After taking early retirement at the age of 55, I took time out to reflect on some of my personal achievements, and successes of my career.
I had been Project Director for the $250M British Airways global IP program, served as Head of Global Service Operations Management for Orange Business Services, Programme Manager of the £20M Diabetes & Tesco Partnership, as well as setting up the £6M Mind & Co-op Charity Partnership, to name but a few.
In addition, I had paid off my mortgage by the age of 47, and helped both my adult children onto the property ladder.
However, it has only been in the last year via my Business Coaching practice, that I have become more aware from my black clients of the large number of challenges they are either accepting, or finding it difficult to overcome in their own lives and careers. The challenges to their confidence, ability and their career aspirations.
The reason for my surprise, was in part due to my own “no holding me back” mindset. During my career, I have never experienced a situation in which I felt held back from realising what I felt was my full potential. Yes, I have experienced racism, I’ve been told “you sounded European on the phone” when I met the person face to face, or when on a business flight a passenger gave me his coat to hang up, saying he mistook me as ‘staff.
I’ve even been told by a Directors PA, that upon being asked to collect me from the reception for the first time, was told they went back to their director and said “there is nobody down stairs except a black guy.”
All of these incidents at the time were surprising, but I didn’t let any of them effect the way I went about my job, or felt in any they would be barriers to me progressing further.
This mindset combined with my own self belief and confidence has enabled me to reach certain personal, and professional milestones.
However, it is clear to me that due to some individuals working environments, in which they find themselves as the only non-white person, they have not had the support, sponsorship or mentoring, to allow them to fully progress in the careers. Indeed, some feel that they should be “grateful” for the positions they have, and this is further reinforced when talking with friends or family.
This in turn has led some to play down their career aspirations, so as not to come across as too ambitions, thereby not putting themselves forward for new opportunities they otherwise would.
In addition, due to being a non-white has led some of my clients to develop an imposter syndrome mentality, where they feel nervous, or not willing to contribute in meetings, as they feel there point of view will not be taken seriously.
The situations I have had mentioned above are indeed challenges, but they can be overcome, but how?
There are 3 things that I believe if they were adopted and implemented regularly can help individuals overcome these challenges.
- Make yourself known. Nobody is going to blow your trumpet about what you have achieved, or how good you are better than yourself. So you need to become a skilled networker. You need to ensure that when in meetings you are contributing, collaborating and providing constructive feedback. Doing so will give you visibility, and create credibility in both yourself and what you say. This will then give you both exposure to other individuals within your organisation, but also allow your network of contacts to increase outside of your department.
- Review your circle of friends and associates. We are heavily influenced by those whose company we spend most of our time in. If you’re looking at starting a new business for example, then join a business start up group, make contact with those who you either know personally, or can be referred to who have successfully started a business. If you’re seeking a promotion, or looking to move careers, then network with others either in your organisation, or seek advice from those who have successfully pivoted into a new position or role. The point of this is seek knowledge and support from like-minded individuals, who also have the same mindset as yourself, and can provide both insight and encouragement.
- Be willing to take action. I have written a book titled “Think It Plan It Do It Now”! The sole purpose of the book is to get people who have goals or aspirations to take action by thinking through carefully what it is they want to achieve and why, to then formulate a plan based on identifying the different stages involved, and then to have the confidence to then take action to achieve their goal. It’s a formula that sounds simple, but which most people find difficult to do because of two key things distractions, and procrastination. My book is one of many in the ‘self-help’ category. Sadly, most of these books become ‘shelf help’ because that’s were most end up, and as a result goals, and aspirations become unfulfilled.
The points above are useful reminders of what can easily done to help individuals in predominately white organisations, to feel both less insecure of themselves, and in turn develop more of a ‘can do’ approach to allow them to develop their confidence, and take a more proactive approach on any new opportunities they may be interested in.
What should also not be underestimated is the personal achievements of the individual themselves. They should recognise their own “talents” in what they have had to overcome to get where there are today. They should reflect on these challenges, and use that to remind themselves that the only thing holding them back is their own “Self-Belief”. To use that to create a “New Belief” in themselves that, “nothing is going to hold them back”.