SmartestEnergy celebrates Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, Claudia McIntosh, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at SmartestEnergy, shares some inspirational figures in black history and how SmartestEnergy used Black History Month to educate and celebrate the contribution of black heritage and culture.

October marks Black History Month which was first celebrated in America in the 1920s. The first Black History Month in the UK was celebrated in 1987 and was arranged by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, a journalist and pan-African activist who came to the UK from Ghana as a refugee in 1984.

This year, in line with SmartestEnergy’s mission to empower a greener generation, we would like to highlight the impactful work of black scientists, civic leaders, conservationists, and activists in advancing our environment and communities.

Dr. Suzanne Pierre is the founder and lead investigator of the Critical Ecology Lab. She established an interdisciplinary research nonprofit to investigate how "invisible, unjust systems have led to the current environmental crises."

Dr. Wangari Maathai, a notable Kenyan activist, was the first woman in the region to earn a doctorate and also the first African woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. In 1977, she founded a community-focused organisation, particularly empowering women, to address environmental conservation issues.

Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the "father of environmental justice," is a prominent scholar in the field of environmental injustices and racism. Currently, Dr. Bullard serves as a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy and is the Director of the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University.

SmartestEnergy celebrated Black History Month with an internal event where we were joined by three guest speakers. As this year’s UK theme is ‘Celebrating our sisters’ we incorporated World Mental Health Day (10th October) and had three inspiring Black, female mental health experts join us and inspire in depth conversation on the intersect between race and wellness in the workplace. Maria Agnes, CBT Therapist at Vita Health Group, initiated a conversation about microaggression and how it is related to discrimination. We discussed examples of microaggression particularly when it comes to race, culture, faith, or ethnicity and how they impact individuals at their workplace. Maria presented the results of a recent meta-analysis study which shows that microaggression in the workplace can lead to depressive symptoms such as eating disorder, burnout, sleep complaints, PTSD, and other physical and mental health issues. She introduced us to the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) model as a tool to help manage anxiety and understand the emotional cycles we go through.

Our next guest was Jenny Okolo, an occupational therapist who works in mental health and forensics, and clinical commissioning. She is also a public speaker and has participated in a number of Ted X talks. Jenny spoke about the unique experiences of black women in the workplace and how their mental health and well-being are impacted. She shared her career path as a healthcare assistant struggling to progress due to discrimination. Jenny spoke about the not-so-obvious signs of poor mental health in the workplace that are harder to identify.

Lastly, we were joined by Nadine Robinson, an educator and coach, who guided us to techniques such as Journal Therapy, that can be used to bridge the gap between yourself and others. She emphasised the importance of self-reflection, boundary setting, and support seeking. Nadine also covered the topic of generational trauma and bias and highlighted the importance of education about the historical context and systematic injustices.

At SmartestEnergy, we do our best to celebrate the diversity of our people and give them a voice. Therefore, for a first year we conducted a global DE&I survey which reached 81% submission rate globally. We believe that educating ourselves and having conversations about well-being and DE&I has a great impact on us as a team as well as individuals! As an organisation, we’re committed to take on employee feedback to create a positive change and a community where all are welcome and celebrated.