For many successful black professionals, being the only one in the room is the norm. While it is unacceptable for white-dominated industries to neglect a commitment to diversity, many blacks continue to thrive in reputable organizations in the face of racial discrimination and racist practices.
Yet the lack of diversity in American businesses is inconceivable. Today, there are only four black CEOs who oversee Fortune 500 companies in the United States, and only 3.2% of Blacks hold management positions in large American companies. And to put these statistics in perspective, blacks represent 12% of the American population, so it is clear that there is work to be done.
Cincinnati-based career expert Sherry Sims, who has held human resources positions in companies like AT&T and CVS, says Good Housekeeping now is the time for businesses to put diversity first. Sims is the founder of the Black Career Women’s Network, which gives black women networking opportunities and resources for everything from job hunting to mastering how to apply for a promotion or a raise. And given her work and her advocacy for years for professional black women, she believes that businesses can change once and for all by following a few steps.
Embrace cultural differences.
According to Sims, the first step that businesses should take to be more inclusive is to make a concerted effort to celebrate cultural differences. “As America is a melting pot of different nationalities, a great way to integrate and understand these differences starts in the workplace,” says Sim. It can be as simple as recognizing a day that is important to a specific culture – Juneteenth is just one example – or supporting diversity training sessions to educate colleagues about race dynamics in an office .
Review your hiring practices.
Various candidates should be considered for employment opportunities at all levels of a business, particularly management positions. “People want to work where they see themselves, so we need to have an inclusive and diverse group of people who bring diverse perspectives to the table,” says Sims.
But black professionals should also rely on their network.
“References are king, they are gold and have a lot of weight in organizations, if they come from the right person,” says Sims. When a position becomes available, black employees should be proactive in sharing the opportunity with qualified professionals in their network who may be interested in applying.
Do not expect black employees to do all the work.
With companies now keen to implement diversity initiatives, black employees should not feel pressured to carry the burden of this work. “If you want to jump on the bandwagon, make sure it benefits your career,” Sims advises black professionals. Boosting your CV by highlighting the ways in which you have contributed to your company’s diversity efforts is a victory for a black employee.
To put it simply, diversity is good for business. Diversity can foster creativity and productivity and allow businesses to build stronger ties with their communities. If more companies adopt clear goals to value black employees and combat racial injustice, everyone would benefit.
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