For many successful Black professionals, being the only one in the room is the norm. While it's unacceptable for white-dominated industries to overlook a commitment to diversity, many Black people still manage to thrive in reputable organizations in the face of racial discrimination and racist practices.
Still, the lack of diversity in corporate America is inconceivable. Today, there are only four Black CEOs overseeing Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. and just 3.2% of Black people assume senior leadership positions at major U.S. companies. And to put these statistics in perspective, Black people account for 12% of the U.S. population, so clearly there's work to be done.
Cincinnati-based career expert Sherry Sims, who has held roles in human resources at companies like AT&T and CVS, tells Good Housekeeping the time is now for corporations to put diversity on the forefront. Sims is the founder of the Black Career Women's Network, which empowers Black women with networking opportunities along with resources for everything from job-hunting to mastering how to ask for a promotion or raise. And considering her work and years-long advocacy for Black female professionals, she believes companies can make a change once and for all by following a few steps.
Embrace cultural differences.
According to Sims, the first step businesses should take to be more inclusive is to make a concerted effort to celebrate cultural differences. "With America being this melting pot of different nationalities, a great way to integrate and understand those differences is starting within the workplace," Sim says. It can be as simple as acknowledging a day that's important to a specific culture—Juneteenth is just one example—or supporting diversity training sessions to educate colleagues about the dynamics of race in an office setting.
Review your hiring practices.
Diverse candidates should be considered for job opportunities across every level of a company, especially senior leadership positions. "People want to work where they see themselves, so we need to have an inclusive, diverse group of people who bring various perspectives to the table," Sims says.
But Black professionals should rely on their network, too.
"Referrals are king—they're gold and hold a lot of weight in organizations, if they're coming from the right person," Sims says. When a job becomes available, Black employees should be proactive in sharing the opportunity with qualified professionals in their network who might be interested in applying.
Don't expect Black employees to do all the work.
As companies are now eager to execute diversity initiatives, Black employees shouldn't feel obligated to bear the burden of this work. "If you're going to jump on the bandwagon, make sure it's going to be beneficial to your career," Sims urges Black professionals. Boosting your resume by highlighting the ways you've contributed to your company's diversity efforts is a win for a Black employee.
To put it simply, diversity is good for business. Diversity can help foster creativity and productivity and enable businesses to establish stronger connections with their communities. If more companies enact clear goals to value Black employees and combat racial injustice, everyone would benefit.
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