Q&A: In Celebration of the U.K.’s Black History Month, Kimberley Harvey Discusses Unconscious Bias and Workplace Diversity
October is Black History Month in the U.K. In honour of this important month, and as part of FTI Technology’s commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion in our firm, we are elevating the voices of our Black colleagues across the organisation. By engaging our people in candid conversations about racial bias, social injustice and workplace inequality, we hope to raise awareness of these issues and collectively contribute to important worldwide change.
We recently connected with Kimberley Harvey, a Senior Recruitment Associate at FTI Consulting EMEA, to ask about her experiences as a Black woman in the workplace and her thoughts on the improvements most needed to create a more inclusive society.
Kimberley, thank you for taking the time to discuss your perspectives on this important topic. Can you share your background and your heritage?
I’m Black-Caribbean, born in England and raised in London. My mum is also Black-Caribbean and born in the North of England, and my dad immigrated here from Jamaica. My upbringing in a diverse part of London, and my Jamaican heritage, are both important parts of my cultural identity.
Let’s talk about your career journey, and any challenges you’ve encountered that you’d like to talk about.
I’ve had quite a smooth transition into my career from university—probably much smoother than what a lot of people from my background have experienced. My biggest challenge has been my insecurities about what I’m qualified for and capable of. Because I did not have the privilege of attending private schools, which often give students more exposure to career training and interviewing skills than the state schools do, I had to work a bit harder in terms of preparing for professional success. This also caused me to question whether I was good enough, or ready, to pursue certain career opportunities. Despite these challenges, I didn’t let anything stop me from wanting to pursue my career. I shouldn’t be deterred from wanting to achieve just because of my background or the way I look. That said, I did attend a business Secondary School that exposed us to a lot of training around communication and business pitches, which helped me prepare. If I hadn’t had that, it would have been very difficult.
Unconscious bias—and worrying whether an interviewer or hiring manager has a bias against me because I am a woman or a person of colour—is another challenge. I’ve interviewed with companies where everyone I met was a white man, and I’ve wondered whether I would want to work someplace where nobody looks like me. I’ve had job interviews where I know I smashed it, and where the recruiter feedback is all positive, but I still didn’t get the job. In those situations, I’ve wondered whether it’s because I’m Black. It’s something that stays in your mind and causes you to question whether you have what it takes. You use those experiences to keep going and to show any doubters that you can do it and that you are still worthy of success.
What about outside of your career? You’ve mentioned wanting to share experiences of the unconscious racism you’ve encountered, to help raise awareness. Can you share more about that?
I’m thankful that I haven’t experienced overt racism, but I have been on the receiving end of unconscious or subtle racism. It’s under the radar to the point that when it happens, it causes me to stop and think, “oh, was that because I’m Black?” For example, I’ve gone into shops where a white person in front of me is given the biggest smile and great service. Then, when I approach, the cashier is no longer warm and smiling, and gives me basic service and one-word responses. There will be times that I’m overly polite to try and offset this, but usually, the person will still respond with a short attitude. Other times, I’ve noticed people will refuse to sit next to me on the bus, even if it’s the only seat available.
Another example is during college when I was weighing the decision to go to university. A tutor warned me against attending a certain university that is known as urban and more diverse than most. I wondered whether this tutor was looking down on the university for its diversity, and also if she was encouraging me not to go there because she had assumed, I would naturally attend a school that had more students from backgrounds like mine.
These experiences have shown me that there is a problem with society. I want to raise awareness and let people know it is very real, so we can begin to find ways to change.
What effect do you hope your stories will have on people?
I’d love for these kinds of stories to evoke emotion in people and inspire them to divorce themselves from their realities, and their comfort zones, and think about the human element of all of this. We need to humanise unconscious racism and remember that we are all humans. With more open conversations and people who are willing to ask questions, we can understand each other better. Many people shy away from asking minority groups about their experiences, but that’s the only way change will happen.
Ultimately, I want to help spark conversations, which will then spark interest in doing something about it.
In the workplace, what would you like to see happen in terms of supporting diversity, inclusion and belonging efforts?
Workplace change is hard, especially when thinking about your workplace because it’s very personal. We need an equal representation of everyone, so everyone feels that they can bring their whole selves to work. This means intentionally hiring people from different backgrounds—more women, more ethnicities, more races, more people who identify LGBTQ+. Of course, we need to ensure we aren’t just ticking a box to make the statistics look representative but hire someone because they can do the job. We need to make sure we are recognising that talent comes from diverse backgrounds. We need company leaders to help raise awareness and empower people to go for things they may think are out of their reach. FTI has done a great job of this so far, by helping engage people in conversations and taking steps to understand what needs to change. We’ve also brought in speakers and Black historians who facilitate discussions and help drive understanding across the business.
Can the workplace help to make improvements in the wider society?
Yes, this is important. We can’t just do things internally within our workplace and think everything is fine. It’s a societal issue. We need to use our corporate citizenship programs to do more. I think targeting conversations with schools and youth is an important step to help young people feel welcomed to be themselves and understand that they will fit into the workplace, even if they are “different” or a minority. Starting with schools and helping share understanding across cultures is big because young people are often confined to the bubble of their upbringing, whether it be privileged or underprivileged.
Companies should use their social media platforms like LinkedIn to make it clear that they support equality and share what steps they are taking to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and their communities.
The perspectives you bring to the table are around race and gender. Are there any other underrepresented groups you’d like to learn more about? Why?
I’d like to learn about all of them, particularly the LGTBQ+ community. They have faced a lot of discrimination in society and the workplace. I think what they stand for—that love is love—is amazing, and I want to know more about what they are up against in society.
What’s one thing about your background that you’re particularly proud of?
I love where I’m from. I love how family-oriented my culture is. Family is everything, and when the chips are down, family is what will help you get through. My culture also has a strong sense of community, where everyone willing to help a person when they are going through a tough time. The music and the food of Jamaica are also amazing, and the people are so sweet and lovely. Any time I’m facing a challenge or focusing on the wrong things, my culture brings me back down to earth and makes me feel human and cared for.
Finally, what makes you want to share your story?
If I can give just one other person like me the confidence to put themselves out there to believe they can have a career, then I’ve done something good. I want to make people who feel that they are not worthy more confident in the workplace, regardless of where they are from. I also hope to bring more understanding of unique perspectives to people with privileged backgrounds. We all need to be reminded that strength comes from different experiences and that it’s a good thing to embrace people who are different from you and your culture.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.