Heading home from a BLM protest in June 2020, holding up the poster now framed on my wall

Cycling & Mobility: We have failed to engage in the conversation about racism – but it’s not too late to start

By Georgia Yexley, head of growth, Beryl

For the last nine months, I’ve had a bold ‘Black Lives Matter’ placard framed in the background of my home office. In the thousands of video meetings I’ve had (no exaggeration), with a vast range of organisations and individuals working in mobility, I can count the number of times it’s been acknowledged on one hand. Despite this sign appearing directly next to my face at all times, I have had an astonishing number of awkward and rambling compliments on the general colourful/interesting nature of my home office. Often discussing some other aspect of the room like the colour of a lampshade somewhere off to the left, I kid you not.

This last year has been incredibly impactful in the world of cycling and mobility. We’ve come leaps and bounds in pushing forward the importance of active and sustainable travel. There’s been a tidal wave of activities and incentives to support key workers across the nation, and more and more action to champion gender parity in cycling in particular. However, we have utterly failed to appropriately acknowledge or respond to the growing awareness of and resistance to systemic racism in the UK.

This failure is a collective issue rather than an individual one. While I’m not short on ‘anecdotes’ to evidence accountability, this is not an attempt to ‘call people out’. Many peers reached out privately when a food and drink writer argued that I was unqualified to publish a LinkedIn article on the need for Black Women in senior roles in micromobility.

However, only two people, (including my partner) spoke up publicly. The often dark and degrading experiences that underpin this conversation aren’t always the easiest to swallow. So the guidance below will be one of affirmative action rather than restorative justice. I hope to share a deeply personal view but also provide some objective methods on how to engage. Noone is laying in wait to spring up and shout “nice try Mr Jones, but you’re nine months too late!”. It is NEVER too late to engage, and the time to start is now.

As the outrage over the murder of George Floyd continued to hold focus around the world, on my doorstep Andrew Boateng and his son were taking a charity bike ride and were aggressively arrested and injured by local police officers. That Sunday, I was protesting outside the Police Station in question. On Monday, I led a project with another police department to help them access our bikes. I am lucky enough to work in a company of empathetic people and had the support and ability to request that another colleague picked up the project.

However, many peers find themselves trapped in this impossible tension with connecting to the fight for equality and performing their daily work. Often in far more damaging ways and always in the context of just how difficult it is to manage to engage with this emotional and exposing subject amidst a global pandemic. Please support your colleagues.

Information is out there. You can find insights into experiences of microaggressions in the workplace on this Instagram account. There’s a range of resources to support your colleagues at MHFA England – consider training some staff members as Mental Health First Aiders and/or setting up a safe space for employees to share their experiences and speak directly to your board members on valuable change.

Google* is your friend (*other search engines are available). Follow leading D&I experts on LinkedIn, consult consultants, or speak to your HR team about the equalities act. There’s a wealth of information out there and plenty of people paid to share it.

We can also take an active role in the collection and sharing of data. At Beryl, we recently shared some positive stats on the gender representation of our riders. In the same survey, we also found that the ethno-demographic split of our riders was closely representative of the cities we serve (yay!). As importantly we have recognised the work needed to bring our internal makeup to the same standard.

Broadly we can become much more open with demographic data at every level, campaigns like #ethnicitypaygap are pushing for corporate visibility and accountability for racial pay disparity. The most recent stats are from 2018 and cite a £3.2 BILLION pay gap for people of minority ethnicity. Don’t just state you don’t have an issue with this – look at the data first and foremost.

In half a decade working in micromobility internationally, I have worked with more white men named ‘Steve’ or ‘Phil’ than I have Black Women. This over-representation has no relevance to the popularity of those names here in the UK. My calculations include teams and partner organisations working across Latin America, South East Asia, North America, Europe, China and Australia. There is little reason the balance should be that off. I can also, hand on heart, say that it has been a real pleasure to work with every single Phil and Steve.

Before a great debate gets going in the comments section about quotas vs meritocracy, scroll back up to the section mentioning Google. Let’s be clear it doesn’t require booting a single Phil or Steve out to let Black Women in. Instead, I have strong empirical evidence on just how well we can work together to benefit this industry. The task is understanding where we’re falling short and acknowledging the problem. It’s time to take some ownership.

A few months back, I refused an invitation to join an international industry event because I was the only person of colour anywhere on the panels. Instead of a response from the event planner I had anticipated, I received an email from the organisation’s CEO. Rather than accepting responsibility for the lack of representation, he responded that they “didn’t have very long” to organise the event and were “still in conversation” with some other people of colour about participating in the event.

I took it upon myself to do the accountability work for them and highlight that time had allowed over a hundred white people to be confirmed and they may have had more luck securing people of colour had they paid for their expertise. The event went ahead without me, or any other person of colour.

This is hard work, and long gone are the days that the hue of one’s skin determines the work that one does. If you think this topic is challenging to engage in in the workplace, imagine being its subject. If you are going to a person of colour in this industry with an invitation to join a panel, lead some action or comment on diversity & inclusion, make sure it’s an appropriate/relevant request, and pay them for it.

I write this during Race Equality Week. An event that only came into existence this year but cites participation from a wide range of organisations such as “BT, HS2, National Trust, Aviva, CBI, Oxford Brookes University, Network Rail, numerous Local Authorities and NHS Trusts, Balfour Beatty, Edelman, Gallagher, CBRE, Institute of Fundraising, PohWer, Scope and Mental Health First Aid England”.

Our sector is connected to many of these organisations, yet the visibility has been minimal and muted. I’ve seen no mention of it in the media, no snappy social media campaigns and few panels addressing the subject matter. While the event is here and the sign-ups tot up, where are the public statements of commitment to racial equality in our industry? As the Race Equality Week’s initiative, ‘The Big Promise’, states, “actions speak louder than words”, and we’re well overdue.

It is coming, and while we can blame the pandemic for impacting on many engagement and outreach activities, I’ve been privy to an array of meetings and planning sessions around engaging broader demographics in cycling and mobility. Some individual leaders are already doing the work in setting up networks like the Women of Colour Cycling Group and the Black Cyclist Network.

Still, the focus of initiatives engaging with race is too often focused on minority groups as end recipients of a resource/service (wanting to reach wider demographics to sell to), or as candidates for entry-level positions. Let’s keep up the same energy for board seats, investment in Black and ethnic minority founders and innovators and representation at every level.

As chair of the Women@Beryl Network, I’ve been deep into planning for our International Women’s Day series and only learned of Race Equality Week at the last moment. Gender is a comfortable subject to engage within micromobility. We still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity, and it was recently pointed out that no cities’ active travel plan includes gender parity ambitions.

We are comfortable speaking about it openly, committing to change and recognising women leading in this space. We can do the same for race. Many of the wider gender network conversations I’m involved in are preoccupied with engaging men. Yes, we need men involved, but if they’re only connecting to the value and support required to smash the glass ceiling for cis-gendered, non-disabled white women, we’ve failed at our task. We need to be championing intersectionality as a priority. To quote the world’s most famous African proverb:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We’re an industry that has a penchant for coalitions and boards. I can barely keep track of all the alliances popping up with grand aims (who’s keeping tabs on actions?) – but where’s the coalition for race equality in mobility?

Whenever we’re ready to raise the volume, I’m here for it.

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