How leaders can aid Black career progression at work

When leaders support diverse talent, their actions are felt through the business

In 2022, there are no Black CEOs leading a company on the FTSE 100. While this might sound rather surprising, it paints a rather stark picture of the work that remains to be done in getting more Black and ethnically diverse professionals into senior positions in the workplace.

I was in the fast lane of my corporate career and realised how few Black colleagues there were in senior positions. This was the case because many Black professionals were making some classic mistakes in the workplace: focusing on doing good work but not on communicating the value of the work to the relevant stakeholders, not advocating for themselves and so much more. Even more importantly, sometimes they were just stuck in systems that offered little hope of career progression.

Conscious of the problem, I realised I wanted to do something about it, and so, I founded Career Masterclass, an e-learning platform for lifelong career planning, giving practical advice, motivation and self-development for ambitious career-minded people to unlock their potential. 

Through the work we do at Career Masterclass, we have curated tips and pointers for employers who want to support Black career progression.

1. Black career progression: constant education

Being a lifelong learner is important for personal growth. If leaders realise there are gaps in their knowledge about race, diversity and inclusion, being proactive about closing those gaps is critical. It’s important for managers and colleagues to be aware of issues of race and ethnicity within the workplace and in wider society. Structured training around inclusion within the organisation and ongoing education as individuals and teams about conscious and unconscious bias and cultural diversity will help forge inclusive workplaces.

2. Listen and learn from their experiences

Everyone’s lived experience is different and the only way to build a truly inclusive team is for leaders to learn from these different perspectives. Having an open-door policy within the organisation, and developing a culture where conversations about inclusion can flourish can make a huge difference. If leaders listen to people’s experiences, respect their perspectives and try to build understanding from every interaction, these will go a long way in building an organisation that offers Black talent the support needed to thrive.

3. Insist on having a diverse pool of new hire candidates

Line managers and leaders can insist on having a diverse pool of candidates from HR during recruitment. The wider the talent pool to draw from, the more likely firms are to have a diverse workplace. The argument of not being able to find qualified Black candidates just doesn’t hold up in 2022. There are a plethora of resources available, from specialist talent sourcing organisations to AI solutions which are designed to help organisations to overcome individual and organisational biases in the recruitment process.

Leaders must ensure that their organisations have regular audits of the recruitment process and use data to uncover any discrimination or inequity. HR leaders can ensure that job descriptions are free from any non-inclusive wording. Tools such as LinkedIn can be used effectively to widen the candidate pool and university alumni offices can be engaged to grant access to their network of qualified ethnically diverse graduates.

4. Interview and hire qualified Black professionals at higher levels

Black professionals are usually found at more junior levels, and find themselves stuck in the ‘frozen middle’, and unable to progress. There is a disparity between the proportion of ethnically diverse professionals in employment and those in managerial roles and this needs to be addressed head-on. 

CEOs especially should be aware of the barriers to diverse talent and work to remove these within their organisations. It is important to ensure that there are specific policies and a structured career planning process in place to ensure career development opportunities are available to all. Leaders must ensure that in calibration sessions within the organisation, there is a diverse range of voices so that any decisions about promotions or career progression are as inclusive as possible. 

5. Become an ally

Allyship is about advancing a culture of inclusion through positive, intentional efforts and should be a lifelong process of growing and learning, building relationships based on trust and amplifying the voices of minority groups. It is important for those in leadership roles to take responsibility to promote a culture of allyship and make changes that can let everyone focus on what success means to them. Leaders must speak up when they notice discrimination or see something that isn’t right. They must also speak up at calibration sessions, where Black colleagues can be pigeonholed with certain statements such as ‘too aggressive’, or ‘too competitive’. They must make a practice of probing the reasoning behind these stereotypical statements and push back for clarification where necessary.  

6. Mentor or sponsor to aid Black career progression

Ensuring that Black talent has inspiring mentors and sponsors appropriate for their desired career path is a very important tool organisations can deploy to support their ethnically diverse talent. Mentors are important in the career journey. They can give the necessary coaching to scale through career challenges and open up access to training and development opportunities. A sponsorship relationship is slightly different, as sponsors can push professionals to the next level of their careers, opening doors and connecting them to opportunities that will facilitate career growth. Both relationships are critical for career growth.

Finally, ask your Black colleagues about their work and goals outside of the workplace to support and promote them when necessary. When leaders actively support and champion diverse talent, their actions reverberate through the wider ecosystem, bringing the society one step closer to change, and helping Black career progression is one way to do it.

Bukola Adisa is the Founder of Career Masterclass, which helps organisations develop and retain Black and ethnically diverse talent.

In this article, you learned that:

  • In 2022, there are no Black CEOs leading a company on the FTSE 100
  • Leaders can insist on having a diverse pool of candidates from HR during recruitment
  • Having an open-door policy and a listening culture around inclusion topics can make a difference

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