While celebrating Black History Month, Amber Ellis, an intern at Informare, sits down with Susan McCollin-Davy, HR Manager of the newly-rebranded construction consultancy Concert, to discuss her take on society expectations and race.

Although born in London, Susan was educated in Barbados up until the age of sixteen. While living there, she developed a strong sense of self and community, due to being surrounded by people who not only looked like her but went through similar life experiences too.

However, upon returning to the UK for her A-Levels and her degree, Susan saw that there were a lot of prejudices and barriers towards black people. She saw a large disconnect between her experiences in Barbados, and her black peers in the UK, who experienced state schooling. She was nonetheless welcomed openly, describing these friends as ‘family’ now and ‘past the point of friendship’. She has learnt a lot about their experiences over the years.

“It took years and years to really be able to appreciate and understand what people were saying about their experiences in the UK”, she says, detailing her friends’ stories of stereotyping, labelling and scepticism about future possibilities and aspirations. It wasn’t until this year, that Susan believes she truly understood and could empathies with those stories she had grown up hearing about.

Susan used the word ‘privileged’ to describe how she grew up in a country that made her feel secure and normal, to then go to a Catholic girls school in London a school that had the staff and resources to help their students. She understands that not many young people from ethnic backgrounds has such supportive and positive upbringing, so how do we help create that stable start?

Diminishing stereotypes

Stereotyping is a social issue that can sometimes lead to the formation of a self-fulfilling prophecies. Susan admits that at times she herself has fed into these stereotypes: seeing a group of young boys of colour with their hoods up has, in the past, made her uncomfortable. However, she is taking the time now to fight against the stereotypes that she believes have been drilled into our subconscious. This also applies within the education system: harmless notions like comparing students to their friends or elder siblings who went to the same school can wear down the belief in one’s self as an individual.

Learn about your history and learn from your history

Understanding your culture and history, Susan believes, is crucial to forming a sense of security and pride in who you are in your formative years. In schools across the UK, students are taught very little about many minorities. Which is why initiatives like Black History Month are so important

However, it is also important to move forward and with the times, when discussing how technological advances Susan says, “you have to think about is how we change and adjust to be able to support… to be aligned with what that generation needs.”

Tangible role models

Susan adds that there is a variety of black role models in the media, but they are too far removed from the average young person’s life. She believes we need more role models in everyday settings such as teaching. The statistics back this up too: in 2018 saw over 80% of teachers in state-funded schools were white British (GOV, 2020). Having visible role models around you every day could ignite a sense of self-belief and hope for students’ futures. Susan questions what can be done to break the cycles that we have seen so many times.

Follow your own path to success

While the traditional path, from primary school right through to university, may be right for some people, Susan stresses that it’s not the magic formula for everyone to be truly happy in what they do. And follow that mindset right through to finding the perfect job, “I’m doing something that I love and I’m with a company that I love so, I think that’s what you have to do and like I said that does not happen to people straight after university it takes time.