusion in their workplace culture.
Compared to their peers, “companies with higher-than-average diversity experience 19% higher innovation revenues“, highlighting one of the many benefits of inclusion and why recognising events like Black History Month is so important.
What is the theme for Black History Month?
The theme for Black History Month 2023 was Black Resistance, which focused on how Black people have resisted discrimination and oppression throughout history.
The theme for 2024 is yet to be decided.
Paralympic Cyclist & World Champion
Sam Ruddock is a Paralympic track cyclist and record-breaking British shot put. As a Black, disabled athlete, his passion for diversity and inclusion stems from a lifetime of experiences, adding to Sam’s authenticity on the subject.
Reflecting on accessibility in sport, he praises the 2012 London Paralympic Games for showing him what a “person with an impairment can actually achieve”, a chance that every athlete deserves. This Black History Month, recognise the many different experiences within the Black community, from both able-bodied and disabled people.
“Everybody deserves a fair shot, and everybody deserves their chance.
“One of the best things that the Paralympic Games ever did, especially the London 2012 Games, was help people focus on what a person with an impairment can actually achieve, opposed to what they can’t do.
“In terms of inclusivity, everybody deserves the chance to show what they’ve got, and everybody should be made to feel welcome because we all deserve that.”
The Telegraph’s Top 50 Women in Engineering Under 35
Ayo Sokale is a nationally recognised advocate for female and Black representation in STEM sectors. She is a vocal supporter of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and from her political role has been lobbying for Black history to be taught in schools.
From mentoring young Black people to representation in the media, Ayo is dedicated to fighting systemic racism in all areas of society. She is driven by action and change and so encourages organisations to do the same. Follow Ayo’s guidance this Black History Month.
“The negative effects of the lack of diversity on corporations can be huge, and they can cost big. It can lead to cultural blindness – a lack of awareness for key dates that are important to certain communities, their faith practices, or even how to engage with communities appropriately.
“This can lead to huge issues. For example, corporate branding fully missing the mark – do we all recall the advert with Kendal Jenner? It caused huge ramifications and pushback from certain communities because they felt unrepresented and not understood.
“I think in this corporate world where we are trying to reach huge global communities, we just have to understand them better – diversity on our corporate teams helps us achieve this.”
Gold Medal-Winning World Champion Athlete
In the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter protests in 2020, Derek Redmond took to social media to launch his #IsThisYou campaign. His video series called upon other Black athletes to share their experience of racism and prejudice, to ask White viewers, #IsThisYou?
Microaggressions continue to be one of the biggest issues in society, so Derek’s campaign highlighted the seemingly harmless words and phrases that perpetuate stereotypes. A vital topic to discuss not just during Black History Month but every day of the year, Derek’s insight will change people’s perspectives.
“There are many different types of diversity.
“Internal diversity is basically the things we are born into that we cannot change – they are us and that’s what everybody looks at.
“Then we have external diversity, which are things that we do change; the way we dress, our beliefs, things that over time can change, like what football team you support.
“We then move on to organisational diversity, which really looks at where you are and where you sit or stand within your organisation, your pay level, your position. Are you, for example, a member of some kind of organisation within your workplace?
“All these things need to be taken into consideration when we talk about diversity and inclusion.”
Lord John Taylor of Warwick
UK’s First Black UK Government Special Advisor
Upon his appointment, Lord John Taylor of Warwick became the third Afro-Caribbean person to enter the House of Lords. He was the UK’s first Black UK Government Special Advisor and the first Black UK University Chancellor, positions that reflect Lord Taylor’s determined nature.
Each Black History Month, Lord Taylor reminds the British people of how far we have come, but also the work that is still required to tackle racism. He inspires other budding Black professionals to follow in his footsteps and change the face of British industries.
“Equality is a journey, it’s not a destination. It’s a process, not an event. And so, it’s step-by-step, day-by-day.
“We are getting there. We’re better than we were before, but we’re not there yet.
“I am still encouraged – we just have to take it one step at a time.
“The main thing is that whatever the Government does or doesn’t do, Britain is becoming more diverse through intermarriage. So, that social process is happening – it is up to the Government to encompass that, to embrace it and support it.”
Part of an End Racism at Work Taskforce
Nicholé McGill-Higgins is an award-winning mentor, consultant, keynote speaker, and mindset coach who specialises in diversity and inclusion. She spent five years working with the CIPD, where she was part of the End Racism at Work Taskforce, an eye-opening conference on the important topic.
