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Reverse Mentoring in the BLM era helped me realise the importance of inclusive comms

By Tom Bingham, Director of Communications

As Featured in PR Week

Tom Bingham 2

 I had a great childhood, eventually realised I had to study hard if I was going to get on, and then went to Edinburgh University for four years.

My career in communications has taken me across the world, and to the equally beautiful – but slightly less exotic – town of Northampton, where I currently work.

I'm aware that I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had. However, I'm a believer that if you don’t knuckle down and work hard it doesn’t matter how many opportunities you have: you won’t get on.

But George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought home to me that working hard isn’t enough for some.

It’s also highlighted an issue that has long needed addressing – how workplaces can help people from BAME backgrounds to not only succeed, but to feel truly included.

The charity where I work recently launched a reverse mentoring initiative among the senior leadership team to raise awareness and understanding about the barriers faced by BAME staff, while ultimately breaking down inequalities.

The idea is quite simple: to help me manage any unconscious bias I might have and make sure that any comms activity we undertake considers everyone, particularly the perspectives of those from a BAME background.

As a relatively well-travelled man, I thought I knew quite a lot about other cultures, but I saw the scheme as an opportunity to learn.

I hadn't really expected the process to change me – but I was wrong.

I was paired with Angie Matongo, a clinical nurse leader who works with patients with neuro-psychiatric needs.

Over our sessions, Angie shared her story with me – her desire to succeed, some of the barriers she has faced, and how she and her family have had to deal with things that I’ve never experienced.

Stop and search, for example, is something I’d only read about; but for some members of her family it’s a reality, purely because of the colour of their skin.

She also helped me appreciate one of the first difficulties BAME workers face – the insecurity that often comes from working in a majority-white workspace.

By talking to Angie I have challenged my own beliefs.

She has shared her honest views about how communication can be improved to reach every individual – and it made me realise that some of our comms haven’t been as inclusive as I first thought.

In fact this may not just be an issue within our workplace but across all communications sectors, with figures suggesting that 91 per cent of people working in the PR industry are white.

Thanks to Angie’s insights we are now, as a comms team, constantly reviewing our language and the images we use to ensure that it’s inclusive throughout, as well as pitching to a diverse media.

Not only that but, crucially, we’re building equality, diversity and inclusion into our comms strategy.

Angie has helped me to understand why people from BAME backgrounds may be reluctant to apply for senior posts and I hope in turn I have helped her, even if only a little bit, to feel more empowered and confident to aim higher and ensure her voice is heard.