Black and Wise – a personal essay from Perpetua Gitungo
When people ask you to write about anything to do with your race, you always wonder what they want to hear. I mean, it has all been said before and to be honest after 2020, it seems to be all we talk about. Yet here we are again. Black History Month is upon us and before all companies get to do their obligatory statements and show solidarity with the Black community (mostly forgotten throughout the rest of the year). I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about what it is like to be Black at Wise.
Let’s go back in time to the beginning of Wise’s journey in this space. It started with the the murder of George Floyd — this was when the majority of people came out of their shells, like nosy neighbours who had heard an argument next door and want to know what’s going on. That’s how I describe it — because before then, to most non-Black people, race was not an issue. Black people internalised some of our experiences as part of our being. Suffering was inherent to us. It was part and parcel of who we were and how others identified us.
The Monday following the George’s murder, we went into our home offices, shocked and scared that yet another Black life had had been taken away — only this time, we had front row seats. My first thought was: I hope our colleagues in America are ok, and my second was: surely Wise will offer support. None came, not on that Monday anyway. The following Tuesday there was a brief mention of it during a company wide team meeting.
It wasn’t enough.
At the time, fuelled by frustration, we questioned the support that was being given to Black Wisers, who was driving it and what it meant in practical terms. After speaking to Wisers, it was clear that the lack of action wasn’t from indifference, it came from people not knowing what to do. We had a huge opportunity to change this, and make things better.
I’ll tell you what progress we made as a result of the events of summer 2020. These initiatives were driven by Black Wisers and our allies and have set Wise up to be not just one of the companies that mark Black History Month, but one that empowers Black Wisers to speak up.
The first thing that Wise did was have two sessions where Black Wisers could speak about the murder of George Floyd, and the impact ongoing police brutality had on them and their families. This was the first time we felt like someone was listening. It was raw, emotional, and allowed non-Black Wisers to better understand what their colleagues and friends were going through while allowing Black Wisers to share their experiences.
Black Steering Committee
Nothing grinds any minority group like the fact that their cause is being spoken about or driven by people who are not directly impacted or affected by it. So we created the Black Lives Matter steering committee. It had three main pillars:
- Supporting Wisers of colour in whatever shape or form that meant to them. This included a more comprehensive Employee Assistance Programs among other useful resources for coping with the impact of the issue at hand. That included; legal resources, and guidance for action, including protesting guidelines.
- Educational sessions, for all Wisers who needed awareness on the issue of race and particularly to sensitise a global team on why this was such an important topic. This also included resources for leads to support Black Wisers.
- Customer and product. While we’ve seen the least progress here,, we are working on making our products inclusive for customers from diverse backgrounds.
We now also have the recently launched #black-wisers-network; a Community and safe space within the business for Black Wisers.
It wasn’t an easy journey, but we have made significant progress. Not just one time progress.
So is the job done at Wise? Absolutely not. We still have a long way to go, but for the moment, I can say my Black and Wise experience has shown me that companies do not need to pay lip service; there are tangible, measurable, impactful things that they can do to make their Black employees and people of colour proud to work for them. And that includes celebrating Black History Month.
Wise has empowered and facilitated me to champion diversity, equity and inclusion in the FinCrime industry, even though that’s not part of my job description. These efforts have led to podcasts highlighting the need for inclusive FinTech products and scholarships for minorities in FinTech from industry bodies. I couldn’t be more proud.
But there’s more to be done, and not just during Black History Month. Onwards!