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21.10.2020

Happy Black History Month from APR!

The first of October signals many things. It is a reminder that summer is well and truly over. The cold seeps in and – especially true of this year – the rain makes a gloomy comeback. Fortunately, every year there is an event which promises to blow away even the greyest October cloud: Black History Month! To celebrate and raise awareness of this event, I am sharing some thoughts on what Black History Month means to me, and its relevance to education, to the actuarial profession and to APR. Additionally, I have explored diversity and inclusion in the actuarial profession more generally. Chika Aghadiuno, Diversity Advisory Group (DAG) chair, kindly agreed to discuss her thoughts on the future of diversity and inclusion (D&I), providing wider insights into the IFoA’s positive outlook.

Black and British

Since 1987, October has been a month for the UK to recognise and celebrate black history. It is a time for appreciation and sharing of culture. This year, I have chosen to read Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga. The author takes a wide lens, capturing both renowned and obscured segments of black history. For example, a little-known relic of black history can be found on one of London’s most famous historical monuments. At the base of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is the south-facing relief entitled ‘Death of Nelson’. Depicted here, in bronze sculpted by John Edward Carew, is a black sailor who fought alongside Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.[1] He is not explicitly named in the book, though is thought to represent the 18 men of African and 123 men of West Indian descent who fought in the conflict.

Olusoga also looks back over Britain’s involvement in the slave trade and how this period has informed the racial divides we see today. It serves as a stark reminder that the rights and privileges afforded to me, were not afforded to my ancestors. Even as our society becomes more tolerant and cohesive, it is important to remember, celebrate and learn from black history.

Educational Barriers

In many ways, the treasures of black history have been obscured over time. After the abolition of the slave trade, Olusoga notes that records which documented the lives of the trafficked people were largely expunged, as those who were complicit sought moral cleansing. These obstacles are compounded by the lack of black history present in the UK curriculum. There have been wide calls to expand the presence of blackness in history syllabi. The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise which is lobbying the UK government to incorporate accurate black histories into primary and secondary education.[2] I am now learning of matters that I should have been taught a long time ago: events and stories that would have contextualised the black experience in Britain, both for me and my peers. A more racially balanced view of history would ensure the plight of black Britons is properly acknowledged.

Fortunately, such calls have also echoed in the echelons of higher education. In 2017, Birmingham City University introduced the nation’s first black studies course, adding some much-welcomed diversity to our national institutions, where less than 0.5% of professors are black British.[3] I am reassured by these responses as education leads to understanding and empathy. Both are essential in building cohesive allyship for now, and future generations.

Diversity in the Actuarial Profession

In this month’s edition of The Actuary magazine, IFoA president Tan Suee Chieh and DAG chair Chika Aghadiuno discuss ethnic and social diversity within the actuarial profession.[4] The article mentions the incident involving Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper (no relation) in Central Park, New York. In summary, Amy – a white woman – called the police after Christian – a black man – asked her to put her dog on a lead.[5]  Amy is recorded saying “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” These words are particularly pointed as the incident occurred on the same day as George Floyd’s death, which sparked protests across the globe. She has since been fired from her job and widely criticised for weaponising her white privilege. What I did not know before reading this month’s The Actuary magazine was that Amy herself was an actuary. The actuarial profession is one which prides itself on integrity and diversity of mind, so to see this behaviour is extremely disheartening. Unchecked racial biases have the unrivalled capacity to prevent BAME candidates from entering and succeeding in the financial sector. Therefore, it is vitally important that steps are taken to ensure inclusivity.

During our Zoom conversation earlier in the week, DAG chair Chika Aghadiuno and I discussed the future of D&I in the actuarial profession. The IFoA is taking a markedly direct approach in this area, reflected in the plan to rename the Diversity Advisory Group, the Diversity Action Group. There are several initiatives in development which pertain to recruitment diversity and aim to increase representation in the Institute. Chika shared her positivity that the DAG is gaining serious traction and foresees the group requiring an influx of volunteers to support new campaigns. If you are interested in getting involved with the DAG, contact the group at diversity@actuaries.org.uk.

APR too are taking meaningful steps to increase inclusivity; the D&I team are actively working to attract a wide range of candidates, to promote an inclusive working environment and to eliminate any potentiality for unconscious bias. This includes implementing a blind recruitment process for new hires and expanding the reach of APR’s recruitment campaigns. Inclusive practices benefit not only the UK’s diverse talent pool but also the companies themselves, by adding diversity of thought into business decisions. Research conducted by McKinsey & Company reported that, at a statistically significant level, ethnic and cultural diversity is positively correlated with profitability.[6] To echo the sentiments of Chika Aghadiuno and Tan Suee Chieh, we are all responsible for ensuring that the actuarial profession is inclusive, and we all benefit from it.

BHM Resources

For me, sharing events such as Black History Month in the workplace creates space for allyship, discussion and intersectional discovery. On that note, I will conclude by sharing a few of my favourite resources, with the aim of enriching the reader’s BHM experience:

Engage, share and enjoy. Happy Black History Month!

Curtis Anderson

October 2020

Curtis Anderson

References

[1] Olusoga, D. (2016) Black and British: A Forgotten History. London: Macmillan.

[2] Mendez, E. (2020) UK schools ‘should be taught about black history’, Metro, 3 Jun 2020. Available at: https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/03/uk-schools-should-taught-about-black-history-12794916

[3] Andrews, K. (2016) At last, the UK has a black studies university course. It’s long overdue, The Guardian. 20 May 2016. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/20/black-studies-university-course-long-overdue

[4] Seekings, C. (2020) A point of inflection, The Actuary. Available at: https://www.theactuary.com/2020/10/07/point-inflection

[5] Vera, A. & Ly, L. (2020) White woman who called police on a black man birdwatching in Central Park has been fired, CNN, 26 May 2020. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/26/us/central-park-video-dog-video-african-american-trnd

[6] McKinsey & Company (2018) Delivering through Diversity. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/delivering-through-diversity

[7] Ibid 1.

[8] Gousto. Jamaican Squash & Coconut Stew recipe. Available at: https://www.gousto.co.uk/cookbook/vegan-recipes/jamaican-squash-coconut-stew

[9] Lang, C. (2020) 12 Movies to Watch to Educate Yourself About Racism and Protest History, Recommended by Experts, Time, 4 June 2020. Available at: https://time.com/5847912/movies-to-watch-about-racism-protests/