Black History Month: Reflections on 'proud to be’

G15 members marked October as the annual Black History Month, a chance to celebrate, reflect, and discuss the achievements and experience of Black people in the UK.

Here, Elaine Lewis, a colleague from L&Q who leads the organisation's Cultural Diversity Network 'Kaleidoscope', reflects on what the month has meant to her and colleagues.

This year’s Black History Month theme was ‘Proud to be’.

Reflecting on the topic, it has been a month when many of us have looked back on the distance we have travelled, thanks to the drive, determination, and courage of those that have gone before us. From the incredible achievements and contributions of Black historical figures, to the many untold stories and barriers to progress - I am proud of the efforts of people who’ve helped us to move forward and pleased to see this work championed by our sector.

I’m pleased with my organisation, L&Q, for listening and taking action. At the beginning of October, we published our first diversity report, sharing data from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, and increasing transparency in this area. Amending our data categories, we separated out mixed heritage individuals from Black to give us a real snapshot of our workforce. Mirroring the census questions, this action will move us closer to ensuring our workplace is fair, unbiased and inclusive for all.

The report showed that Black colleagues lose ground, and faith, early on in the career structure and experience diminishing representation into senior positions. To address this, L&Q has set targets for the ethnicity make-up of our talent development programmes that are designed to support colleagues to access promotion opportunities. Based on our current staff base, we are exceeding our target of 19%, with Black colleagues making up 25% of the recent ‘aspiring manager’ cohort and 26% of the ‘emerging leader’ group. This work will continue, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of our labour in the years to come.

I’m proud of L&Q’s Cultural Diversity Network, Kaleidoscope, of which I am Chair of. Together, we are driving the agenda forward by talking to leaders and challenging non-inclusive behaviour. Earlier this month, during Black Inclusion Week, we delivered a workshop for our Leadership team to raise awareness about Black people’s experience of working for L&Q. For Black History Month, we took the lead in spotlighting Black History across the organisation by running a series of educational events and opportunities to showcase Black achievement, including a presentation on African traditional wear and a talk from Krystal Alliance Director, Rob Neil OBE.

I’m proud of the work of our residents in shaping supportive, cohesive communities where every person is valued, and every voice is heard. The spirit of this work was captured at a resident-led event in Brixton last week, when nine female residents came together to re-live memories and experiences, from the Windrush generation to now, at the Black Cultural Archives. Bringing together women from different generations, but the same neighbourhood, and hearing their rich collection of reflections and experiences, was both powerful and thought-provoking. Beyond Black History Month, these conversations will act as a steppingstone to further action, by encouraging other residents inspired by their stories to become a neighbourhood champion or to join one of our emerging resident diversity networks.

And finally, I am proud of every Black person for their contributions, bravery and perseverance. And particularly those who came forward to share personal stories about their history, culture and unique experiences to inspire others and raise awareness. This year a colleague took the time to put together a short-film exploring what Black History Month means to Black colleagues at L&Q. From a courageous Black WW2 RAF navigator, to the first ‘Highlife’ audio recording released by a group of Ghanaian musicians in 1928 – the examples are emblematic of the rich tapestry of experiences that make up Black history.

Last month was about celebrating Black history and voices, providing platforms for important conversations to take place. We must choose to keep this momentum going beyond October with a collective commitment to doing so.