Interviews

Black History Month: The armed forces shaped my outlook as a young black man

6 min read

31 October 2017

Former deputy editor

In addition to leading the business direction and strategy at his firm, Ed Macnair is keen to foster a solid culture too and brings with him lessons from an armed forces background, which shaped his way of thinking.

Moving on from the blurred lines between racism and sexism, continuing our profiles of black entrepreneurs to highlight Black History Month, we spoke with armed forces veteran, Ed Macnair, CEO at cyber security provider CensorNet.

In addition to leading the business direction on strategy, he is keen to foster a solid culture too and brings with him lessons from an armed forces background, which shaped his way of thinking.

Before moving into technology, his time as a young black man in the armed forces made him realise something – he would need to be twice as good as everyone else. That lesson is something he still carries to this day.

What have been the key business challenges that you faced to get to where you are today?

I think it’s very difficult to pick out specific key business challenges. Like life in general, business can be very challenging. It’s a tough world and you have to be determined, resilient and strong-willed in order to succeed.

Have you ever witnessed racism in the workplace, whether directed at yourself or a colleague?

There is probably still some racism in the workplace. However, speaking from my own experiences, it’s certainly something that was more prevalent in the past. Nowadays, where it does exist, it’s more subtle and, therefore, harder to pin down – especially in the UK.

Having said that, unfortunately the majority of people belonging to an ethnic minority will have witnessed some form of racism in some area of their lives, even if it is more in terms of someone’s attitude towards them.

As for whether I’ve personally witnessed racism in a working environment, I do remember a sales director from another company telling me once that he’d never hire somebody who was black. When I asked for his reasoning, he said that he didn’t think that his customers would like it. 

Now, if a person openly said words to that effect today, it would be a huge shock to anyone hearing them and there would, no doubt, be consequences. However, this incident was some years ago and the man in question was older; he belonged to a different generation and, effectively, a different time.

Of course, I challenged what he’d said and made my views clear, but back then that sort of attitude was more common. I’m not saying people no longer think that way… as I mentioned earlier – it does happen, just not as overtly.

Do you feel as though your heritage has ever been a factor in your career development?

I think it’s very difficult to say categorically whether my heritage has ever been a factor in my career development. I’ve never treated it as a factor and I’ve never expected anyone else to either.

Having said that, I would argue that my heritage has probably made me even more determined to succeed. 

Before transitioning to tech, my background was military in the armed forces. I remember in the early stages of my military career I had a black sergeant who told me once that, as a young black man, I’d have to be twice as good as everybody else in order to be as successful. That is something that has always stuck with me, in both my personal life and my business life.

I guess I’d argue that even though I’ve never viewed my heritage as a factor affecting my career development, it has shaped my attitude and given me resilience and determination; the two traits which I owe many of my achievements to.

How important is an initiative like Black History Month – on a cultural and business level?

On a cultural level, it’s extremely important. Especially from an identity viewpoint and especially when it comes to making young, black people aware of their own culture and history. From that perspective, it’s an event that shouldn’t be ignored.

On a business level, I’d argue it’s less important because, in that area of life, race shouldn’t be a factor. From my own perspective, I’ve always wanted to see a completely level playing field within business, free from any form of discrimination- whether that be negative or positive.

Do you think companies or leaders should be doing anything to highlight Black History Month?

Obviously, it goes without saying that any form of discrimination in the workplace needs to be dealt with and stopped, but personally, I don’t think Black History Month itself is a corporate issue. Undoubtedly, it should be highlighted socially and culturally, but maybe not so much from a business perspective.

Moving on from the armed forces, our next entrepreneur specialises in health and fitness and believes that overt racism is just the tip of the iceberg.

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