We’re at a tipping point on breaking the ‘white ceiling’ once and for all

While we’ve all heard about the ‘glass ceiling’ in relation to women in PR, the ‘white ceiling’ is exactly what it sounds like – it refers to the racial inequality that keeps the careers of BAME PR professionals from progressing beyond a certain point.

Breaking through the ‘white ceiling’ takes time, persistence and energy, warns Monira Matin
Breaking through the ‘white ceiling’ takes time, persistence and energy, warns Monira Matin

Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months, conversations with BAME friends working in PR and other sectors show that we share some common experiences.

It’s likely we’ve walked into client meetings where, as the only participant of colour, we’ve dealt with the assumption that we’re less qualified, less talented and therefore less capable than our white colleagues.

When it comes to career progression and recognition of our work, for years many of us have worked under one proviso: we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts.

Despite this, reaching leadership positions is where the ‘white ceiling’ really kicks in. The process is fraught with making the right connections, honing the right relationships, being accepted as competent equals – a system that’s inherently designed to work against many BAME professionals.

It’s worth acknowledging that it’s not just about race; schooling and socio-economic background also play their part in rising through the ranks, and terms like BAME fail in understanding the breadth and depth of inequality facing different races and even religions.

One thing is for certain, though – things are changing.

And while dismantling racial inequality in PR will not happen overnight, the raft of agencies and in-house teams looking to achieve real and lasting change on diversity and inclusion should be championed and progressed.

On an individual level, I truly believe the rise of the BLM movement, coupled with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, finally offers BAME PRs the chance to break through the ‘white ceiling’ once and for all.

Whatever your position is within the sector or your organisation, there are a number of ways in which we can keep up the momentum and affect change.

• Be honest about your workplace culture

Many organisations are now ready and willing to build a company culture that’s more inclusive, which means we need to be honest about the racial microagressions we often face, the hurdles to career progression and barriers to leadership.

• Make your organisation more diverse

With lots of organisations and agencies introducing diversity and inclusion policies, we have a much more vocal and proactive role to play about initiatives in our own workplaces.

• Make industry organisations more diverse

Whether it’s the CIPR, PRCA or any other industry association, there’s more opportunity than ever before for BAME PRs to change traditional perceptions of the sector.

• ‘Level up’

In many ways, working from home, in the absence of office politics, may have given BAME PRs more opportunity to showcase their work. Talk to your employer about ‘levelling up’ with new courses, industry events and networking.

• Professional coaching/mentoring

Based on the mantra that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, seeking out professional coaching or mentoring services is not only vital to inspiring the next generation but, as a practitioner, it can help overcome the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’ that holds back so many BAME PRs from pursuing leadership positions.

• Don’t take ‘No’ for an answer

Breaking through the ‘white ceiling’ takes time, persistence and energy, if we want to make long-lasting change we have to be dedicated and organised.

This summer, the rising momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement did for PR what it has done for many industries – it has enabled people of colour to speak frankly and honestly about the ‘white ceiling’.

Let’s not waste this opportunity to finally break through – after all, a more diverse and inclusive industry will, ultimately, benefit us all.

Monira Matin is an account director at Whistle PR

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