I Left My Job Because I Was the Only Black Woman in the Office | by Shamar M | Jul, 2021


I started a new job recently after one year of searching and three unsuccessful interviews. Luckily for me, I got exactly the role I wanted in the exact type of organization I was hoping for. Actually, I’m not going to say I’m lucky because I work hard and that’s what got me the job.

Anyway, in my previous job, the first day I started (summer 2018) it didn’t really dawn on me that there is no BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) staff. For the record, the department I worked in had 29 people and the entire building had around 150 people. I was happy to be in my first full-time job and all I wanted to do was make friends, network, and learn.

During the George Floyd incident and the Black Lives Matter protest, it caused many organizations to reflect on their BAME policies. Quite a few organizations were coming out with statements on how they do not support racism in any shape or form — including my organization. I was part of a BAME mailing group and they were fairly impressed with the CEO’s response to everything that is happening surrounding the BAME community.

I decided to reflect on my own organization and that’s when it dawned on me. There’s only me in the department who’s BAME. I’ve been in this organization for nearly three years and there’s not one person who’s been hired within my department — aside from me — who’s BAME. Why is this? Are they not making it past the shortlisting stage? Are there simply no BAME people applying for the jobs we advertise? Was I just employed to show that there’s (an extreme lack) of cultural diversity within the workplace?

Within the entire building— approximately 150 staff — at the beginning of my time in this organization there were around eight of us. At the beginning of 2021, I could only count 4/150 staff being BAME. That’s a scary figure.

Just for the record, those whom I worked with in my old job never made me feel marginalized or acted in a derogative manner towards me. I’m a very clued up girl and would notice any sneaky remarks or side comments and thankfully I can confirm I had never been a victim of that horrid behaviour within all my time there — or so I think. My employees were close to me (some a lot more than others) and some gave me advice like I was part of their family.

Nonetheless, I had decided I wanted to be part of an organization that’s more inclusive and where I can feel at home.

The Black Lives Matter movement really made me reflect on my time in the office. Following the incident with Love Island’s Yewande Biala and her fellow competitor pronouncing her name, I remembered that exactly the same thing happened to me on my first day in the office.

Can we call you Sham for short?

Sure, you can call me Sham. But if you could make the effort to pronounce my name right it would be greatly appreciated. I guess I had been so used to it over my entire life I had never picked up on how it made me feel. Upon comparing this experience to my first day in my new job, they had pronounced everything right the first try — that helped me feel right at home.

There was a time when I had my hair braided on the weekend and when I had gotten into the office on the office on a Monday, I knew for a fact I would be the centre of attention for the foreseeable future. Yes, multiple folks asked me if I could touch my hair and I’m disappointed in myself for brushing this odd and too-common behavior off. I genuinely don’t mind people wanting to feel it, but the matter of fact is that they shouldn’t even be asking.

For a number of years, it had been recognized by CEO’s and big bosses that they were lacking greatly in BAME staff. Not just in my building, but the whole organization was slacking.

They had taken a number of steps to get more BAME staff to work for them such as produce more inclusive adverts and posters. There had been multiple workshops targeting how we can attract more BAME staff, but I am unsure as to the action that was taken after.

Once my friend had graduated I had encouraged her to apply to work within my organization and she actually got the job. How many BAME members were there in her office? She told me there was about five including her but I don’t know how many staff there were in her department. Still, five is shockingly small. After a year and a half, she left to become a Diversity Officer in another part of the country to fight the injustice against BAME members within workplaces.

Additionally, the organization I worked for failed to pass the bar for our Race Equality Charter. Wait, isn’t this like the third time we had failed? Admittedly, it’s not an easy badge for a company to achieve but the struggle shouldn’t have been created in the first place.

I advise you to look around your organization and how many employees around you are BAME. It may not bother you at all which is perfectly fine.

However, have you ever considered that it may be harder for you to climb to a higher position within your job? Black employees hold just 1.5% of senior roles within the UK and generic racism around the country doesn’t help us either.

Secondly, when applying for a job, I advise you to do some background research and figure out how inclusive they are. A few things to look out for are:

  1. What was their response to the Black Lives Matter incidents in 2020?
  2. Do they have any awards or recognitions regarding the diversity of their staff?
  3. Go on GlassDoor and read reviews on the company. Specifically, look for things regarding equality and diversity.

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