By Steve Murrells, CEO and Shirine Khoury-Haq, CFO and Chief Executive – Life Services and Exec Sponsor of our Rise Network

October is Black History Month, a month of celebration but also reflection and learning.

It’s a time to reflect on the diverse histories and achievements of Black people and their significant contributions to society, even in the face of long-standing challenges and injustices that exist today. 

We know that Black people aren’t treated equally, this is an unacceptable and uncomfortable fact, and as a business we want to use our voice to make change happen societally. We know from hearing directly from colleagues the impact that racial abuse and inequality has on their lives and quite simply, we have to act – we want all colleagues who work for our Co-op to feel included and that they belong. You’ll hear more about our commitments to racial equality and inclusion in 2020 and our progress soon.

Inspired by the 2020 Black Lives Matter events, the theme of Black History Month is ‘Proud To Be’. This campaign is inviting Black people of all ages throughout the UK to share what they are proud to be. For example, Proud To Be Black, Proud To Be Brown, Proud To Be Black & LGBTQ+, Proud To Be Me, Proud To Be Black and disabled.

We’re so incredibly proud of all our Black colleagues and the impacts they make in work and in our communities. We’re really looking forward to learning more, reflecting and understanding more, as well as hearing our Black colleagues’ stories throughout the month, and beyond. As Sue Round said last week as National Inclusion Week came to a close, we aren’t focusing on a week or a month because an external events calendar dictates it, inclusion isn’t a nice to have, it’s how we do business.

But we need to do more, not just as a business but individually too.

Steve: “As a white man, I know I have privilege and I know that I’ll not face into the experiences that Black people do, every day because of the colour of their skin. 

“That’s why, for me, learning is so important. I want to use this month to reset, to gain more insight into what it’s like to be a Black person working for the Co-op, a Black person living in the UK. I say reset because this learning needs to be continual, we can’t stop learning about Black history or the experiences Black people are having because Black History Month comes to a close on 31 October. When November comes I’ll still be seeking to understand our Black colleagues experiences, questioning myself and others and seeking opportunities to learn more.

“Ultimately, I want to use my own privilege to support our Black colleagues and make a difference and a key focus for this month is for me to understand what needs to be tackled right now, and how I can do this.”

Shirine: “Black History Month gives us an opportunity to properly showcase and understand how Black people have made Britain what it is today. Their blood, sweat and tears created great wealth for this nation. However, the other side of this coin is a story of imperialism, greed and abuse. Until recently, this history has not been adequately discussed, documented or taught in schools. Recent news that Welsh children will learn about Black history through their national curriculum should be applauded. 

“An understanding of history and the immense contribution of Black people to the UK should inspire gratitude; however, sadly these very same people and their descendants have faced discrimination, racism and many have been held back from realising their full potential. I find this very hard to accept, and knowing the socio economic and educational barriers this lack of equality creates for young Black children through no fault of their own, is heart breaking. 

“BHM with its focus on education is an opportunity for increased understanding, empathy, celebration of success and – most importantly – action. I’m delighted that this is now a mainstream conversation. I love that we are shining a spotlight on the many Black people who have achieved great success in the past and in the present. I love that young people are speaking up. They will not be denied their voice and, with our support, neither will they be denied the opportunities and freedoms they should rightfully have as British citizens. 

“So please attend as many events as you can and learn as much as you can. I’m delighted to be hosting an event tomorrow (Tuesday 5) with the amazing June Sarpong and I am doing my best to attend as many other events as I can.”

Throughout the month we’re going to be focusing on a different area each week:

Week one – Unpicking unconscious bias and  white privilege 

Week two – How businesses are tackling the race equality agenda

Week three – Modern Racism & its impact on Wellbeing and Performance

Week four – Allyship, Accountability and Action 

There’s a few things we can all think a little more about this month, and don’t worry if you’re starting from the very beginning either, taking steps big or small can only be a positive. All of us should think about deepening our understanding of what racism is and anti-racism looks like. Do you understand what microaggressions and racial gaslighting are? Do you understand white fragility and privilege? Do you understand the links between experiences of racism and the impact on wellbeing? Do you know how to use mindfulness to interrupt your own bias?

Our Rise network and Diversity and Inclusion team have done so much to develop a really exciting, insightful programme for us all, please see the full schedule of the events and register today for the events planned in – there’s something for everyone.