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Diversity: ‘as a white, middle-aged, middle-class male, who the hell am I to talk about it?’

Robert Kenward, founder of The Jobs Hub, gets frank about sticking up for what matters… 

“I have a Black friend.” It makes me cringe even typing that, but yes, I have uttered these words before when discussing racism. I’ve even gone so far as to utter the immortal “I don’t see colour”. But I never got near “all lives matter” because that’s just plain nuts, isn’t it? 

Or is it?

This is the thing with discussing racism, it’s really tough to speak your mind and not be fearful of saying the wrong thing or to be embarrassed about knowing what to say in the first place. But that’s okay.

For me, the decision to educate myself came in the form of Gabby Austen Browne co-founder of Diversity Ally. She approached me 18 months ago asking why I never touched on race-related issues in any of my social media posts. She said, “you’re an industry commentator, a voice people listen to and respect, but you don’t talk about underrepresentation.” We all love a bit of flattery, so as she had been so upfront, I told her: “I’ve never experienced it, I don’t know enough about it and as a white, middle-aged, middle-class male, who the hell am I to talk about it?”

And that’s how my story started.

Gabby and I had an open chat; she created a safe space for me to be open and honest and where nothing I said would be judged or considered stupid. Before that chat I would have thought using the terms black or brown would be seen as racist (it isn’t) and I would have used BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) – a term that’s hated because it lumps everyone together.

Robert-Kenward

As a retained recruiter I work really closely with a number of key agency stakeholders who are saying more and more that diversity is important to them and that they want to do something about it. But, only 3.5 per cent of our industry is black, and only 6 per cent is Asian, so something different needs to be done because what we’re doing now isn’t working. For example, in my entire 21-year events, experiential and recruitment career, I could count on two hands the number of black or brown people I’ve worked with, and on one hand those at a senior level.

It doesn’t take a genius to know EDI (equity, diversity & inclusion) right now is more a sticking plaster than a long-term approach. I recently spoke to a woman in the US who heads up the D&I (diversity and inclusion) for a large global events/experiential agency. She told me that increasing the diversity at the agency was really important to them, so I asked her to share their approach. She listed a couple of small initiatives and my mouth engaged before my brain and I asked “well how will that work?”

Her strategy (and this, unfortunately, is echoed by many other agencies) was simply to target the black or brown staff at their competitors. Most agencies won’t employ staff (let alone senior staff) from outside of the industry, so if we don’t take action to attract more black and brown people to the industry, the same people are simply being moved around.

With this in mind, I thought it’s time I stopped being on the sidelines and got involved, well to be honest, my wife asked me what I was going to do rather than just moan.

I know now that it’s equity, not equality that will help address things and that’s why I’m incredibly proud to be part of the team that’ve created the REACH (race, ethnicity and cultural heritage) Event Management Scholarship. This is a new university scholarship initiative that will actively encourage people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds into the events and experiential industry. The first scholarship is being delivered for Manchester Metropolitan University’s BA (Hons) Events Management degree course and will provide a fund for students to study on events management degree courses, providing a £5,000 a year scholarship to support with living expenses over three years.

When the idea was initially discussed on a Club House session (remember that), I recognised straight away that I couldn’t do this on my own, and I didn’t want to just go and get a black and brown working panel, who were involved just because of the colour of their skin, as that’s part of the problem too.

I wanted to work with people who were actively making an impact on our industry and Diversity Ally and Events First Steps are two amazing organisations that are also community partners with my other business The Hub.

To tackle any inequalities, it is vitally important for everyone to get on board. The industry is less than 10 per cent black and brown, so we need the remaining 90 per cent of the industry to stand up and say something. This issue cannot be left just to the black and brown people to tackle, it’s not about what colour you are, it’s about us all wanting to create a more diverse industry simply because it’s fairer for everyone.

The majority have to do something to help the minority.

If you’re a business that wants to actually make a real difference and help increase representation in our sector, then drop me a line: robert@recruitmentprof.com

If you want more information on what you can do to support D&I initiatives in the workplace, speak with Diversity Ally: team@diversityally.co.uk

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