In response to the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and the resulting Black Lives Matter movement, Charlotte Shyllon decided to use her passion - poetry - to speak up about her personal experience of racism. Charlotte is black British of Sierra Leonean heritage, and she has lived and worked in the corporate PR world in the UK for 25 years. ‘Black in White’ is the title of her book of poems published in November 2020 and it addresses the themes of micro aggressions, unconscious bias and overt and covert racism.

As an example of micro aggression, Charlotte talks about her experience in a new job where a colleague repeatedly misspelled and failed to use capital letters in her name, despite spelling all other colleagues’ names properly. As a solution, Charlotte recommends ‘calling it out’, firstly by discussing it directly with the individual concerned and then escalating it to senior management if the individual fails to change their behaviour.

To illustrate the impact of unconscious bias, Charlotte describes an experience of being judged by colleagues who assumed that she must come from a disadvantaged background simply because she is black.
When you asked me if my parents were proud of me because I guess, you’d assumed they were C2DE (lower social class). Would you have viewed me as your socio economic equal if I were white?” Charlotte explains that many of us have unconscious bias and that education is the only way to become aware of it and break free of the bias.

In the poem ‘You were wrong’ Charlotte shows how overt racism can exist in the workplace with four specific examples. Early in her career, one of Charlotte’s bosses told her that she could only ever work in PR by doing PR for black causes or for black people. Charlotte feels that her subsequent successful career in PR was the best way to show this appalling attitude for what it was – overt racism. Outlining solutions to deal with overt racism in the workplace, Charlotte’s advice is to speak up and if necessary consult the HR (Human Resources) department in the organisation.

One of Charlotte’s objectives in publishing her poems was to get people talking about the importance of diversity, inclusion and belonging in the professional world and raise the profile of racism and how it operates in organisations. In particular she wants to encourage employers to be equitable in their recruitment policies and to bring people on board who don't look and sound like them.

Charlotte’s overarching aim is to bring insight to the way people think about diversity as until now, many of the issues she writes about have been in the shadows and not really talked about. She feels that the time is right to have a conversation, as the media is interested in experiences of racism including footballers and cricketers and it’s important that we broaden this to talk about everyone’s experience of racism. To address this, Charlotte has now published a second book ‘Black and White Community Collection’ including poems from 32 other poets about the importance of speaking up about racism.