- Improving Lives (CSR)
– 29 Oct, 2020
A Look At The Challenges Facing Black Professionals In The Corporate World?
To celebrate Black History Month this October, Chaucer’s BAME Diversity & Inclusion group, UNITED held a companywide panel discussion with influential Black professionals from across the UK & USA. The panelists brought together their collective experiences, from education to professional careers, educating on some of the challenges and obstacles they faced along their journeys whilst showcasing their successes and highlighting the importance of workforce diversity in organisations today.
What were the key take away messages?
The experience of people of Black origin in organisations are different from their non-black colleagues. Here we have high-lighted some of the experiences discussed:
From the early years of the education system, Black people who are brought up in underprivileged areas where they do not get the opportunity to engage with people from other backgrounds, particular White Caucasian, may not get the chance to work on their ability to establish meaningful networks with a diverse pool of people. When they enter the professional world, they become the minority in the workplace, the inability to relate and develop key relationships can be a hinderance to progression.
Once in the professional world, there are challenges including, unconscious biases faced by black people which can add another layer of difficulty in feeling accepted, and in turn, thriving to become the best they can possibly be. Some of the common themes include:
- Codeswitching The term “code switching” refers to an individual’s need or belief that they have to make adjustments to their behavior, mannerisms, personality in order to fit in, particularly in an environment where they be the minority. This is a concept that is common in the professional world, where in the hopes of fitting in, black professionals can feel the pressure to tone down their personalities. Whether warranted or otherwise, there is sometimes a conscious awareness of being different and a desire to blend in seamlessly with other colleagues. Examples of this includes the need to adjust the way one speaks, dresses, hairstyles and even the type of foods they bring into the office for lunch. Code-switching not only has a physiological impact on Black professionals, but It can also hinder performance and can be prevent them from comfortably bringing their authentic selves to work.
- Imposter syndrome Black professionals at all levels and genders can suffer from imposter syndrome which makes it very difficult to put themselves in the spotlight. There can be hesitance in pushing for promotions and leadership positions. This also stems from lack of black representation in senior board positions in many companies.
- Unconscious bias One of the implications of a lack of diversity in the workplace is unconscious bias. Our social backgrounds, cultural values and life experiences all play a part in how we perceive others and make judgements. Black colleagues can be subject to unconscious bias in recruitment, promotion, and general perception because of a lack of understanding of their behavior and mannerisms, again, stemming from diversity issues.
In discussing these issues, we also explored remediation actions that can be practiced by Black professionals and put in place to overcome some of these challenges.
Building a diverse network
In the Black community, particularly African homes, many are brought up with an emphasis on hard work and education being the only key to a successful career. While education and hard work are very important, the benefit of building a professional network is sometimes downplayed. Without building and growing a diverse network, Black people can find themselves at a great disadvantage when it comes to career advancements.
“The fear of tokenism can only be overcome when more of us thrive in our well-earned seats at the decision-making table”.
Tokenism refers to the “practice or policy of making no more than a token effort or gesture, as in offering opportunities to minorities equal to those of the majority”. While certain organisational decisions and efforts may be deemed as tokenism and not a genuine strive to change, they can still present opportunities for black colleagues to capitalise on open doors and break the mold.
“When given a seat at the table in a higher position, take it, go there and own it! You are there because you are great. You are also there to be to help bring other Black professionals up and to be a point of reference for their goals. Do not let anyone make you believe you did not earn your place at the table”.
Taking all these factors into consideration, and by highlighting some of the systematic challenges Black professionals face when in the working environment, it is more important now more than ever that companies look into how they can make the working environment a place where people love to be. A place that is not only diverse and inclusive but an environment that is progressive and willing to learn.
This could be by:
- Creating a safe place for employees of Black origin to bring issues to the table
- Creating a safe place for all employees to ask questions
- Rolling out effective, honest, and continuous unconscious bias training
- Building leadership programmes which aim to improve the diversity in high positions
Change never happens overnight, but by highlighting and creating an environment for discussions like these to be had, it is a start. Thank you to our panelists for sharing such deeply personal experiences and allowing our colleagues to learn and grow through their insight.
" Change does not happen overnight, and it is not an event. It is a systematic and purposeful accumulation of actions that empowers and equips people to want to change."
Akosua is an experienced Consultant having worked across several industries. She has led large-scale change management programmes and implemented engagement and communications strategies across IT systems and business transformation projects.