Roxie was a member of my small internal communications team at Informa in 2016-2017. She loved a good plan, was great at building relationships and occasionally worked in a thick down jacket. At one point she started practicing what seemed like an incredibly violent form of Israeli martial arts. But she’s also one of the warmest and most considerate persons I’ve worked with, and I still regularly drink coffee from the airplane themed Patrik mug she once gave me. We caught up in mid-July.
Since working at Informa, Roxie has held contract roles at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Moneysupermarket Group and the Financial Conduct Authority, where she focused on external communications planning.
“I really enjoy transformation communications. I like walking in to organisations, seeing what they’re doing and how they’re going to change. One of the benefits of being a contractor is that you can choose where you work and I wouldn’t work at an organisation that didn’t align with my values. I appreciate honesty, integrity and a willingness to make necessary changes. Making sure people feel they are heard and seen is critical, and I enjoy providing spaces and platforms where employees and the employer can gain a real understanding of each other and what their futures together hold.”
Her tip for someone about to embark on a change project is to go in with an open mind, spend time getting to know all the aspects of the change and the difference stances and views people have.
“Not all change is positive and there are so many different projects going on that it might be as new for the people at the top as for the people it will impact. Don’t be afraid to provide a constructive challenge where you think and feel things should be different. A lot of people think changes are set in stone, but a lot of the time they aren’t. So, it's about listening and being vocal, but also knowing when to shut up so the people who know what they are talking about can talk, haha!”
Having worked in both the public and private sector, Roxie surprises me by saying that she finds the public sector the more innovative of the two.
“In the public sector, people can be really united behind a cause; money isn’t necessarily as much of a driving force. If you have to buy your own pencils and pens and bring them in to do your work, you’re committed to what you’re doing! When working with smaller budgets you need to find new ways to do things. I think it encourages new ways of thinking and entrepreneurship.”
So what was it with the role at the Financial Conduct Authority that caught her eye?
“It was the first role I took on after my maternity leave and I was looking for something short term to kind of get me back into the mix. After a few months of maternity leave you can get a bit hazy. Everything that used to be at the forefront of my mind, like making a killer comms plan, was temporarily replaced by the skill of changing a nappy in under a minute. My time at Moneysupermarket Group highlighted the importance of financial education, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the financial sector and how it is regulated. I worked with a lovely and knowledgeable team and it was great to see how committed they all are to ensuring that consumers are protected.”
She’s now taking the summer off to spend some downtime with her family.
“The baby is one now and he is tearing the house apart, so I feel like someone needs to rein that in. So I thought, let’s just take the summer off and deal with all of the little fires.”
I was keen to get Roxie’s thoughts on Black Lives Matter and how racism has impacted her personally.
“Racism isn’t new but the level of outrage you are seeing is interesting, I’m not sure why it wasn’t always there. You see it when something like the Croydon cat killer happens, oh my God, people are up in arms! But when it comes to racism, supremacy and police brutality people have selectively ignored it. Some people in the UK say this is a US issue when it’s really not. The young people I know, the funerals they’re attending; these issues are everywhere. I’m used to seeing it and I’ve hardened to it now. It’s nothing new for me, but maybe for you? I’m used to hearing people say things like ‘this is a very important issue’, discussing it once and then never speaking of it again, it’s like a tick-box exercise.”
She asks me how the protests have impacted me and if I’ve been surprised by the racism it has highlighted. I tell her that while I was certainly aware of racism in society (be that the US, Sweden or the UK, all countries I’ve spent considerable amount of time in) what feels new to me is the personal responsibility I feel as a manager of a team to make it clear that it’s an important issue we that we should talk about. What I’ve found most illuminating when listening to people has been the microaggressions many non-white people face in daily life, such as always requesting a receipt when buying something in a store to avoid the risk of being accused of stealing. These are things I didn’t fully understand before.
“Microaggressions are the ones that really get to you because people make you think you’re crazy, that you’re the one with the issue. In one office I would come in work-appropriate attire and natural hairstyles every day. The one day I had straight hair people told me: ‘you look so much better with your hair straight’, ‘your hair is so much nicer that way’, ‘you look so smart today’. All these things of course being said since ‘natural afro hair is not as work appropriate as straight hair’.”
