George Floyd’s final words had a deep impact on Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, founder of 1000 Black Voices, who went through the stages of grief in identifying with the racially-motivated brutality experienced by a fellow human being and Black person.
1000 Black Voices was founded as a result of this moment in time; Elizabeth decided that enough was enough and that she wanted to make the most of her experience in the education and corporate worlds to drive authentic equity in society.
We’ve had the privilege of working with Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and the team at 1000 Black Voices since January 2021, supporting businesses, investors and the wider community to actively combat racism and racial bias through purposeful action.
Two years on from George Floyd’s death, we spoke to Dr. Shaw about progress the organisation has made since its inception and what business leaders should prioritise as we look to the future.
Can you tell our readers more about the origin of 1000 Black Voices?
Highlighted by the police brutality cases against Rodney King and George Floyd, as well as many others across the US and UK, the dangerous narrative of hate and discrimination against Black people has evolved – but fundamentally stayed the same.
In contemporary society, media bias, polarised politics, information dissemination and hidden agendas have all contributed to this negative narrative and 1000 Black Voices is an organisation at the heart of changing this once and for all.
As we approach the two year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, can you speak to where you have seen progress, and where you still remain frustrated?
George Floyd’s murder is a pivotal reckoning. The veil was lifted clearly showing the extent of racism in our society. 1000 Black Voices seeks to galvanise action for change. We have been heartened by the commitment of many individuals and organisations to support the Black community. Conversations about race and inequities happen with more intent. Onboarding cultural awareness and active allyship is more commonplace.
Yet, two years since George Floyd’s senseless murder, the racist killing of Black people continues. This cannot be allowed to continue.
There is still an extreme need to stop these tragic events from happening, along with further injustices and inequalities. I remain highly frustrated by the increasing lack of urgency for change.
Racism is rife, yet diversity and inclusion is being forced to take an unwilling backseat. During the last two years, a significant push up river has taken place. Now at the rapids we have a choice to make; do we tread water or do we forge ahead?
In your own words, can you tell us more about the “4 R’s” (racism, representation, recognition and reward) and how these are being tackled in the workplace today?
In the business world, racial discrimination still isn’t being taken seriously and organisations are still looking for a ‘business case’ to prove why inclusion is ‘valuable to the bottom line’. We need to address the 4Rs in inclusion as a matter of urgency: racism, representation, recognition and reward.
One of the most essential elements of this is ensuring the progression of Black people and therefore creating more Black role models in the workplace, which will create a pipeline of more individuals inspired to join specific sectors and organisations.
We also need to have a more open discussion about race in the workplace. Many organisations focus solely on unconscious bias training which is treated as a tick-box exercise, when in-depth, ongoing training about cultural differences and how to proactively protect against bias should be business critical activities.
What do business leaders need to prioritise this year in terms of diversity and inclusion?
Having mental resilience and fairness as a core part of the diversity and inclusion strategy is more important than ever with the storm of events over the past two years; the killing of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic and in the UK the government lack of recognition of institutional racism.
Today, working in an inclusive workplace is one of the top priorities for employees according to the Linkedin Talent Drivers Survey 2021. How robustly businesses champion diversity and inclusion will have an impact on their reputation and ultimately access to the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Can you describe some of the most significant marketing challenges for 1000 Black Voices in the past year and how you have navigated these?
Over the past year, our marketing priorities have focused on delivering growth in areas of our core business – the inclusion practice, career hub and start-up accelerator programs. We knew that brand awareness would be key to success in each area, and like many businesses we’ve also needed to drive traffic to our website as a priority.
As such, our work with Clarity has been instrumental – both in driving forward key projects and helping us to secure partnerships. Clarity works closely with us on SEO as well as earned media, providing recommendations for content that supports our brand messaging and has a strong affinity to the clients we seek to attract.
What personal learnings can you share about marketing and communications at 1000 Black Voices since founding the organisation?
I always knew that the power of media can help your brand stand out. This is certainly working for us. Expect it to take a little time, but it is rewarding.
1000 Black Voices is where it is today because of the great work we do with our clients and partners, and the value this brings. People know about our efforts and successes because of the power of the media.
How has your latest cohort approached communicating their offerings to the market?
Over the past year, participating founders on the 1000 Black Voices Black Tech Accelerator cohort have been busy winning awards, gaining recognition for the work they do, gaining access to investment – all through the power of communication.
For example, Jones Amegbor, founder of PayInc (known as PayAngel) was featured as one of the top 20 dynamic CEOs in 2022. The company, which is currently seeking Series A funding, relies heavily on social media, messaging to their existing customers, and local radio. They also work with influencers when the opportunity arises.
Our startups understand how important communicating their offering is to gain access to investment and ultimately customers. Tekihealth has taken learnings from the Black Tech Accelerator, translating this into successful communication through owned channels like social media and their website.They’ve been speaking at events such as the Telecom council, winning awards, featuring on 1000 Black Voices channels too.
Gerocare, a healthtech company and participating startup on the 1000 Black Voices Black Tech Accelerator, has been great at communicating its successes. It has gained access to Google for Startups and Top 20 Africa’s Business Heros, while securing some great earned coverage.
Another of the cohort is Dropalo, a location-based social messaging platform currently seeking funding. Their founder definitely realises the strength of social media, using platforms like Linkedin to demonstrate the progress being made at the organisation.
What’s your favourite thing about running 1000 Black Voices and why?
1000 Black Voices has become a family and it’s amazing to be part of something that makes a difference to people’s lives.
I love bringing people together, hearing their story, advising on how to move forward, being part of the change and celebrating their impact and successes. The clients and partners that share our journey towards change are remarkable.
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw