Running the race towards diversity in the workplace

A huge thank you to Pride Magazine for featuring me in the April Issue and feature ‘Who Runs the World’. It’s truly an honour.

Did you know that there are more men named John than there are women in leadership positions within the FTSE 100 companies? Furthermore, only 23% are women and less than 1% are black women. Niyonu Agana-Burke, Editor at Pride Magazine wasn’t exaggerating when she wrote ‘a black woman in charge in the workplace in the UK is a unicorn’.

Worryingly the gap in Britain between people of colour and those rising to senior management level positions is widening. What’s more frightening is how this rarely gets reported and as a result, we are failing to see the scale of the problem. I was born in Uganda and travel back frequently to visit my family, most of whom own their own business or are at a management level or above. Therefore, that level of success has always been set for me. It’s what I’ve grown up seeing and believing in.

However, for many young women of colour growing up in the UK, examples of good leadership and success are few and far in between. It’s a severe societal failing to live in a diverse country and never see anyone that looks like you be professionally successful. I know many parents who struggle to create experiences that showcase successful (in my case African) people to supplement the deficiency of progressive images of black people in Western social and mainstream media.

Where do we start?

diversity inclusion black women equality afroblush raceThough diversity and cultural inclusion in the workplace is a multifaceted topic, tackling it shouldn’t be viewed like a fire-breathing dragon that needs slaying. Positive change always starts by taking a few small steps in the right direction. The journey will eventually become self-sustaining as positive outcomes fuel more momentum!

My current position is at a senior management level, so I’m no CEO or FTSE 100 Vice President. However, I do have experience working across private business and agencies, in addition to freelance consultancy, where I outsourced professionals for my own self-funded projects. I’ve hired and fired people. I have also been hired and fired, and know what it is to feel on edge and ‘culturally set apart’ from everyone else.

So with that said, I’ve thought of a few things that everyone (employers and employees) can consider when taking the first steps to encouraging a more culturally inclusive environment.

Don’t shy away from diversity during the recruitment process.

For recruiters, make the job more compelling to job hunters by emphasising details that will attract a more diverse candidate pool. Be culturally sensitive when describing what makes your company a good place to work. For job hunters, don’t hesitate to express your preference for a diverse work environment and clearly state your reasons why. I personally believe that a diverse workforce fosters new ways of thinking, and encourages companies to reach out to wider customers and business opportunities.

Keep a record and openly discuss your performance and contributions.

For employees finding themselves in a culturally uncomfortable environment, I know it can be difficult to internalise your accomplishments when you feel ‘out of place’. Keeping and communicating a record of achievement will help alleviate any feelings that you’re unsuitable and don’t deserve your position and success.

diversity inclusion black women equality afroblush race 1

Broaden criteria when necessary.

When companies look for someone to fill a CEO seat, they usually look for a CEO. That expectation automatically eliminates 90% of the women in the market. Corporate leaders need to start thinking more broadly about the actual skill sets they need in executive and senior management levels.

Give new hires a reason to stay.

For employers, devote an equal amount of time and effort in retaining new employees. Familiarise them with the new job and company culture. The first few weeks can be the most difficult time for any employee. It’s important to show they have a future in the company. Clearly communicate opportunities for advancement. Set up mentoring programs to build close working relationships.

Although my suggestions only skim the surface of the efforts that need to be put in place. Once the issue of inclusion is on firmly positioned as a priority, the path to promotion for women can more easily be addressed. The benefits of diversity are unquestionable, it breeds innovation, creativity, and quick problem resolutions. If we want to finally make real progress on promoting more women, especially women of colour, after decades of talking about it, we need to step up and take decisive action to make it happen.

If you would like to know more about diversity in the workplace, it’s importance and how it contributes to better business, the McKinsey report Diversity Matters is a great place to start. You can also ready my feature on diversity in marketing and research in the April Issue of Pride Magazine:

(If you can’t find it, drop me an email/tweet and I’ll send it to you).