Roxie mentions several examples from her work life where she’s been treated differently because of her skin colour, sometimes blatantly so, other times in less obvious ways.
“In one work place I would go to meetings with my manager, every time she spoke to myself and another black female colleague, she referred to us as ‘girls’ and would be really patronising. But when she spoke to our white counterparts, they were ‘women’ and ‘ladies’. And it was interesting, because it’s the small things.
She was very rude when she didn’t think other people were watching, but when someone else was there she would dial it all the way back and become nice as pie. These things happen and you think, hold up, did no one else see that? Is it just me? When you stack it all up it’s a pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable. But it’s difficult to challenge when you are told it’s probably in your head, or when people try to justify the actions even when it’s apparent what is happening.”
She’s also frustrated by the resistance to schemes that promote minorities inside organisations, which shows that many people still don’t understand the structures that exist and how institutionalised they are.
“It brings up more aggression because then people say ‘you got this job because of this or that’ and they don’t take into account that they’re not trying to give you this job because you’re black, they’re trying to remove the structures that stop you getting that job because you are black. People need to understand why these platforms and schemes are in place.”
One of the difficult things to hear during the conversation is Roxie’s resignation that things are unlikely to change in any meaningful way in her lifetime.
“I’m not expecting racism to just come undone because of all of these protests. I’m focussing on pumping as much money into the community as I can. Crime and poverty correlate directly, which is why there is more crime in those areas than others.”
Roxie also points out that mental health is a significant issue in the black community since society demands that you present yourself in a certain way.
“After the George Floyd video went viral…when things like that happen, it takes such a toll. And then people have to come into work and present their corporate face like nothing is wrong. People need to be allowed to feel pain, express it, and feel that they are safe in their employment if they do so. It’s exhausting seeing people that look like you being murdered and hearing people that don’t look like you trying to find reasons to justify or ignore it.”
My kids have had their own little experiences, they go to school and say: ‘mum, this person said that their mum said I can’t play with them because I’m black’. Ok, so what did you say? ‘I said I’m not black, I’m chocolate brown!’. You have to guide them since racism is taught and you need to explain to them that certain things can happen and here are ways you can safeguard yourself.”
Education is key in all this since history is blatantly being white washed. When my kids pick up a textbook they don’t see a single picture of anyone that looks like them. Once, they were studying the Ancient Egyptians and when I had a look at the text book, lo and behold they were all depicted as white. That was fun. When the school told us during a parents council meeting that they would be replacing Black History Month with Proud to be British Week ‘in the interest of diversity’, that was fun too. It frustrates me that there are so many kids that will not learn about Mary Seacole, Arthur Wharton or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in school. They are not going to learn about Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. They’re not going to learn about any person of colour.”
Part of the challenge is how uncomfortable many people find it to discuss these issues, and I count myself among that group. Roxie says many black people are also uncomfortable talking about it, with some having been taught that it is not acceptable or what people want to talk about.
“But now you have people like Akala, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, and Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad. At the moment I’m reading Paul Gilroy’s There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, which is really good as well. If at this point you are walking around saying that all lives matter it’s because you’ve decided to ignore everything that’s in front of you. To not be anti-racist right now is to be actively racist because there are too many resources out there to not be a champion of equality.”
Finally, what does Roxie think that someone like me, a white male, can do in my role? In addition to reading up on the subject to really understand the structures behind these issues, she thinks white people need to realise that it will be an uncomfortable experience.
“Just be prepared to do the work and understand that there is a lot of negativity out there. There will be times where you are going to feel that you can’t get anything right. And you will feel like that because it’s not about you, it’s about all of us. Nothing’s going to change if we keep standing on our soapboxes, we’ve always told you there is a problem. You need to take up the mantle with us and it’s going to be really hard. Ask yourself, what action can you take personally to effect real change. Can you mentor someone? Can you volunteer for an organisation that is trying to drive change? What are you prepared to do to actively support communities and help lift people up?”
And after those strong words, Roxie’s phone starts blasting Beyoncé’s hit Formation and it’s time to wake up the baby. I thank her for being so open and honest, and even though she claimed that there are other people who are much better than her talking about these issues, I choose to disagree with her on that point.