Say my name, Say my name…the BME woman, her name and her employability

Yesterday’s news story that broke in the Guardian and that was then swiftly reported on the BBC News website about Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women, their names and their employment challenges really struck a chord. I too have had my share of ‘job hunt incidences‘ tied to my name.

The article stated that some women of colour felt forced to ‘whiten‘ their names in order to progress within the work place. A woman of half-Bangladeshi, half-Arab origin recounted how changing her name to one that sounded less foreign explicitly resulted in higher interview offers.

Ironically, my experience is one of having an English sounding name but being a black woman..

…you see, my name is a VERY common English name (there were always at least two ‘Natalies’ in my class at school and there were three of us on the basketball and netball teams I used to play for in secondary school – which was extremely confusing for the opposition – LOL!). My surname is of French origin (and no, I am not French, my parents are Jamaican…work it out!!).

I was born and bred in the UK, in the Midlands city of Leicester and I have always been very academic. I collected a handful of A*’s and A’s at GCSE level, I went to the best college in the city and then went on to secure a place to study Human Genetics at UCL (which currently holds the position of the 4th best university in the world) and I graduated with a 2:1, so when my CV arrived on the desk of perspective employers, I invariably received several calls and after speaking to me on the phone (of course, I do not have an accent) I would be asked to attend an interview.

An English name, outstanding grades, a graduate of a leading university…and a black woman…can this be?

I cannot tell you the number of times the interviewer has displayed (involuntary) SHOCK at the fact that a black woman was standing in front of them…it was obvious that they had not expected to see a black woman for one moment!

Some of the interviewers composed themselves and the interview proceeded swimmingly, others were not so cordial and the ‘wet handshake’ that I would be offered was never a good sign…

THIS is a handshake #justsaying

THIS is a handshake #justsaying

…thus, with regards to navigating the world of work, I have always strived to be the best I can be, to add value to myself through extra curricular activities, to network and to create my own opportunities!

Much of the rhetoric surrounding this topic is calling on government to take action to alleviate this issue, however I am not an advocate of dependency on the state and I believe in one taking control of their own destiny.

I also feel that very few voices offer an alternative view when news such as this breaks, and there is minimal contribution to the conversation by those who are the subject of the story and so the impression that is left is one of a situation being in dire straits, with no light at the end of the tunnel and negative stereotypes are unintentionally yet inevitably reinforced.

So I wanted to add my two pence if I may.

This year has been amazing one on many levels; I have had a whale of a time blogging, my Olympic experience was beyond brilliant and I have met so many wonderful people…many of these people being successful, professional woman of colour! Yes we are out there!

Through my blogging ventures, Twitter and my Keziah CONNECTIONS network I have met business women, marketing professional, PR and advertising specialists, beauty entrepreneurs, retailers, TV personalities, lawyers, accountants, cosmetic scientists, authors and much more!

They work for companies such as Sky, L’Oreal, Estée Lauder, OMD Media, Jolie Box, House of Fraser and Selfridges. They sell their products in Harrods and Harvey Nichols. They hold Doctorates, MBEs and Masters degrees.

They are woman who not only run their own enterprises or hold prestigious posts but they are also wives and mothers and are able manage their time efficiently and effectively.

Take a look at the images from the final Keziah CONNECTIONS event of 2012!

Beautiful woman of colour at the fore – fully in control of their futures.

There IS another side to this story.

Personally, I am not in favour of changing one’s name in order to become more ’employable’; like quotas and affirmative action/positive discrimination (which is illegal in the UK by the way), I feel that such responses result in short term gains that are either unsustainable or do not serve the interests of those such actions are supposedly trying to assist in the long term.

I am an advocate of meritocracy and although it may sound Utopian and idealistic , I believe that hard work, passion, relentlessness application and a commitment to excellence will result in one’s name becoming an irrelevancy as their career enfolds.

I hope to meet many more confident, enterprising women of colour in 2013! The date for the next Keziah CONNECTIONS Nurture and Network™ evening will be announced soon! Do sign up for the newsletter to be kept up to date with the latest news!

Thanks for all of your support this year and here’s to a fruitful and successful 2013!!

View more images from previous Keziah CONNECTIONS events here.

6 comments for “Say my name, Say my name…the BME woman, her name and her employability

  1. December 8, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Excellent and well observed!

  2. December 9, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Well said Natalie. The BBC story did make depressing reading but as you say there is another side of the story which should be told – it is not all doom and gloom as portrayed. If employers are missing out on quality staff for stupid prejudicial reasons, in the long term that will be their problem. I’m a great believer in keeping your eye on the prize.

  3. nadine
    November 28, 2013 at 12:49 am

    It would be interesting to look at the bme graduates and their relative success in comparison to white graduates from similar universities/degrees. Showcasing successes doesn’t acknowledge the underlying problem that bme grads are likely to take longer to find employment and are sometimes underemployed. Or that many find it necessary to opt out of the corporate world and set up on their own to be a success – for the benefit of all we should be able to fairly judged on our achievements, professional experience without changing our names. Is affirmative action the answer, personally I think not but testing application responses and naming and shaming may help this companies to start thinking differently about their practices.

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