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Awareness dates, Guest blog, Opinion piece

The hidden figures of Black History Month and how you can help your organisation become more inclusive

Fiona Daniel smiling

No one can deny the progress and positive steps made, but the pace of change remains terribly slow. The action taken is not enough, as recent events have highlighted, and this year Black History Month has been elevated more than ever before. Racism is still very much prevalent in society and, unlike Black History month, is all too present throughout the year. Racism, just like skin colour, is an everyday kind of thing, and will be around long after the dust has settled on the tumultuous year that has been 2020.

But whilst we raise a salute to contributors past, present and future, there has over the years been something that has always baffled me. There seems to be a community hidden, missed and rarely mentioned, a community facing multi-faceted discrimination, exclusion sometimes from their own communities, but more often from society at large; and that’s Black individuals living with a disability.

Least often heard and most often excluded

Black people with disabilities just like any other minority group wish to see themselves represented across all aspects of society. Now, I know there are many Black people with disabilities, many who are making a positive contribution in a variety of ways, but I just wish they were more visible, acknowledged and included.

Sadly, many Black people with disabilities are still hidden figures and due to this invisibility, it makes me think, what are we missing out on from this untapped talent.  It makes me then question just where and how Black disabled individuals are seen, where are their views included and their voices heard, and who is exactly representing this population? I hear and read all the time from many companies that diversity is important, but clearly not where it matters, and that is at the decision table.

Despite the many disability organisations in the UK, I was quite saddened to see the lack of resources available for Black individuals living with a disability. How is any organisation, even the ones focused on disability, social and health care, housing, education, mental health etc able to respond to a Black and Ethnic Minority disability lived experience and needs if they are not included.

From hidden to visible to included

There is little research on the Black disability perspective and connected intersects, amplifying their invisibility and sending a message of “we don’t care about you”. That needs to change and here are just a handful of things which can be done:

  • Data estimates that at least one million “BAME” (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) have a disability but be careful using the term “BAME”. It masks the real number and issues of Black individuals living with a disability and other Ethnic Minorities with disabilities too. We are not one homogenous group, there is a richness of diversity within that needs to be understood.
  • Less than 4 in 10 “BAME” disabled people of working age are in employment ignoring the challenges of the word “BAME” as highlighted before, employers often state there is not any Black talent. There is plenty of Black talent and Black talent from a disability perspective, there are many who can and want to work but are not given the opportunity to do so.
  • Ensure mainstream services are inclusive of Black individuals living with a disability.
  • Make tangible and measurable efforts to increase the visibility, voices, and representation of Black individuals with disabilities more broadly in companies.  Widen the net and diversify your recruitment approach.
  • It is important that all Black individuals living with a disability are in control of their lives and their outcomes and are included in decisions about them for them.
  • Remove barriers which inhibit the inclusion and accessibility of Black individuals living with a disability.
  • Enhance outreach activities within local communities, invite individuals with disabilities including Black individuals living with disabilities into your organisation, demonstrate you are open to them and connect to groups and organisations to help and support their transition.
  • Educate yourself on the challenges being faced by Black individuals living with disabilities, the more you listen, learn, understand the more inclusive you can be.

It’s great to see conversations happening at Business Disability Forum and other organisations. Let us make sure even after Black History Month that we open the doors to enable our hidden figures to step out and be embraced for who they are, to live their life in full and be treated equally, with dignity and respect. It is not enough to just keep saying we need to do better we must now begin to care, take action and actually be better.

Fiona Daniel is the CEO and Founder of FD2i Inclusion Consultancy.  She has over 25 years financial services industry experience. She has spent many years shaping, growing and leading the global diversity & inclusion agenda for one of the largest banking and financial service organisations in the world HSBC. Fiona was the Global Head of Employee Networks, a Senior Global D&I Relationship Manager, the interim Global Head of D&I and the Head of Diversity and Inclusion HSBC UK.

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