The October Women in IP coffee date was a special edition link-up with IP & ME to raise awareness and encourage dialogue in light of the increased focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues this summer. IP & ME devised discussion questions and provided guest hosts, and both networks were invited. We got a huge turnout across the UK and in Ireland, resulting in frank and fruitful discussions.

Co-organiser Isobel Barry, from the Women in IP committee, has provided the report below of the issues discussed and key outcomes. She begins with a few words from IP & ME:

Following the events of the summer, IP & ME were incredibly touched by many offers of support from the IP community. Women in IP reached out to us to collaborate on a coffee date where small groups had a safe space to discuss some of the resulting issues. Several IP & ME members and allies took part – Asawari Churi, Cass Dottridge, Tibor Gold, Tracey Robertson, Anita Shaw, Sharon St Louis and Charlotte Sunderland. Some of the immediate resulting actions included sharing tips on how best to galvanise allies and recommendations of reading lists/playlists. IP & ME would like to take this opportunity to thank Women in IP and other IP organisations for their allyship!”

First discussion question: the impact of BLM

The first question for discussion in the small groups was how recent events in the US/UK, eg BLM, have impacted us and our family/work.

People felt affected across the board. It was acknowledged that for many people whose lives have been affected by racism, the impact of the summer’s events was complicated and emotional, especially in a period where everything has already been turned upside down by the pandemic. However, many felt that it was a timely acknowledgement that racism does still exist and really shone a light on the extent to which this affects the lives of people in the UK, as distinct from the US. Some felt that they no longer just have to brush things off: it is easier to stand up for oneself and also to be taken seriously when talking about one’s experiences. One said that there is a window of opportunity now to speak out.

For those not subject to racist discrimination, it is a chance to reflect and see the privilege we have, that we might have been blind to before, and it highlights our own knowledge gaps and helps us fill them. For example, many people mentioned firms doing more for Black History Month.

All felt that a watershed has been crossed and this is a time for change, provided we keep pushing and do not allow the momentum to dissipate. We need to think about what happens next; what happens in the next 5 years; what happens to make the experiences of future generations different.


Second discussion question: being better allies

The second question for discussion was “What steps can we take to be better allies?” This led to examination of the easy steps – like signals on social media – and how this is not enough. It requires concrete action and self-education. Actions that were discussed included the following:

In general
  • Read up on issues you do not understand and, importantly, take it in: don’t just say you’re not racist because you read a book.
  • Be ready to speak up to challenge the behaviour, words or omissions of others.
  • Think globally and act locally – get involved in communities.
  • Be actively non-judgemental when you meet someone and keep checking yourself. Learn about people as individuals.
  • Make the effort to look up names and how to pronounce them.
  • Ask yourself: “is this offensive?” – having these conversations is much more important than the terminology you use, so ask if you are not sure.
  • Pass a book on to a friend/family member as a good way of starting the conversation with them.
  • Don’t be afraid to keep the conversation going! We can’t rely on laws to resolve these problems. It is a matter of hearts and minds.
In professional life
  • Ensure we have more diverse speakers at events and refuse to go onto a panel unless it is diverse.
  • Get involved in school outreach.
  • Be anti-racist and unpick structural racism:
    • scrutinise policies and procedures
    • look at entry opportunities – do indicators of success have built in biases eg which university did you attend?
    • look at promotion prospects and work allocation
    • consider whether you have an inclusive culture and role models for different people
    • encourage facilitators into organisations to form working groups and engage in a discussion about best practice. Some charities do this work.
  • Have diversity focus groups who are known to be happy to discuss issues – they will know books and podcasts to recommend.
  • Give credit to people, using their name. Support when you are not in the room is very important. This can be for people above you as well as below you and at the same level.
  • Remember that in some cultures it is not polite to put oneself forward, so make sure that people are asked to do tasks and don’t just take those who put their hand up.
  • Be conscious of who is in the room with you and why are they there: who is missing?
  • Understand it may be harder for others to “fit in”, especially to the IP professions.


Third discussion question: “privilege”

The third question was “What does the word ‘privilege’ mean to you?” One key theme was that it means “opportunity”. It does not mean that life has not been difficult or that a person does not deserve success, but rather that others have had to work harder to access the same opportunities, if they are available at all. We should consider the ways in which our lives involve privileges and look for ways to spread them: it is useful to examine what has advantaged you in your life and think about what you can do to change things for others. This necessarily means educating yourself about other people’s experiences. If you do not know the obstacles that face others, you cannot see how you are privileged by those obstacles not being present in your life. It’s not your fault that you have certain privileges, but it is your choice whether to use them to positive effect.


What’s next?

The next Women in IP coffee date is on Tuesday 1 December at 8:30 am, with the theme of “emotions in the workplace”. You can find sign-up details here. Please join us!





Page published on 10th November 2020
Page last modified on 31st January 2023
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Comments: (1):


These discussion topics are very interesting, particularly the promotion of 'talking to people' and asking them how they would prefer to be referred to. I also thought that the section on "privilege" was very reasonable and the acknowledgement that people are not at fault if they have certain privileges, but they do have the choice of whether to use these privileges in a positive or negative way. Some things to think about.

Debra Smith

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