From decade to decade, region to region, racism is ever changing. It looks and sounds different depending on when and where you’re looking. But one thing’s always true: it still exists.
‘Things are very different to when I was born in the 1960s Lake District’, explains Andrew Pearce, Head of Accenture’s African Caribbean Network, ‘now racism has become more unconscious and ingrained in our biases. Today, there is a subtle yet ever-present racism around lowered expectation’.
Put simply, this racism, sometimes called the ‘soft bigotry around lowered expectation’, refers to the unconscious assumption that BAME people are not as high-performing as their white peers by virtue of their background. It’s something that starts early. Even without realising it, many teachers expect less from their black students.* And, after high-school proms and university graduations, that lowered expectations hangs around and rears its head in the world of work.
So how do we break through all of this? How do we rewrite the narrative around race and expectation? It takes empowering role models with inspirational stories who are willing to keep the conversation around race going and help others rise, says Andrew.
That’s exactly what Francesca is doing. Francesca isn’t your average Accenture employee. By day, she’s an analyst helping our life sciences clients. But come to the evenings and weekends and she’s the proud owner of Pe’Lumi Bakes, a luxury cake making business. Now she’s sharing her story with her colleagues and setting up the Accenture Entrepreneurs Network to help others rise and become business owners themselves.
“I’ve had to have that conversation with myself: should I be the face of my brand?”
While setting up Pe’Lumi Bakes, Francesca has had to confront lowered expectations herself. ‘Being black can feel controversial, even though it shouldn’t be’, she explains. This feeling is only heightened by the fact that Pe’Lumi Bakes is operating in a typically white, middle-class space. ‘Most of my competitors are white and a lot of their success comes down to the fact that they have made themselves the face of their brand. They are very present and visible on their social media channels. I’ve had to ask myself: should I be the face of my brand? I’ve even had friends and family, who are looking out for me, warn that people will see me and expect less. They said, “as soon as you put a black face to it, your brand will depreciate in value.” But I didn’t take that advice. I’ve put my personality into my brand and made myself the face of Pe’Lumi Bakes’.
Sadly, there was some truth in her friends’ and family’s warning as unconscious biases have impacted Francesca’s pricing. ‘People look at me and then look at my competitors and assume they’re more established. So, when they quote for a cake, it’s not as outrageous as when I quote for the same job. I think, with people of colour, it’s often assumed that their products will be cheaper – and that’s an assumption made by people both within and outside of the black community’, she explains.
But Francesca hasn’t let that stop her. She’s defied lowered expectations and introduced a fixed pricing structure that’s in line with the competition. She’s also built her brand around her personality. Pe’Lumi Bakes’s website and social media is full of images of Francesca standing proudly in her kitchen, delicately decorating cakes. She’s shared personal tales about her Nigerian heritage including the story behind the name Pe’Lumi Bakes, taken from "Pelu mi" which means "with me" in Yoruba. ‘At the end of the day, I am who I am. I won’t cater for what everyone’s idea of black should be or what everyone’s idea of a baker should be. So, I’ve been putting myself out there more and more. It’s something I felt I needed to do in order to stay authentic’.
Francesca has got her name out there, set an example and shown other black people that they can succeed in this space too. Her story is an inspirational one, and what makes it even more so is that she’s now turned her attention to empowering her Accenture colleagues.
“I wanted to replicate my own networking in Accenture’s Entrepreneurs Network”
Francesca has recently cofounded the Accenture Entrepreneurs Network alongside Michelle, another analyst. ‘I wanted to replicate my own network in Accenture’s Entrepreneurs Network. I have an organic network of friends, from copywriters to accountants, who have helped my business grow and act as sounding board for ideas and pricing woes. I want others to feel comfortable and supported by a similar network of colleagues’, she explains.
Not only do budding Accenture entrepreneurs get access to a strong support system, they can also transfer the skills they learn in their day job into their side businesses, just like Francesca has. ‘Since joining Accenture, I’ve learnt so much about how to run my business more strategically, especially when it comes to communication, policies and payments. And it works vice versa too. Thanks to my side business, I’m more confident at work. I’m happy to take ownership and lead my workstream’.
It’s inspirational stories, like Francesca’s, that are helping to correct unconscious biases around black people and lowered expectations. ‘By showing that people can succeed, regardless of race, you can empower others around you who might be thinking of doing something similar’, explains Andrew Pearce. ‘We need these stories that show say “we are here, and we are celebrating”. That’s why for Black History Month 2019, Accenture have that theme “Black is”.
Francesca is certainly living proof that black is entrepreneurial.
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