As someone of Indian origin growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve experienced my fair share of racism. Being called the p-word on a regular basis, being chased by skinheads and unfortunately sometimes getting caught. Having teachers and even a headteacher that was deeply racist to the point where he wouldn’t support my university application. But throughout my youth and afterwards, I’ve never been stopped by the police for no reason at all. I’ve never had someone cross the street because they think I pose a threat.
After I started working, I rarely encountered any overt forms of racism bar a bout directly after the Brexit referendum (at Glastonbury of all places!). I might be lucky in that apart from a couple of years, I’ve largely worked for myself throughout my entire 30+ year career. And more recently, in the UK, we have both a Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary that are of Indian descent. Whatever the reasons, I have not felt particularly held back by my appearance, or the way I speak, or my tendency to not quite understand the social norms of British society.
I thought we were aware and conscious of The Panoply’s greater role in society. We have published targets to increase BAME representation to 20%, to increase female representation in senior roles to 37% and to increase female representation of board directors to 30%, to increase representation of those from less privileged backgrounds to 24% and to increase representation of those with disabilities to 5%. All of these targets are for this financial year. We recognise it’s still not enough and when we hit these goals, we will recalibrate and set new ones so that we truly reflect the society we operate in. We have undertaken diversity and inclusion training for all those involved in the hiring process. According to our most recent staff survey, 12% of employees identify as LGBTQ. I honestly thought we were leading the way.
But the last 2 weeks have made me realise that we’re not. I’ve refrained from making any comments on the BLM movement as I’ve reflected on what we need to do and say. I’m not one for virtue signalling so I didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons and post something as a knee jerk reaction. What I’ve concluded as I watched events unfold is that I’ve been blindsided by the BAME acronym. It’s too broad and it’s a convenient catch all phrase. Let’s face it, I’ve never had to deliver “the talk” to my 16 year old son. I don’t get labelled as soon as I walk into a room. Yet BAME puts me in the same category as my black fellow citizens. We could hit our BAME targets yet still not confront the reality that a significant proportion of our population grow up with the odds well and truly stacked against them.
I have not consciously confronted this before but I will make sure as a group, we do so now. We will start with immediate effect to break down the BAME acronym into something more meaningful. Where gaps exist, we will work towards filling them. I would like to ask people across the group to join me next Thursday 18th June at 1pm for a virtual lunch to discuss what actions we might take at a group level along with understanding what is already underway at an individual company level. If you are interested in joining, please email me directly and I’ll set up a hangouts session.To our black employees and future employees, I am sorry we have not recognised this earlier. You have our commitment that we do so now and will do everything we can to readdress hundreds of years of oppression.
CEO – The Panoply Holdings PLC