It’s no secret that the corporate world is dominated by white, predominantly male, leaders.
And while new research suggests that the number of black professionals appointed to senior management and executive positions rose by about 10% last year, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s that much harder for black professionals to reach the top than it is for white professionals.
These strategies will help you begin positioning yourself for senior management opportunities at work.
Debbie Goodman-Bhyat, CEO of executive search firm Jack Hammer, says the key to getting yourself noticed at work is all about going back to basics – and that means starting with your qualifications.
“If your undergraduate degree is a general Social Sciences, Arts or general degree, it’s important – if you’re in a junior to mid-level [position] in your career – to start working on another postgraduate, master’s or MBA degree because it adds substance,” she advises.
“It’s important to start planning while you’re working and as you’re starting to rise because you’re going to get to a point when you’re competing with a market of black and white colleagues who have those degrees.”
If you’re a serial job-hopper, yet you want to plan for career progression to a senior management role, then this practice needs to stop – and fast.
According to Goodman-Bhyat, one of the primary reasons suitably qualified, skilled black professionals are often passed over for top jobs is due to excessive job-hopping and and an unsustained track record.
There’s no quick fix to getting to the top, but career management is a critical component to achieving this. That’s why it’s important – where possible – to stick it out for at least more than two years.
Staying at a company for several years will allow you the opportunity to build up a tangible track record that your employers won’t be able to ignore.
“Manage your career with diligence and prudence,” says Goodman-Bhyat. “Things might not be working out as beautifully, but see it through. It’s okay in your first couple of years if you’re still finding your feet. But by the time you’re in mid-career and you’re still doing these short stints of two years or under at an organisation, it’s going to catch up with you and become problematic as you start wanting to escalate to the next level of senior management and executive career opportunities.
“It’s critical that people be seen to be managing their career well and making good career decisions that are thoughtful and based on their interests, rather than chasing status and money, and responding to every call from every headhunter.”
Another way to make yourself stand out from the crowd is by showing initiative by taking on additional responsibilities.
“It’s important that whenever the opportunity arises, you put your hand up for project roles and team leader roles so you can start gaining a track record and experience around people management and leadership, even in a small context – because that’s how you’ll be seen, that’s how you’ll get an opportunity,” she advises.
If you talk to successful people in business, most will tell you that – in addition to hard work and diligence – they got to where they are because they had somebody more senior rooting for them.
That’s why Goodman-Bhyat suggests you find a mentor at work who will guide you through complicated decisions, someone who’s there to put your name forward when opportunities arise.
“That can be your helping hand. Those sponsors can really be the ones that shine a light on your trail going forward,” she says.