Recently I was asked to take part in a panel. The panel consisted of three white led initiatives each of whom shared similar aims in helping disadvantaged underrepresented groups (commonly black and brown folk). I was flattered to be asked, until I listened further to the proposed format.

“First we’ll introduce the people behind the initiatives and then we’ll hear from the mentees / students from these initiatives” (the black and brown folks).

“We don’t have time to have a mentor from your initiative but what we thought is that you could interview these mentees / students, (the black and brown folks), even though we are a reputable and well-known organisation we have no budget, but you’d be great!”

So, I was asked to join this panel, not as someone who also leads an initiative which supports underrepresented people but as someone who could facilitate the conversation with these underrepresented groups – i.e. the black woman talking to the other black and brown people lamenting on how the white initiatives had helped them. On top of this, (I learned later), that a donation was given to some of the other initiatives even though there was “no budget’’.

Does anyone see the problem with this? I did. Allyship, or more importantly anti-racism is necessary for things to change, but white saviourism is a thing and it is a bad thing.

Panels where the main participants are white with black participants in lesser roles speaking on issues relating to race is crazy and offensive. Worst still my black friends and colleagues often lament that they are expected to speak on panels for free as often ‘there is no budget’ only to find that the other white participants are being paid or are being paid more.

On this occasion, my concerns were considered to a degree, however I was asked only last week, (by the same organisation), to take part in what can only be described as free consultation work for them.

I really wanted my second column for MAD//Insight to be positive and full of light and rainbows, yet, here in the second quarter of 2022 I am hearing first hand anecdotes from our lollipop mentees that microaggressions, aggressions and straight-out racism is alive and well. It is something that presents itself in EVERY aspect of the industry from big to small agencies through to organisations and panels purporting to ‘expose’ inequalities.

We really have to stop hiding and do better. This is a call to arms to call out people and organisations. If you think you are getting a better deal than someone else on a panel, say something. Stop taking up space and start speaking up if you see people isolated and scapegoated because organisations think they can get away with treating them badly because they are not senior.

If you want to do better and make genuine change, here is a seven-point checklist of things to consider both in your business and when curating a panel.

·         The composition of your panel should represent the change you want to see, if not change it. No one wants to see the same old faces anyway!

·         Be true to the idea of equity by appreciating the participants time and renumerating them appropriately.

·         Make sure everyone has the same time and opportunity to speak. Design the panel properly, choose the moderator with care and your audience, your credibility and your panellists will all benefit.

·         The idea that as Black / brown people that we are happy to do things unpaid ‘for the cause’ is not appropriate in a corporate setting, it perpetuates the very inequities you say you are trying to prevent.

·         If you are being asked to attend a panel, ask whether it is representative? Is everyone getting paid? If not, why not?

·         Are you taking up space? It’s commendable that you feel that you want to speak for underrepresented groups but ask yourself - Are you truly advocating for others? As a rule of thumb Speak WITH us, not FOR us. Pass the mic.

·         Finally, in your business, do you have consistent catch ups with your junior and mid-level talent? If not, please do so now. Especially if they are from an underrepresented background. Based on take outs from our lollipop mentees, organisations need to be cognisant of ALL people in their teams. A person’s experience of an organisation is often based solely on the relationship they have with their direct line manager. Open more channels of communication if you can. Less senior staff need to know that resigning is not the only option they have when dealing with a toxic boss or situation.