When discussing inclusion at work, Nicholé’s candid approach leads to transformational results. She believes that it is no longer enough to pledge inclusivity, now business leaders must cultivate a culture of belonging in the workplace – transform your office environment this Black History Month.
“To be honest, diversity inclusion, I think, is really broad at the moment. I think people have their own interpretations of what that could potentially mean, and I know the CEO of Facebook said something quite powerful, which was, ‘diversity is what you see, and inclusion is what you feel’. To me, I would attach belonging to that as well.
“I think it’s more a sense of belonging for me because diversity can just be, ‘okay, I’ve got a few people over there, a couple of Brown people, LGBTQ’ and just ticking that tokenistic box.
“And inclusion can be quite ambiguous. What does inclusion mean to me as an individual? So if my organisation is saying, ‘yep, we’re really inclusive’ – does everyone in your organisation see that?
“An organisation would really have to be explicit with ‘this is what we see as inclusion’ and then see how the organisation actually feels about that.”
The Sunday Times Young Sportswoman of the Year
With a Jamaican father and Irish mother, Shanaze Reade grew up in a multi-cultural family. This experience drives her passion for diversity and inclusion, as she wants to help other minorities achieve their dreams, as she has done.
The no-nonsense athlete started her career beating the male athletes before she earned Gold medals in the World Cycling Championships. Shanaze is a vocal advocate for Black representation in sport and hopes to eliminate racism in cycling both during Black History Month and beyond.
“I think [diversity and inclusion] is important across the board. It’s not just in sport, it’s in general – diversity and inclusion are extremely important to me.
“I come from a diverse background myself. The opportunities that I had, from the town I was in, it wasn’t like what everybody else had.
“I was from a council estate, and I think just giving opportunity and making sure that when I’m doing something, it’s not just doing it for the elite end, it’s doing at grassroots as well.
“That’s important to me.”
Co-Founder & President of Ovamba Solutions Inc
When Viola Llewellyn identified a gap in the market for FinTech and financial support in Africa. Cultural differences mean the Western approach to investing does not apply to African businesses, limiting diversity across several industries. With a passion for inclusion, Viola launched Ovamba Solutions, a FinTech platform that supports such businesses.
When ethnic, cultural, and social factors are considered, the possibilities for international businesses are limitless. This Black History Month, look beyond your local target audience and change the future of your industry.
“Financial inclusion and inclusion in the workplace needs to start with an environment of honesty, without the penalty of being judged for it.
“So, if, let’s say, somebody is [LGBTQ+], but you are working in an organisation that may have some financial ties to a religious group, unfortunately, you may find yourself iced out from those kinds of job roles.
“There needs to be a way in which your performance is good enough and not who you are and what you think.”
TV Sensation as GMTV’s Fitness Instructor
Mr Motivator, otherwise known as Derrick Evans, is best known for his bright outfits and high-energy workout routines, but what many may not know is the GMTV regular suffered prejudice while breaking into British television.
The racial tensions in 2020 encouraged Derrick to speak up, and reveal the discrimination he faced: “I’d spoken to the guy on the phone, I walked in, and he asked me… ‘why didn’t you tell me you were Black?’” During Black History Month, he often reflects on the discriminatory casting process still prevalent in Britain.
“Everybody should be included, not excluded. There should not be a situation where you’re fighting to be represented, you should be represented, and so therefore it’s a bit like a building.
“In every building, there should be a ramp so that if someone comes in with one leg or they’re in a wheelchair, they can get up easily. There should be a rail they could hold on to. The steps should be at a certain height, there should be a lift that takes people up the different floors.
International Sports Anchor for TRT World
International sports anchor, Samantha Johnson, is considered to be one of the most influential people in Britain. She has raised valuable awareness for Black representation in sports broadcasting and promotes the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
A mentor to other budding professionals, Samantha is passionate about supporting young people in the Black community to set and achieve their goals. During Black History Month, it is important to invest in Black entrepreneurs and visionaries, who will be the groundbreakers of the future.
“Diversity and inclusion mean everything to me because if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today!
“I think it’s impossible for any organisation to thrive if you do not have a diverse company. I mean, I work for an international news station, so it is kind of impossible not to have a diverse newsroom. Imagine all of the stories and experiences you have from people from different backgrounds – if you just have a newsroom full of the same people, you aren’t going to grow or learn.
“How are you supposed to move forward, get creative, have other ideas if everybody thinks the same? It’s not going to happen.
“So, short and sweet, this is why we need more diversity and inclusion.”