Career Tips: I wish I received this advice early on in my career
In my early 20's, do you know what question always came to mind when preparing for an interview? It was, “How should I wear my hair?” These were the days before GHDs when curls and kinks were not on-trend, and for some reason, I believed that wearing my natural hair would either look unprofessional or draw too much attention. Perhaps this was due to attending predominantly white educational institutions or seeing many professionals smoothing out their curls, braids or afros.
1. Be yourself and own your authenticity (curls, kinks, Jollof and all)
Let's set the record straight. Your natural hair, worn and styled however you desire, should never be a reason not to be offered a role or opportunity. If it is, the issue is with that company's poor diversity and inclusive practices rather than your suitability and capability.
Be authentic and be yourself, even if you are the only person in the room with a delightful darker shade. We may have to adapt at times, change how we dress to ensure it's in line with the company culture, and we may swap last night's Jerk chicken for lunch to go with colleagues. Adapting should never take away from our authenticity.
2. Seek Mentors to show you what’s possible
One way to help you harness this is by seeking a mentor or role model on your journey. I have benefited massively by having a professional mentor. It provided me with answers to many questions I could not ask elsewhere, such as dealing with racism in the workplace or positioning myself to receive a higher salary or promotion as the only black employee in the workplace.
Having a mentor was fantastic; having a mentor who was also a professional black woman who worked in a predominantly white and male-led sector was indeed an invaluable experience. I encourage everyone to seek out a mentor or role model sooner rather than later.
A role model or mentor can first show you that it is possible. They can offer valuable insights to help you navigate throughout your career as a young black professional.
3. Focus on developing resilience and a growth mindset
Mentors and role models across all industries also show us the value of having a growth mindset and ensuring that the focus is continuous learning and development. Paired with resilience, this is a soft skill not to be dismissed or overlooked.
My ability to bounce back from rejection, learn from mistakes and pivot where necessary has accelerated my career and growth. By viewing every role as a learning opportunity, I became a manager at 23 and Senior Leader at 28, despite the avalanche of rejection emails in my archive and endless tales of awful interview experiences.
Cultivating a growth mindset and always being open to learning is vital in any role, whether you are a junior recruit or Senior Leader. You can find out more on developing this by watching the webinar, co-hosted by PwC Cultivating A Growth Mindset.
4. Accept that bias exists and prepare for those challenges
Finally, it is essential to recognise that racism exists, especially in the workplace. Industries still have such a long way to go, and some are progressing better than others. (See how Threads Styling is tackling this in Beyond the Style)
1. Accepting that racism exists does not accept that racism is ok
2. Accepting this uncomfortable truth prepares you for times that may otherwise have shocked or blindsided you
3. You are not the mascot for #blacklivesmatter, and you decide how much or how little you would like to vocalise race issues at work and if you are willing or not to answer the questions of your curious colleague and potential ally
5. Find and follow your purpose
Following your purpose and growing in your career is exhilarating, empowering and truthfully, with the BYP network, the best time and place to be a young black professional. Owning your authenticity and who you are is what will set you apart. Finding a mentor or role model is like using a cheat sheet to navigate your early career.
Being resilient, working hard and cultivating a growth mindset is necessary if you want to grow and succeed.
Lastly, prepare to be othered and occupy spaces where you are the only one who looks like you; that may mean that you landed first and pave the way for many more to join.
To join an extraordinary global network of young Black professionals navigating similar challenges and to ensure access to a host of resources, events, and opportunities to help you navigate your career journey, sign up for the BYP newsletter here to receive regular insight, advice, news and views.