The context of the “Colourbrave” photo narrative project, is exploring what it takes to have difficult conversations on the topic of race, in the world of organisations.
It can be argued there is a hierarchy of bias when it comes to diversity; Some excluded groups have narrated their story of exclusion and found ways to have constructive conversations enabling them to get on to the agenda and acquire a credible voice at the table. Gender pay gap reporting legislation has been passed in the UK and all companies with over 249 employees were required to publish gender pay gap figures in March 2018. However, PwC UK, became the first large enterprise, (in the UK), to publish its BAME pay gap figures in September 2017.
This body of work explores the experiences of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic, (BAME), professionals who have, and are, navigating their way through the corporate world. It elicits insightful gems of wisdom and insight, inspiring others to walk on the shoulders of giants and contribute to the collective consciousness of positive thought that will constructively challenge the status quo and help to direct the pendulum of power, to swing in different directions.
Each contributor was firstly interviewed, then asked to reflect on a difficult conversation, on the topic of race,
What happened? What was said? What wasn’t said? What did they think? How did that situation make them feel? If the situation presented itself tomorrow, what would they do differently? This technique of slowing down the participant and facilitating deep self-reflection was used to create the mood depicted in each photograph.
The intention behind the style of photography was to reflect the notion of being Colourbrave; using high intensity gels to create vivid, boldly coloured, hyper-real portraiture. It is a pop art style of photography, created in camera, and completely contradicts the narrow conservative conventions of the corporate world.
The semi structured interviews focused on questions such as:
– What does it mean to you, to be Colourbrave?
– What does it mean to you, to be Colourblind?
– Have you ever felt obliged to assimilate in order to advance in the workplace?
– What would you say to senior management teams who want to have the conversation but might be apprehensive?
– What would you say to young BAME professional aspiring to climb the corporate ladder?
Key thought provoking statements have been extracted from the transcribed interviews and placed alongside the contributors’ image to act as catalysts to spark new conversations, give rise to new perspectives and increase engagement and dialogue.
With its origins in the corporate world the project has now expanded and subjects are now being drawn from across popular mainstream culture. This raises an important question regarding the validity of studying behaviour in organisations as a means to give insight into attitudes and behaviour in everyday life.
There are over 25 contributors to date and the study continues.
Rob Neil OBE, Head of Ministry of Justice’s ‘Project Race
To be colourbrave …“Is the ability to be our natural authentic selves in all the spaces we occupy. I struggle with the term colourblind, it is a myth and a lie, perpetuated by people in positions of power as part of the game that is played when jostling for position and maneuvering for advantage.”
Sir Ken Olisa – Lord Lieutenant, City of London
‘To BAME professionals …
“Avoid the label curse. Focus on being the best at what you do,
don’t make an issue of race and don’t let anyone else make an issue of it either.”
To leadership teams …
“Inclusion is about competitive advantage – ignore labels and establish ways of identifying, recruiting, coaching and promoting talent from across humanity’s rich spectrum.”
Manisha Taylor, MBE – Football Coach, Educator, Speaker.
Being Colourbrave is about being resilient and persistent to overcome adversity and inequality in the footballing environment. You gotta show grit or you’ll get eaten alive, especially at the elite coaching level as I find in my sector people often can’t see beyond colour or gender.
Jessica Huie MBE – Director at Kaleidoscope
To senior management teams ;
“I would take the leaders most resistant and cynical and ask them, is it the idea of change which scares you? Then I would create human connections which would allow them to experience the existence and reality of those marginalised and excluded”.
Sharmadean Read, MBE – Founder of WAH nails & Beautystack
To BAME professionals … “When you feel that people are treating you in a certain way because of race or gender, if you get your back up you will end up doing exactly what they expect of you, then it becomes a defensive loop and the cycle never ends. In this context being colourbrave involves devising a plan to rise above loop.
John Amaechi, OBE – Organisational Psychologist; CEO, Amaechi Performance Systems
On being Colourbrave … “It’s the everyday boldness to walk out of your house and to face the assault of judgement and faces that tell you, you don’t quite fit. It’s to walk around recognising that just your hue is antagonising for some people.”
From the non-minority perspective,“It’s the willingness to open yourself up to at least a fraction of that experience.”
On being Colourblind … “As a psychologist you don’t ignore problems and imagine they’ll go away, you don’t ignore challenges and imagine they will become not so. The idea that you would ignore an essential component of someone’s identity seems bizarre.”
Tunji Akintokun, MBE – Senior Vice President, NSC Global
To young BAME profesionals … “There is a very fine balance between IQ and EQ. Your intelligence and the education you have will only get you so far. Then one needs to start focusing on EQ and paying attention to relationships around the business with peers and leaders. Self-awareness is probably the most powerful tool you can have to progress your careers; because once you know how you show up then you’ll be able to navigate the winding road to progressing your career in the corporate world.”
Handerson Mwandembo – Senior Associate, PwC UK
On having the conversation … “If you look ahead and don’t see your kind you may begin to think is this the right place for me. Being colourbrave is about asking, ‘why is this so?’ and ‘what can we do to change this?’
David McQueen: MD of Narratively, business speaker & leadership coach
Being colourbrave is about being able to accept people regardless of their skin tone; yet also being able to speak up for people who may feel their voice is not being heard or are absent. Being colourblind, with the best intentions, is a weak response people have when under pressure on the topic of race, and one that should be challenged.
Geoffrey Williams – Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Thompson Reuters
On having the conversation … “Honesty is the key, be honest with yourself, ask questions about things which are unfamiliar and things you don’t understand. Be willing to find out about the others journey, where they are coming from, embrace their uniqueness and acknowledge their truth.”