Our commitment to all children and young people, anti-racism, greater equality, a better future, and a stronger community; how is that reflected in Inspire’s work and practices?
Now, more so than it has been for a long time, racism, racial disparities, inequality, and injustice are at the forefronts of our minds and discourse as a society. In this resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd, the youthful energy and passion behind it, the clear need for change and an end to systemic racism, we need to take stock of where we are, what we can do and the efforts required of all of us to tackle this issue in all walks of life.
Our work has always focused on a long-term, sustainable, permanent change to build a better future and equal opportunity for all our young people. We want for them to be full participants in our society, to be all they can be, with no limits to their aspirations; it is in our name and in our DNA, we want to inspire them.
For my generation growing up and still today for many BAME young people in our society, we have heard we have to work twice as hard. There is an expectation that we will face a different set of criteria, that our path to success is harder and that maybe some industries and industry levels aren’t for people like us. This isn’t only rhetoric, but the lived experience for too many people of colour in our society, further compounded when we consider intersectionality, for example, female, disabled or LGBTQ people of colour can face multiple layers of discrimination and unconscious bias. That is before we even get to issues arising from different socio-economic backgrounds, community, environment and access to resources or support.
Working in Hackney, we have always been aware of a disparity in our borough and the surrounding areas, where attainment in GCSE grades are above the national average, but outcomes, not so much, with qualifications at 19 being around the national average, but still 10% of our working-age population on out of work benefits and 12.1% of working-age adults having no qualifications. Both rates are the highest in London. This is especially troubling when you consider Hackney’s high rate of inequality and expensive rent that can be 61% of median pre-tax pay in London, the area is changing rapidly around the young people of Hackney and they and their families are being priced out.
It is hard to break negative and limiting perceptions and cycles when the reality demonstrates there is a lack of diversity still in most industry sectors, but especially so in top jobs and leadership roles across the UK, in a way that is not representative of the diversity within our population. Meanwhile, young people of colour are over-represented in our prison system, stop and search statistics and school exclusion figures. Furthermore, especially for the young people of Hackney, Haringey, Camden and Islington, these issues are portrayed as the totality of who our young people are in a way that doesn’t ask why this is happening to them or recognise their vast potential, aspirations, curiosity and successes.
Against this backdrop, why would young people of colour think anyone believes in them? How do we then expect them to believe in themselves?
As a snapshot of this reality, we can look at ‘The Colour of Power’ brought to us by consultancy Green Park and the ‘Operation Black Vote’ campaign. They have compiled a visual depiction of the diversity composition of Britain’s most powerful leaders, of 1099 featured, only 52 are non-white individuals, only 288 are female. 15 of the 39 departments categorised have no ethnic minority representation ranging from policing and banking to even the charity sector and public life, with only 15 additional ethnic minority roles in the last three years representing an increase of only 1.2%.
We need this to be a time of self-reflection, with a renewed commitment to becoming a more inclusive and fair society. Everyone needs to look at themselves, we are doing this right now at Inspire, addressing our internal structures and procedures, and our programmes and work to see how we can optimise how we approach and address issues of race and equality. There is a tendency for society to treat such movements and considerations as a trend. We signal we are supportive, change our company logos or social media profile pictures for a month, and acknowledge racism, systemic or otherwise, is a bad thing. Then everything goes back to business as usual, or we focus on something else, but what has changed or improved?
When we do achieve changes or set out on a journey towards it, how is it sustained and will the effects last? What can we do as individuals, as companies, organisations, schools and other institutions?
“How can I make a difference? If it is small is it worth it? What if it doesn’t change the issue in its entirety? What will it take? Is it too hard?”
Fatigue and doubt can creep into our minds once we realise what is required, the scale of the challenge and task ahead, the frustration that there is still so much to do. The answer doesn’t have to be so hard and grandiose though, there are many ways to take action, to do something, plus there are a great many others you can do it with, who can and will help you.
Together with our supporters and partners, we have made a commitment –
“To develop the skills, confidence and motivation of young people in Hackney and beyond. Working in partnership with businesses, education providers and the community, we inspire, support and open doors for young people: improving their access to the world of work, raising achievement levels and enhancing their future career prospects and lives.”
What does this mean? Does this mean we are going to solve systemic racism and unconscious bias in the workplace and society, even with the help and support of some large and significant industry players?
Not by ourselves, but we can and must chip away at it in several ways, this is just one angle, one conceptual and geographical area where we can create change. It is worth it when we make it more of a value shift en masse. It is just as important when one volunteer mentors or inspires one child or young person, or they can see themself in and identify with the volunteer, gain an understanding that anyone can do anything if they are interested and passionate enough about it. We need to plant these seeds now if we want a rich and diverse garden tomorrow, from which trees of innovation and greater equality can sprout.
In our society, we draw from too small a pool of talent and don’t utilise all of our best minds, knowledge and experience when we don’t fully include people of colour, women, the disabled and LGBTQ community in our aspirations or endeavours. It is also unethical not to do so.
So, we would like to thank our partners for committing to helping us with this mission because it is the right thing to do and encourage others to do so as well, there is still a lot more work to do. We need leadership, workforces and cultural influencers that reflect our society and these sentiments of inclusion, diversity and fairness.
If you are reading this but do not live or work near the Hackney, Haringey, Camden or Islington areas, please investigate similar provisions and Education Business Partnerships in your area. Find out how you can support schools and colleges with their work-related learning and support and encourage young people’s dreams and aspirations. We need to be sure we have a diverse body of volunteers, not only for more young people to identify with role models, but to challenge stereotypes and preconceptions about who can do particular jobs.
We are looking for more BAME and female engineers, accountants, business owners, doctors, lawyers, creatives, coders, programmers, scientists, chefs and more, from all walks of life to share their experience and knowledge with young people. We want them all to leave the old assumptions and assertions about who can do what behind, we want them and need them to be the leaders and innovators of tomorrow, so let’s start to prepare them now!
We need even more businesses to open their doors and offer access, via vital work experience, which provides insight, builds confidence and will help young people to feel like they belong. Such a learning experience is crucial to how effectively young people may move into the labour market, especially during this pandemic where many companies and businesses have cancelled work experience placements due to the pandemic. Fortunately at Inspire, we have devised virtual Work Experience Programmes to ensure our young people don’t miss out.
Explain to them why you enjoy what you do and how they can pursue that for themselves so that they can explore what it is they enjoy and what their options are. Start early, our programmes are aimed at children in nursery school right up to college-age. Aspirations and the limits we set on them can form during the early years, even subconsciously. In teenage years, these perceptions can become more realised, especially as young people become more aware of industries and vocations not including people who look like or represent them. We need to make the right changes for them now so that when it is their turn, they can hit the ground running and show the world what they are really capable of.
Young people have so much to offer, so we are going to forge and create space for them to do that. Young people should be recognised and rewarded in our society based on their merit, but we will never achieve this within racist structures that maintain bias or with glass ceilings that hold people down based on class, gender or other characteristics.
Please join us and our network of supporters, volunteers, schools and businesses, to help us take on this aspect of the fight and create meaningful change and a brighter future for children and young people and by extension, the rest of us collectively.
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to donate, join our supporter’s network or explore other ways to support our work and mission.