Patrick Okolo offers some thoughts on Black History Month 2017.
Every October, the UK celebrates black history month. First celebrated in the UK in London in 1987, this year marks 30 years of celebrating black history, culture and heritage.
Being a man of black ethnicity, it was a time to reflect for a brief moment to see how far we have come and what we can look forward to in the future. I was told as a child that I had to work three times as hard to prove myself because I am black, and that I had to exceed my peers to be able to come close to a somewhat successful career.
When I started in the industry a long time ago, all the regulatory modules I had to complete frequently included people who did not visually represent the workforce. I remember the first time I saw a black person on one of the modules, recalling myself smile with just a little pride. It felt like black people were beginning to gain recognition for the first time. It was a big deal to me and I'm sure also applies to many like me, but who choose to stay silent on these matters.
There were a number of black speakers at the black history events in October who are in senior roles in our industry. My question was: how come I never see these senior black people, as they rarely seem to be visible when multinational or global insurance companies hold roadshows or events? The stats on gov.uk show that only 5% of black workers are in managerial, senior official or director positions, compared to 11% of white workers -- so that explains that disparity. Which led to so many more questions-¦
One quote from an event I attended was, "Privilege is invisible to those who have it". This means we all have blindspots when it comes to challenges that do not affect ourselves but perhaps affect our colleagues. Things such as access to an office if you have a physical disability, worrying about how to describe your same-sex partner when you have not come out yet, or if you're not white, questions like, "No, but where are you really from?" That is one I have been asked many times.
At senior levels, we have people that are adequately qualified and experienced. But surely there are also people equally qualified from the black asian minority ethnic races that work in the insurance industry and could offer as much or maybe more by virtue of their diversity.
We have thankfully made progress in recent years in respect of gender equality, as we now have more women in senior positions. That is something I welcome wholeheartedly, being a father and knowing my daughter can one day look at these women as role models.
Anti-discrimination, equality, inclusion and diversity now constitute a big topic in the workplace and I am extremely happy we are moving forward as a community and addressing these issues.
The ideal future for me is one where anyone who looks at pictures of the boards of senior management in the insurance industry is able to relate to at least one person on them.