A lot is being written about Samira Ahmed's pay dispute with the BBC. The journalist and presenter has taken the broadcaster to an employment tribunal here in the UK to seek compensation for years of being paid less than her male counterpart despite doing the same job. What was also revealed today was a list of no less than a 120 women at the BBC with the same grievance against their employer.
What makes Ahmed's story so compelling is that here is an accomplished journalist at the top of her game still having to not just fight for what she deserves but having to prove her worth in the court of public and corporate perception. The Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff describes it so perfectly saying, "What makes equal pay cases so hard is that they’re not just about the money, but often about something far more excruciating to discuss in public: the unspoken assumptions about who is cherished and who isn’t; who gets to be feted as the office rising star and who is treated like part of the furniture."
As a woman of colour this hits home. I know for me, I constantly felt like I was having to pay my dues even after years on the job. I constantly felt like I didn't have the right to ask for more, demand more, be recognised more. Some of that stems from being a woman where we are conditioned to not be loud or challenging. It also stems from being seen "less than" because of the colour of our skin. And then there is the element of us needing to feel "grateful" for opportunities despite the fact that we will have earned them with hard work and skills.
There was an article in Buzzfeed that talked about how influencers of colour were often made to feel unwelcome and even "less worthy" than their white counterparts when invited on press junkets or shoots for well known brands. What struck me in that piece was how they kept talking about "being grateful" for opportunities. The article points out, "Despite their bad experiences, these women still feel they should be grateful. Many of them are grateful — and usually are quick to say so in the intros of their vlogs — for the opportunity. They are still worried that talking about what appears to be very consistent inequalities in their lived experiences makes them appear thankless for the entire opportunity."
At what point can we stop qualifying what is wrong, with gratitude for opportunities, in order to be seen as right? At what point are we taken seriously not only because we have earned the right to do so with our hard work and results but also because we exist?
A while ago I read an interview with Miuccia Prada in Vanity Fair that truly angered me. Prada who, when asked about some offensive design and marketing decisions, which she subsequently described as a "mistake", went on to say, "We should start embracing diversity of any kind." I had to read that sentence twice. "Start"?? It is 2019, why are starting to do anything? We should be over this by now. This shouldn't be something to overcome. This should be part of every brand's DNA and management structure. Trust me, this isn't a lofty statement. It is one based on increasing frustration of having to read stories (let alone experience) the ignorance around inequality both from a diversity and inclusion perspective as well as from the perspective of being a woman.
It's a frustration of having to justify my knowledge, my experience, my existence as having a right to a seat at the table. It's like designer Prabal Gurung, who celebrates his label's 10th anniversary this month with a book and a collection asking the question "Who gets to be American?" Or Huda Kattan still having to demand respect from some men who refuse to look her in the eye when doing business with her, instead they address her husband--this despite she is the one who built a $1billion beauty empire.
After reading all of this, I have to keep in mind Jennifer Justice's attitude. She's the entertainment lawyer (and single mom) who represented Jay Z and Beyoncé for many years, helping to secure their multimillion dollar deals (you'll find an article on her in #Repost this week). When asked by Forbes magazine to whom would she attribute her success, she answered: "Myself. As much as there are many people who support you, no one can make you do things except for you, and no one can make you believe things except for you. It's not that I'm some narcissist going, "Oh, I'm so amazing." Women don’t take credit for their own success. It's always somebody else who did it for you. No one else did it for me; I did this." Amen. Here's to you Samira.