Can mentoring help more black Britons get board jobs?

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Blacks are under-represented in leadership positions in Britain’s private sector, with none of them occupying the top three ranks of a company listed on the FTSE 100 last year. Can Mentoring and Internship Initiatives Help Close the Gap?

* Black Britons are under-represented in top corporate positions

* Lack of role models, contacts hamper career progression

* Mentoring, internship programs aim to bridge the gap

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, October 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As a black teenager growing up in south London, Kofi Siaw had a problem – he dreamed of a high-flying career as a city professional, but didn’t no contact and few role models to help him get there.

Frustrated to see young black men portrayed in the media primarily in connection with crime, Siaw wanted to show young people like him that they could aspire to break into white-dominated fields – and reach the top positions as well.

Working with the Urban Synergy Youth Mentorship Program, he helped organize a series of events featuring black professionals. Even for him, the meetings were a revelation. “I remember back then being surprised to see a black pilot. I was like, brah, are there black people who fly planes?” Said Siaw, who is now 29 and works as a senior partner. at the audit firm EY.

“That’s when it got me thinking ‘I have to think beyond Deptford’,” he said, referring to the inner city area where he grew up.

Blacks make up around 3% of the population of England and Wales, but only occupy 1.5% of managerial positions in the private sector, according to an analysis released last year by Business in the Community , a charity.

No black was in a top-three position at a company listed on the FTSE 100 stock index last year, according to a report by recruiting firm Green Park.

“You have a lot of obstacles to overcome,” said Warren Wellington, co-founder and chairman of the Black British City Group for professionals working in the City of London.

Those who manage to break into prestigious white-dominated industries may find their progress hampered by a lack of representation and mentorship, as well as often subtle but persistent negative stereotypes about race, he said.

“If racism robs you of an opportunity or a chance to improve yourself, then that’s really a problem for me,” he added.

Mentoring

With little sign of increasing black representation on UK boards, the mentoring and internship programs offer practical steps to help black youth and entrepreneurs develop their skills and find opportunities.

Among the most ambitious are the 10,000 Black Interns, which were launched last year with an initial commitment to place 100 young people and which has rapidly grown to encompass more than 700 companies in 24 industries.

Of the more than 500 interns placed so far, around 30% have been offered a job or extended internship, said co-founder Dawid Konotey-Ahulu.

“All of the founders found that our WhatsApp or LinkedIn is literally exploding every day with people just saying ‘this is amazing and it was a game changer for me’,” he added.

Many of those who have launched such initiatives have said that they have been driven to act by their own struggles to build a career path.

“As a young black person myself, I remember when I was their age and didn’t have a mentor,” said David Wurie of Bright Exchange, a working nonprofit mentorship and internship program. with 15 to 19 year olds. years.

“I wanted to give back based on what I missed.”

The lack of black senior executives in many large companies means that they are often seen as “inaccessible” and not to them by young black people, he said, while companies themselves are generally unaware that they are have this picture.

Mentoring organizations said that despite companies’ commitment to improving diversity, they should do more to actively reach out to minority and underrepresented groups.

However, the growing investor interest in environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) programs helps provide essential funding, said Akil Benjamin, who leads the Mentor Black Business program for entrepreneurs of all ages.

“I know that I am fulfilling and fulfilling a large part of the ESG commitments of multinational organizations,” he said.

“There is a market need for me now… Without this market imperative, I don’t think that many of these programs would be funded or executed.”

‘UNEVEN PLAYGROUND’

While mentoring initiatives aim to help individuals gain a foot in the door, some activists are calling for more transparency on salaries and progression.

“If there were a level playing field there would be a lot more black, Asian and ethnic minorities at the top because we are as smart as whites,” said Dianne Greyson, founder of the Ethnicity Pay Gap Campaign .

“You are structurally putting challenges in the way of people so that they are not promoted.”

The campaign follows companies that voluntarily share their ethnic pay gap and also calls on the government to force companies to share the data.

“It’s more than a financial issue, it’s a human rights issue. Everyone should be treated fairly,” said Greyson.

Related stories:

Is Britain’s Social Insurance Hike Unfair to Black and Asian Workers?

Young, jobless and black: British minorities are paying the price for the pandemic

“COVID is a red flag”: black entrepreneurs aim to level the playing field

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http: // news .trust.org)

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