Aku’s story

‘'I was brought up in a studious family. Seeing my parents work hard and knowing that my dad had worked extremely hard to get his PHD gave me the drive and self-motivation at an early age to work hard at school too. My mother and father decided to uproot the family from Malawi to the UK in 1996. Over the years my parents had emphasised the importance of an education and being high achievers to ensure we secured successful careers. My parents would often come home and tell my siblings and I about the situations they faced at work in which they received racial abuse or a colleague who was less qualified than them got a promotion over them - they knew this was to do with the colour of their skin. I was brought up in a household where I felt that as a black girl I would need to work twice as hard at school to succeed. I grew up with this mentality and took it with me into the world of work.

When I got into the world of work I was geared up to working twice as hard to ensure that I succeeded. I put many hours into my work, always thinking that my peers were at an advantage. I felt that if I worked to the same level as my peers, I had no chance of climbing the career ladder at the pace they were. As I observed the companies I worked for, I could see that most of the people at the top were white males, a few white females and a very small amount of black males. I had discussions with friends in which we talked about how black women were at the bottom of the ‘career hierarchy’ with white males at the top, white females second, black males third and black women at the bottom based on what I could see. I could not see any representation of black females at the top - at this point I was discouraged. I attended a glass ceiling session during International Women’s Day at a company I worked for. I was expecting to see all white females in the panel but to my surprise there was a black female director. She spoke about her journey to success and how she climbed the career ladder. She spoke about the challenges she faced explaining how she had to jump many hoops to become a director. She went from company to company to get to her position and would not have made it by staying in one company. She explained the difficulties of getting promoted if she had stayed at the same company. My initial impression of seeing a black female at the top gave me hope but as soon as I heard her story I knew that the idea of working twice as hard to get to the top had to continue if I truly wanted to succeed. Hearing this, I spoke with a director at my workplace asking whether promotions could be made transparent, therefore the reasons for promotions to be made clear so that others could measure their progression against another colleague to see whether they are deserving of a promotion or know what they need to do to be promoted. Unfortunately this could not be done due to confidentiality.

This is an article about the ‘Ethnicity Pay Gap Report’  that was published on 27/01/2022 and covers some of the reasons for the disparity in pay gap due to race: Ethnicity Pay Gap Report: 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) . It mentions investigating ways to ensure greater ethnic diversity and diversity of thought at the senior leadership level. I feel that decision makers within organisations have the duty of taking unconscious bias tests and ensuring that they are making hiring and promotion decisions based on ability and not race. I truly hope that this can change to benefit future generations. I look at other young black girls and hope that their future is not one where they have to worry about their career because of their race or working twice as hard. Working twice as hard is not something I would recommend as this led to a depletion in my physical and mental health. I then decided that it had to stop and I have to prioritise my health. I have also had comments in the past of people saying how well-spoken I am for a black person and I have struggled in the past to understand what this meant. Were they saying that black people are not well-spoken? Were they saying that I am not black enough? I found this very problematic. More must be done to educate people on race. I have heard comments from people stating that they do not see colour. For me colour is something that must be seen for things to change! ‘'