I’ve seen it many times. Although I constantly smile, the black attendees of my in-house behavioural finance seminars often cringe when they realise the presenter is a black man.
‘Don’t screw it up,’ their eyes implore. ‘My colleagues might associate your failings with your skin colour and, by implication, question my ability too.’ When the unfolding presentation is met with general enthusiasm, their faces brighten. Relief replaces anxiety. There is even a hint of satisfaction – not too gushing, mind you. They wouldn’t want their colleagues to think that their appreciation was because I am black.
These impressions are all unjustified. Their colleagues hardly even think about my skin colour beyond the first few minutes. Yet, it never leaves the thoughts of the black attendees. At any moment, they fear, a blunder from this presenter could expose an awful reality: we don’t belong here.
In many respects, I have been an ambassador for years. Many of the firms represented in the Diversity Project have hosted events like the one described above – Helena Morrissey even attended one. Recognition in my field, and endorsement by some the world’s leading investment firms over the past two decades is a testimony to inclusion. We do belong here.
I learned about the Diversity Project through #talkaboutblack and it made me realise that I am in a unique position to play a role. The kind of passive advocacy I have been engaged in, i.e., peripheral discussions about diversity in team decision- making seminars, or that of a role model, is not enough. I am a writer, lecturer, keynote speaker. I too need to talk about black.