A reflection on Race Equality Matters’ Race Network Leaders and Future Leaders Event.


Point of View- Isabel Beresford-Cole


On the 26th June 2024, Race Equality Matters held an event discussing how organisations can get ready for various heritage months over the next year as part of their Race Network Leaders and Future Leaders Series.


The event was highly successful, with 97% of those attending stating that they learned something new from the event that they would implement in their workplace. 

The event featured three inspiring speakers: Choon Tan, Binita Kane, and Joanna Alexander. They shared valuable insights on how companies can be more impactful and inclusive during heritage months.

In this summary, I will highlight the most surprising, helpful, and impactful ideas from each of their insightful discussions.



East and South Asian Heritage Month: What can your organisation do to give the ESEA community a greater voice/become more visible?


At the start of the event, participants were asked if they planned to celebrate ESEA Heritage Month this year. To my surprise, only 17% responded yes. Given that the ESEA community comprises 1 million people in the UK, I had expected greater awareness and participation in celebrating ESEA heritage.


Choon Tan highlighted why it is important now more than ever to shine a light on this community as the exponential rise of Sinophobia since the Covid-19 pandemic (almost 27% from 2019-2020, according to official police hate crime collected by Voice ESEA) has put this community at greater risk.


Another shocking statistic that Choon shared was that only 0.27% of ESEA people are in powerful positions at work in the UK which indicates a severe disparity in representation in leadership. 


Representation is a significant issue for the ESEA community. While companies strive to be more inclusive by representing various backgrounds such as Black, South Asian, and disabled individuals, ESEA representation remains scarce.


Choon highlighted an example from Specsavers, where he couldn’t find any ESEA representation in their advertisements, website, or social media pages, despite ESEA people having a higher rate of myopia. Specsavers attributed this to a lack of access to ESEA talent, but this raises an important question: is there truly a lack of ESEA talent, or is this a shortcoming of the organisation in seeking them out?

Image Choon Young Tan

So, how can organisations enhance the visibility of the ESEA community during ESEA heritage month?


September is ESEA Heritage Month, with the aim to celebrate and honour people of ESEA heritage and their culture, history and everything in between. ESEA Heritage Month – founded by besea.n (Britain’s East and Southeast Asian Network) – is also a time to pause and reflect on the diverse lived experiences of ESEA people living, studying and working in the UK.

During the event, just under 200 individuals collaborated to brainstorm and discuss various ways their organisations could actively participate in ESEA Heritage Month to make sure their ESEA colleagues are seen and heard. Here, I have highlighted some of the most popular and intriguing ideas from our community.

Many participants suggested reaching out to the local ESEA community to invite them to educate colleagues and co-produce events. Co-production ensures that the community is actively engaged and consulted on offerings and services, ensuring that the actions taken genuinely reflect their needs and provide real benefits.


A key suggestion was to incorporate cultural celebrations into the company calendar to increase visibility and uplift ESEA colleagues. For example, Lunar New Year is a significant event celebrated by 2 billion people worldwide each year. Organisations can show greater cultural consideration by celebrating this important holiday. Learn more about Lunar New Year here.


At the end of the event, it was reassuring to see that 46% of attendees expressed interest in celebrating ESEA Heritage Month in their organisations. This highlights the event’s significant impact in raising awareness and importance of this month.


To hear more from Choon Tan, watch this video: https://youtu.be/GGY8N2shD6M?si=Mg3pUtiaCCUNl6tf 


What can your organisation do to celebrate South Asian heritage month?


It was very exciting to hear from one of the co-founders of South Asian Heritage Month, Binita Kane. South Asian Heritage Month is approaching imminently, taking place from the 18th July to the 17th August 2024. What can your organisation do to get involved?

This year’s theme is called “Free to be me”, a very versatile theme asking individuals, communities and organisations to embrace differences in heritage and culture and truly foster inclusivity. In line with the Trust’s values- to “celebrate”, “commemorate”, “educate”– this month is an opportunity for us all to celebrate the significance of South Asian heritage in the workplace and British society.

Binita emphasises the importance of face-to-face events, such as inviting speakers to share their life experiences. These events provide valuable opportunities to learn about cultural differences and deepen our understanding of the world around us. Panel discussions and Q&A sessions facilitate honest and open dialogues.

However, Binita also recognises how fun activities and events can also play a role in engaging and educating your workforce. Food, for example, is a universal language that brings people together. Have you considered having a tea break or a ‘lunch and learn’ where colleagues discuss South Asian history with cultural cuisines? Learn more about Tea Breaks here.

I had the privilege of participating in a fascinating discussion group with individuals from various companies, each bringing their unique experiences and perspectives to the conversation. One participant shared their memorable experience of having henna artists come in to create henna art and organising a Bollywood dance session at their company. They enthusiastically described it as one of their favourite days at work, highlighting how it broadened their cultural awareness. To learn more about cultural awareness, you can take part in the 5 day challenge. Click here to find out more.

Another interesting idea from the discussion groups was organising a cultural walking tour. These tours allow participants to experience different cultures and cuisines, discovering hidden gems in their own city. London, for instance, is a melting pot of diverse cultures. Have you ever considered trying award-winning curries in Spitalfields, the heart of the London Bengali community? Did you know that the London Walls were built by a Black African Roman Emperor? A walking tour offers a fascinating and engaging way to view the world around us, appreciating its rich diversity and history.

The percentage of individuals considering participation in South Asian Heritage Month initially stood at 35%, but by the end of the event, it surged to 65%. This significant increase underscores the valuable and practical ideas and inspiration received from the event. 

To hear more from Binita, watch this video: https://youtu.be/gnNAuZmydiE?si=p94CzykhiEopNK6G 


Image Benita Kane

How can we measure the impact of Black History Month celebrations?


Notably, among all the heritage months discussed in this event, Black History Month saw the highest participation rate. At the outset, 87% of attendees expressed their intention to participate, a figure that remained consistent throughout. However, the event offered valuable insights into evaluating the impact of these efforts. Did they achieve tangible, meaningful change, or are these actions merely performative, lacking genuine impact?

Joanna Alexander shared valuable insights on how to measure impact. While data and metrics from surveys are crucial, Joanna emphasised the significance of community testimonials. Hearing directly from both Black colleagues and allies about their experiences can identify areas for growth and development. Joanna stressed that taking positive actions post-Black History Month, such as implementing behavioural changes based on feedback, is essential for truly committing to the change that Black History Month advocates.

During the discussion groups, some participants highlighted The Big Promise as a call to action, emphasising a commitment to action rather than empty words. The Big Promise encourages individuals to publicly commit to measurable goals that hold them accountable for creating meaningful change. This initiative allows for sustained efforts in driving positive impact beyond the month of October. To find out more about The Big Promise, click here.

Joanna made a crucial point about the impact of Black History Month on mental health. While celebrating uplifting stories and engaging in challenging conversations are important, it’s essential to recognise that reliving and sharing trauma can be emotionally draining, especially for Black colleagues. It’s important that we prioritise self-care and regularly check in with others during this time.

To hear more from Joanna, watch this video: https://youtu.be/tdjigWPE3yk?si=grSVv08D6uuystkP 

Image Joanne Alexander

How is your organisation going beyond representation to tackle race inequality for good?


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