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  • Writer's pictureLouis Hughes

A Year On with Tiana Holgate

Her journey from Warwick University to TapIn and beyond

Last year when we spoke to Tiana Holgate, she was working as a student liaison officer at the University of Warwick, ensuring students met inclusive and welcoming spaces when they entered tertiary education.

A year on and she is Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at TapIn and leading the #ThisIsBlackGenZ project!

Not only is she shaping TapIn internally, but she is also leading on all things inclusivity and belonging externally.

We’re chatting to her about everything that’s happened in the last year, how she has changed the project this year and what she is looking forward to in the year to come.

Jemma: So let’s start from the beginning. Obviously, you came to the event last year and got first-hand access to the report. What were your initial thoughts?

Tiana: I remember being surprised by the way it had been done, mainly with the focus on authentically capturing people’s experiences in the workplace and the focus on the storytelling side of things. It was refreshing and empowering to see stories that my friends and I have discussed for years depicted so plainly.

However, I wasn’t surprised by the actual stats themselves.

I did feel sad about the finding that Black individuals are less satisfied with their chance of being promoted as I think that’s not so much a case of them not working hard, but rather that they feel they are more likely to be overlooked versus their white counterparts.

And I think it shows that comes down to confidence. Confidence has a big impact. Feeling less confident, not because of what they can do, but because of the reality of their environment, and not expecting to be valued by others.

Jemma: And were there any areas that were untouched that you would have liked the research to dive more deeply into?

Tiana: For certain questions, I was intrigued to understand how they were defined. For example, when ‘natural hair’ was spoken about. Because really what is ‘natural hair’? Like how would we define it? And then where does the fear to wear it naturally come from? Is it purely based on internalised views on what’s professional or is it based on genuine fear of the kind of comments they’d receive?

And for certain questions, I would have liked it to go deeper. For example, the question around names. Because the experience can be different depending on the individual. For example, as someone with Caribbean heritage, changing my name or surname isn’t something I ever consider because my surname is a British-sounding slave name and originates from Yorkshire.

Some names are more ‘palatable’. So that statistic on changing names could even be slightly under-representative here. I would have liked to see that broken down with different cultures, and see if the findings be the same if we broke it up across heritage.

Jemma: Is this why you have reframed the research this year not only to dive deeper but also to be more intersectional?

Tiana: Yes! I think it’s really important to focus on a particular area and do it really well. The first year was about creating research focusing on Black Gen Z and hearing their stories because it had not been done before. But this year, the focus is on intersectionality. Because no one is just one thing, everyone has different aspects of their identity affecting their experience. So this year’s approach was prompted by wanting to dive deeper, to make it less general, and to ask more in-depth questions around issues like colourism, for example.

A big part of this is acknowledging the different facets of the Black community and not leaning on communities to do that work themselves. Understanding this allows Black people to be their whole selves, and businesses need to start adopting a more holistic approach to do better to incorporate all those areas. Too often businesses put individuals into boxes, but nobody is just one thing and more harm is caused by doing that.

Being a sociologist, I’m aware that every type of discrimination comes from an imbalance of power. There is so much value in fostering belonging to combat these power imbalances. The things that we need to foster belonging for everyone, are at their core, not wildly different. So looking at diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging holistically is really important to me. No one is free until we’re all free.

Moving on from that, are there any trends in the Diversity and Inclusion Space that you’ve taken note of or that you’re excited about?

Tiana: I guess more broadly I've seen more conversational awareness around social mobility, which I think is really good.

I think one thing that I want to change is the tendency to conflate social mobility with issues of race and ethnicity. In the past, a lot of things I've seen, especially initiatives that are for race, are also for class - they lump them together. For example, affirmative programmes for Black students will require that you were also on free school meals or something similar. However, these struggles are separate, they can be compounding and the intersection between them is nuanced. I think it also leaves out other people who are socially mobile and aren't racially minoritized in this country.

Jemma: I know that's something we talked about when we were going through the survey so that's really interesting. I think something that'll hopefully happen over time is that the D&I space will get a better understanding of how complex and nuanced these issues are.

And, you are now working at TapIn as Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. What was your journey into that?

Tiana: Well, when we had the interview last, I was working at Warwick University and doing work on the sexual violence agenda, predominantly for survivors as well as people experiencing all parts of harassment, discrimination or hate crimes.

I did really enjoy doing that. A lot of what I do comes from my love of sociology and wanting to understand these things. I think when I spoke with you and then came along to the event, I just was really excited by what was happening and excited there was space to talk about things.

So, yeah, I came along to the event last year as a panellist and had a few conversations with the team about what their goals were to build out a D&I team and to maintain #ThisIsBlackGenZ going forward. I think as a creative agency helping people engage diverse audiences, most of our clients want to do work, particularly around diversity hires. I think the goal is to have somebody to support that strategically, and I was appointed to do so.

And so now I'm Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging for TapIn. My main focus has really been on getting #ThisIsBlackGenZ off the ground, getting the research done and figuring out how the campaign should look for the rest of the year. There's just so much to do. But even when it’s stressful, I love that it's a really meaningful project. Jemma: What are you most excited about in the next year in this new role? Is it the research?

Tiana: I think one thing I'm really excited about is seeing what people do with the findings this year. I think even up until now, I have people who are emailing us like, “Oh, I just finished the report, let's talk about it!” or “Let's see how we use the findings.”

I think I'm intrigued to see how it goes. Also, I think doing D&I work meaningfully means people usually feel uncomfortable about stuff. I think if you don’t feel uncomfortable, maybe we're not doing enough. So I think when we do break down the different facets of Black Gen Z and look at sexuality more and things like that, I'm intrigued to know and see who doesn't quite feel ready. Jemma: Like, which parts of it people are still struggling with?

Tiana: Yeah, that's exactly it! What are the bits that people are still fearful of talking about or where do we need to do more? I think it's also seeing the lengths that businesses are willing to go to actually embed what we find. And I'm excited to see what we find. I'm excited to actually see the outcomes.

Jemma: Inclusivity is something that's incredibly important to you and creating safe spaces. It's a really big question, but why do you feel that this is so important to you? Tiana: I think it's important because it's hard to imagine what it would look like if the world was genuinely safe and inclusive for everyone. Just take the UK - whether it be people with disabilities, working-class people, migrants, or refugees - I can't actually imagine what it would look like for Britain to be truly inclusive. I think that is what spurs me on. If I can't even imagine it, if I can't even comprehend what this could look like, it must be a really big issue.

It also comes from a real human place. Why should anyone’s experience be different to anyone else's? You're just born into the world with all these things, and you have to spend your whole life fighting against them.

I also think that there's so much value in the general development of people, specifically when they learn to talk about issues of D&I. It helps people learn about accountability, self-reflection and how to communicate in a way that’s more effective. There's so much that can come from this kind of work. I think it just builds strength within people. Like, I can't imagine how a business would actually look if everyone got a seat at the table. How much more would we be able to achieve? How much more would we be? How much more creative would we be?

To keep up with #ThisIsBlackGenZ and what Tiana is doing at TapIn, check out the social pages listed below!

Tiana’s LinkedIn:

This is Black Gen Z Instagram:

This is Black Gen Z Website:

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