June Sarpong: 'It's important that where diversity is concerned we have a broad, intersectional conversation'

This article is from 2018

Better together

Award-winning broadcaster champions diversity in her first book, Diversify. Ahead of her Book Festival appearance, she chats inspiration, advocacy and solutions

Presenter, panellist, MBE, and now writer, June Sarpong is fast becoming a force for change. Diversify is her first book of non-fiction and the sum of her passionate advocacy for better diversity and integration throughout society and the workplace.

'Diversify came from something that happened when was I was filming in America,' Sarpong tells us. 'I was on set when a young guy appeared who was covered head to toe in tattoos and it was a funny thing – I just felt really uncomfortable around him. He hadn't behaved menacingly or aggressively towards me but I was making all of these assumptions in my head about who he was. As a woman of colour, I know what it's like to be judged about things that have nothing to do with who you are and in that moment, I was able to see that from both perspectives because I was doing it myself to someone else.'

Sarpong's realisation was the catalyst behind Diversify. Working with Oxford University, the book's research took a year to complete and the writing another year after that. Between starting the book in 2015 and its first draft in 2017, the world went through some changes.

'We were in the process of starting the research and then all of the insanity started. Brexit, then Trump … you couldn't make this stuff up! Every day there was something else in the news and I'd be on the phone to my editor asking "Can we add this?! Can we add that?!" We have a paperback coming out next year so god knows what will be in that.'

Sarpong pitched Diversify as a book of solutions. 'I wanted it to be as prescriptive as possible,' she says. 'I think a lot of the time we focus on the problems and we all know the problems because we experience and we see how unfairly society is structured. But what we're not doing is looking at what we can do to address that.'

The book is divided into sections, each addressing a different type of diversity. However, it was essential to Sarpong that Diversify was intersectional. 'It's very important that where diversity is concerned we have a broad, intersectional conversation,' Sarpong says firmly. 'So often the focus is gender and race, and we act as if those are the only two groups discriminated against, when actually there are so many other groups. Diversity is very nuanced. The experience of a privileged white woman is very different to the experience of a working class woman of colour.'

Diversify has come at just the right time. While the book is packed with academic research proving that better diversity is, socially and financially, a positive attribute to communities and the work place, Sarpong is adamant that the personal is just as important as the facts. 'My own life represents many of the themes of the book. I'm the child of immigrants and I grew up in a working-class environment, so my own story is one of social mobility. It was important to weave my own story into the book and that's what enables me to understand both the issues and the solutions because my life represents the solutions. And that's what Diversify is.'

Charlotte Square Gardens, 15 Aug, 11.45am, £12 (£10).

June Sarpong

Studies demonstrate that greater diversity leads to good business, more innovation and better decisions. So why do some governments advocate less diversity? In her impassioned book Diversify, renowned broadcaster June Sarpong draws on research from Oxford University and the London School of Economics to make a compelling…