This Is Gorillas: Black History Month (UK)

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Interview with Natalie, Qadir and David

At Gorillas, we’re on a journey to becoming the best versions of ourselves. We believe in fostering a culture where everyone feels that they belong, where they can bring their whole selves to work, and where we collectively embrace and recognize our diverse Gorillas crew and community.

Today, we mark Black History Month by highlighting the stories of three talented crew members who shared their personal experiences as people of color in the workplace, and introduced us to a journey of reflection, perspective and awareness.

Without further ado, let’s meet the crew!

Qadir: I was born and raised in Somalia and came to the UK at the age of 8.

I joined the Gorillas crew in June 2021 as a rider, and since then I have held three different positions in three different warehouses. Today, I am a warehouse supervisor at Gorillas in Acton, West London.

Natalie: I’m a born and raised Londoner of Ghanian and Lebanese descent. Career-wise, I come from a music background, first as a legal executive at Universal Music in London, diverted to traveling/artist-managing at live events internationally before the global pandemic shut it all down. With the pandemic and Brexit looming, I decided to move to Berlin, and started at Gorillas a few months later.

I support the CEO/Co-Founder, Kagan Sumer, as his Executive Assistant—or as Kagan likes to call me the CCO (Chief Conversation Officer). Everything is about relationships and I have a sense that you actually find out more about yourself through your interactions with others.

I am a writer, a meditator, a dancer, a giggler, and probably a million other things I’ve not discovered yet about myself. I’m also a firm believer in the power of colour therapy, hence why I always dress in colour.

David: I was born and raised in London, however, I’m of Nigerian and Dominican descent (Dominica not Dominican Republic 🙂). I joined Gorillas in June 2021, after relocating back to London from Amsterdam. I thought I would try my hand at a startup given that my experience was largely from mature, traditional companies.

I’m currently the UK Head of Finance. Previously, I was also looking after the Benelux region.

My passions outside of work are mainly sports related, and I was fortunate enough to play rugby professionally (albeit for a short time) before starting a career in finance. A fun fact is that I had a habit of pulling strange faces whilst playing, and now one of them is the emoji for “Finance” on slack at Gorillas.

October is Black History Month in the UK. What does this mean to you and why do you think it’s important?

  • Qadir: To me, Black History Month is a celebration of how far we’ve come as a race, a season to honor our ancestors and their hidden contributions, and a time of reflection on the work still to be done.
  • Natalie: I think the sentiment of Black History Month has been misunderstood. I do not see it as a time for Black People to come forward and spend a month educating non-black people about issues with regards to race. This should be a daily practice to be informed about the world around you and how you can be an ally! As a black person my existence, visibility, and challenges are not confined to a month and indeed, not something I have to take the time to explain to other people. Black history is about celebrating black culture.
  • David: Black History Month is extremely important to me, as it provides a platform to reflect on Black History in the UK, which is often missed from the school curriculum. Personally, it means a lot to me as my Great Uncle, Asquith Xavier, led a movement to overturn a white only recruitment policy in the 1960s in British Railway companies. Here’s an article of the story, covered by the BBC.

Have you noticed a change in how people approach racial issues in the workplace throughout your career?

  • Qadir: Although there is obviously a lot to still be done, I do believe that since the start of my adulthood there have been improvements in how racism is dealt with in the workplace. Since social media has been more prominent in recent times, racial issues are much easier to discuss.
  • Natalie: There still appears to be a sense of awkwardness which is framed as white guilt, but I think it’s important to sit in discomfort sometimes, understand it, and then move forward with more knowledge than you had before.
  • David: Yes, I believe the tragedy that happened to George Floyd and countless others, around a time when people were forced to slow down and reflect, paved the way for racial issues to be a topic of discussion. Previously it was something largely not acknowledged.

What is the hardest part for you personally about discussing issues around race in the workplace?

  • Qadir: Race is still somewhat of a taboo subject. It may not be something everyone is willing to discuss at the workplace because many people cannot appreciate the opinions of others. As a result of this I believe many people shy away from having a discussion. I find this difficult because I believe the only way to celebrate our differences is to be able to have a conversation.
  • Natalie: The same reason I was reluctant to take part in this interview. That the colour of my skin would be the only defining factor of me. It is not. That one black person’s experience is the same as every other black persons.
  • David: Personally I struggle when I can see it makes people feel uncomfortable.

Have you ever experienced racism as a Black professional?

  • Qadir: I’ve experienced subtle racism. White colleagues behave differently towards me in comparison to other white colleagues.
  • Natalie: I have never overtly experienced racism in the workplace but had my first physical and verbal experience of racism EVER by a stranger outside the office in Berlin. It's important to have an understanding that the world is built on a structure of institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, a form of racism that is embedded in the laws and regulations of a society. This has created an unconscious bias. Have I maybe been overlooked for a job because of the texture of my hair or the colour of my skin? Probably! Can I do something about it? No! Can a non-black person become more educated and help dismantle this? Yes!

    There is an African proverb that says "Stop expecting to be understood by people who have little understanding of themselves". I focus on my own path, not what people tell me I can't do!
  • David: Unfortunately I have experienced it in previous roles. No major incidents, however, there have been a few times where I would not have been communicated to in a certain way if I was a white employee.

How has Gorillas enabled you to be your authentic self at work?

  • Qadir: Every warehouse I have been to in the UK had a large variety of different races, ethnicities, and nationalities all integrated which has always made me feel like I work in an inclusive environment.
  • Natalie: I find it naive to credit a company or one person with this. I work on myself daily so I say thank you to me. I'm grateful to be able to trace my heritage back to the nineteen century on my paternal side to the Ashanti Warrior Queen, Yaa Ashantewaa, who fought the British. So I'd like to thank her and the many others after that instilled in me an ever-unfolding energy. As it's coming up to the anniversary of my grandmother's passing I'd like to thank her for being a black female entrepreneur of her time—her success has afforded me many freedoms.

    I read somewhere recently that for you to be born today from 12 previous generations you need a total of 4094 ancestors over the last 400 years, and to think for a moment… ”How many expressions of hope for the future did your ancestors have to undergo for you to exist in this world".

    Having a boss that comes from an immigrant background, I’m grateful that he trusts me to do my job which has come with many opportunities to travel and meet teams all over the world, giving me visibility in spaces I may not have had the opportunity to.
  • David: The UK office is generally an open, diverse workspace that encourages you to be your authentic self, and not fall into a crowd. However, I believe that there is still more to be done to ensure this is embedded in the culture of Gorillas.

What would you tell non-black professionals who want to support the inclusion of black people in the workplace?

  • Qadir: Just be open-minded and let our differences be what brings us together.
  • Natalie:
    1) Educate yourself. There are lots of sources of information to learn about the black experience and share your knowledge. I’ll be stocking up our Berlin HQ library with some books.
    2) Support black owned businesses. Maybe try a new restaurant this month or venture into a black owned business and buy something. I found this resource for Berlin.
    3) Don't touch my hair, and if you see that happening to any other person come to the defense.
    4) Share black art and work of creatives so we can amplify a different narrative of joy instead of singular stereotypes of famine and slavery.
  • David: For me, people can only support an inclusive environment if they really understand that biases, and to an extent racial biases, are human nature. I think people generally find that hard to accept, but when you accept it, you can learn and educate yourself on a different perspective.

Thank you to Qadir, Natalie, and David for sharing their stories and reflections with us. As a part of our commitment to foster an environment where everyone feels safe from prejudice and is empowered to thrive, here are some resources on how to begin to practice anti-racism and how to become a better ally in the workplace.

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