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How to Support the Career Growth of Black Employees

Melissa JamesBy Melissa James, Chief Growth Officer at IBIS

After the death of George Floyd in 2020, many leaders began to wonder if their employees were experiencing racial inequities within their workplace.

Leaders were curious to learn from Black employees.

  • Have you experienced racism?
  • Have you experienced racism at this organization?

The answer to these questions from Black employees was a resounding “Yes!” and “Yes, this has been happening here, and it’s been happening for a long time.” Black employees shared a plethora of stories. Some shared stories about the difficulties they experienced during the hiring process and the pushback they received when asking for a promotion.

The impact of racism at work has negatively impacted the career growth of Black employees. Many organizations were surprised to learn that racism existed in their workplace.

Organizations rushed to hold listening sessions to learn from Black employees about their experiences with race at work. As a result, organizations focused on education and awareness about racism at work. They hoped that awareness of racism at work would solve the issue. Awareness is a valuable component to addressing a long term issue, however it does not replace changed behavior and mindset. Many organizations are still struggling with how to take action in the workplace, even with the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death on the of Black employees to drive systematic change?

We need to rethink how we support Black employees. In order for Black employees to succeed we need to rethink career development plans. Generally speaking, a career development plan focuses on acquiring more educational skills aligned to an individual’s career interests. While that is important there is a huge piece of career growth that needs attention.

Leadership should also be aware of the different dimensions of diversity and how it impacts the career trajectory of Black employees to best support the next generation of high potential employees. This level of awareness will have a positive impact on the changed behaviors and mindset around employee development. The organization should also be asking underrepresented employees what they need and want to be set up for career success.

I am calling for a new approach to supporting the career growth of Black employees. In 2022, Black employees need personalized career growth plans that take into account the dimensions of diversity that are affecting their career trajectory. For myself, as a Jamaican-American Black woman, the dimensions of diversity that affected my career growth were my ethnicity, race, gender, age, educational background, and my social-economic background.

For example, my ethnicity played a large part in the missing foundational pieces of my career growth. Let me explain, I am the daughter of two West Indian immigrants that never talked about work at home. My parents saw work as a means to an end. They had four children and were working two jobs each and everyday. They were working to survive and put food on the table. They never had the privilege to think about career growth. I needed a career growth plan that took this into account. I needed a major shift in mindset and values around my relationship with work. I needed to define career success for myself. I needed to learn how to find my passion when I didn’t know I was allowed to have a passion because my social economic status never gave me the privilege to focus on passion. I need a plan to align my passion to my career ambitions. I need a plan that taught me how to be visible in the workplace, and make my name mean something. This level of self awareness is critical to career success. It is important for me to know this as an individual, but also for my manager to be an effective coach to me to provide the appropriate level of guidance and direction.

I created “When Are You Going To Get A Real Career: A Guide to Designing a Career You Would Be Proud Of!” as a way to help the doers of the world who are looking for guidance and a blueprint on career success. This book is a roadmap for millennials of color starting out in their career and for the experienced executive crafting their next move. Shared stories and experiences provide insightful knowledge and steps for anyone navigating different aspects of their career.

Melissa James is the Chief Growth Officer at IBIS Consulting Group. She works in partnership with executives to design and implement Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategies to help their organizations grow into their diversity best practices.