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How to succeed in business as a black woman

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“I genuinely believe in the art of unlearning,” says Oliemata O’Donoghue, regional director at HSBC UK. “There are some things we were taught as children that have become problematic in our professional lives. That’s why it’s important to walk into rooms feeling like an equal.

“I know we’ve been brought up to work hard and keep our heads down. So we can be timid, and aren’t always confident enough to back ourselves up. But no one knows you better than you, so be your own sponsor.

“Also be purposeful and choose who you want to network with and why. Find out what resource groups are available in your organisations or industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And remember there’s a seat for you at the table.”

But for Winnie Annan-Forson, vice president of diversity and inclusion in the UK, Europe and the Middle East at Barclays, pejorative stereotypes such as the “angry black woman” have stopped people confidently advocating for themselves. “That’s why there’s something amazing about being naive early on in your career,” says Annan-Forson. “During my first five years, if anybody said something awkward or made me feel uncomfortable, I didn’t always put it down to my race. It carries you through these microaggressions and helps you navigate the place of work.”

“I find it so annoying. It’s a lazy narrative,” says O’Donoghue. Before she could finish asking who else was tired of being called angry, arms across the room spiked up. “I grew up in a house with five girls and one boy, and I remember my mum used to always tell me: ‘You are strong. You are creative. You are resourceful.’ So when I think or hear about this narrative, I counteract it with that.” Simply put: “Go where you are valued,” adds Isaacs‐Lowe.

Over the last decade, the number of black female entrepreneurs smashing glass ceilings and pushing boundaries in the UK has skyrocketed. British-Jamaican Sharmadean Reid has been prominent in the business world since starting WAH Nails, and now her latest venture, The Stack. Despite raising over £5.5 million in funding, she explains why money doesn’t solve all problems.

“There are still various hurdles you face as a black woman in business,” she says. “For example, how do you build a team that can respect you and essentially overturn their preconceived notions that they’ve been fed about how black women are? That’s tough.

“But it’s given me two superpowers: to always understand the underdog and how to empathise with others.”

Kike Oniwinde, founder and chief executive officer of BYP Network, agrees. But her biggest challenge has been the need to be visible. “I just know that it has to be done so that people can buy into your business, but sometimes it can be so exhausting.”

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