Times have changed and the exploration of race, identity and intersectionality are now at the forefront of people's minds. Companies are working to become more inclusive and allies are working on understanding and listening to black and BIPOC voices. I for one, feel able to speak about being black in a way like never before and it's important to use this energy to propel us forward into space where we can be open and proud of our culture and heritage in all areas.
Here are my top tips to embrace your culture at work:
- Use your chosen name
Many black and BIPOC people will have names that are unfamiliar to the Western ear. My name is unusual and so whilst this makes me feel unique it can cause problems as it is pronounced differently to how it’s spelt (La-donya). As a result, I always take care to explain the pronunciation. I remember a previous manager who upon finding my name difficult proceeded to give me an unsolicited nickname. As a result, I was known in that organisation by a name I did not wish to be called. Now that I’m older and wiser, I would not let that happen again. Take care to ensure others know how to pronounce your name and do not allow nicknames that you are not comfortable with to be used simply to accommodate others.
- Share your authentic self
When I first entered the working world, I was not sure how to merge my cultural identity with professional and felt uncomfortable sharing aspects of my personal life that involved cultural references. I remember once speaking to a colleague who disclosed that even though she preferred to use chopsticks she chose to discard them when eating in the work canteen due to fear of judgement. Examples such as these hail from internalised racism within people of colour due to a subconscious belief that to be taken seriously, we must keep proximity to white/western-ness. These days, I embrace my culture in all settings secure in the knowledge that my background is an integral part of what makes me the practitioner I am today.
- Wear your hair proudly
Many natural hairstyles such as cornrows, dreadlocks and fros’ are still perceived as unprofessional. Hair discrimination is rife and has led to many black men and women changing their hair to fit into a homogenous ‘professional’ mould. I remember a friend who applied for one graduate job after another and as soon as he cut his afro, he received an offer. Black employees have been told to straighten, alter, and change their hair at work and this continues to occur as there is no law in the UK specifically related to hair discrimination. Changes, of course, need to be made from a top-down perspective, but we also need to feel secure in our own hair choices. I would encourage black professionals to style their hair in a way that aligns with them. Additionally, if you feel discriminated against or categorised due to your appearance it is important to speak out and get in touch with HR.
As daunting as it can be to embrace ourselves in our entirety it is important to know that we can still be professional whilst honouring our lineage. Let us move into the next stage of cultural awareness by bringing our whole selves to the table.