By Vanisha Smith, Employability Coach at Working Chance
Black History Month has been celebrated since the 1970s, but the events of last summer in the heat of the Black Lives Matter movement sparked the start of a new phase of imperative discussions concerning race. Conversations specifically about the Black experience and globally recognised injustices are now becoming much more commonplace in the media and at work.
While it is important to continue to reflect on and challenge injustice and hardship, it is equally as important to highlight success and Black joy to humanise the lived Black experience. This year’s Black History Month’s theme is ‘#ProudToBe’ which gives an opportunity to do just that, by way of encouraging people to share what they are proud of. For me, as a Black woman of Caribbean heritage, I’m certainly proud of my ancestors’ history, and proud of what that legacy means for me today.
I am proud to have been privileged enough to access opportunities and make changes my ancestors could have only dreamed of.
Employability Coach, Working Chance
From Windrush to Working Chance
My grandmother arrived in the UK in the Windrush era alongside many young and ambitious people from the Caribbean, who arrived to what many of them called ‘the motherland’ or ‘the mother country’. They were bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to support with the delivery of key public services. My grandmother worked as a nurse with the NHS until she retired and is very proud of her contributions to this country. Windrush and the NHS have an ‘entwined history’, and it is often said how much the NHS still depends on the contributions of immigrants and their descendants from all over the world, and particularly from former British colonies.
I am proud of my grandmother’s courage in taking that journey and appreciate her contributions to settling into a foreign society. Her experience has allowed the generations that followed to branch out into careers that may not have been accessible then. I am proud to have been privileged enough to access opportunities and make changes my ancestors could have only dreamed of.
Like my grandmother, I am passionate about helping others. This teamed with being a feminist and a Black woman has led me into my role as an Employability Coach here at Working Chance. Although in a different capacity than my grandmother, my role also allows me to support women on their journey into employment.
My lived experience of being a Black woman, with all of its peaks and troughs, allows me to empathise with some of the experiences of the women we support from racialised groups, particularly Black women.
Employability Coach, Working Chance
Supporting other Black women
As an Employability Coach who supports our clients, I unfortunately know too well how unjust both the criminal justice system and the workplace can be for Black women. While Black women make up just 3% of the population as a whole, they account for 6% of all women with convictions and a huge 35% of Working Chance’s clients. This overrepresentation shows that these women are more likely to be punished, have a criminal record, and need support to find a job. As we recently published in our report, 'Worst-Case Scenario', racially minoritised women face harsher barriers throughout the criminal justice system and into the world of work as a result of their convictions — and things are especially tough for Black women in particular.
I am grateful for the opportunity to support some of those women today. Diversity is not a metaphor. I believe that our identities and heritage influence how we approach and experience the world, and that includes what we bring to our communities and our workplaces. Because of my family history, because of my identity as a Black woman, I am able to apply a cultural lens to my approach supporting other Black women at Working Chance on their journeys towards employment.
I am privy to their concerns and experiences, while acknowledging that the Black experience is nuanced and unique. For example, people from African or Caribbean backgrounds share similarities but have different values and traditions.
My lived experience of being a Black woman, with all of its peaks and troughs, allows me to empathise with some of the experiences of the women we support from racialised groups, particularly Black women. I always remind myself that the shared experiences I often take for granted help me to build meaningful working relationships with the women I support.
I am #Proudtobe a Black and British woman with a rich history spanning across the UK and the Caribbean alike.