Six ways Black female professionals can advance in their careers

Bukola Adisa from Career Masterclass gives advice on how Black females can get ahead in their careers.

Business Woman


A new study by the Chartered Management Institute shows 71% of Black employees, 66% from Asian backgrounds and 65% of those who identified as LGBTQ+feel they have been overlooked for opportunities at work due to their identity. The poll of 2,000 workers also revealed that, while 23% of typical UK employees said they had experienced hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes at work, this rose to 29% for people from Asian backgrounds, 34% for people from Black backgrounds, 36% for those identifying as LGBTQ+ and 24% for disabled people.

It comes as analysis of pay rates by the Economics Observatory shows that pay rates for Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are lower than those for white women and that the pay gap in 2019 was larger than 25 years earlier.  Bukola Adisa from Career Masterclass outlines here the nature of the problem. While employers need to address the issues, she writes about what individuals can do to ensure their careers are not held back by bias.

In 2022, there are no Black CEOs leading a company on the FTSE 100. While this might sound rather surprising, it paints a rather stark picture of the work that remains to be done in getting more Black and ethnically diverse professionals into senior positions in the workplace.

I was in the fast lane of my corporate career and realised how few Black colleagues there were in senior positions. I found this to be the case for a few reasons. Many Black professionals were making some classic mistakes in the workplace: focusing on doing good work, but not on communicating the value of the work to the relevant stakeholders, not advocating for themselves and so much more. Even more importantly, sometimes they were just stuck in systems that offered little hope of career progression.

Conscious of the problem, I realised I wanted to do something about it, and so I founded Career Masterclass, an e-learning platform for lifelong career planning, giving practical advice, motivation and self-development for ambitious career-minded people to unlock their potential.

Through the work we do at Career Masterclass, we have curated tips and pointers for employees who want to support Black and ethnically diverse talent in the workplace and aid their career progression. Here are my top pieces of advice for Black females who want to get ahead at work:

Believe in yourself and your abilities

Don’t let anything hold you back from speaking up in meetings, hunting for a new role or going for a job promotion. It is irrelevant if you are the only Black person in the room, or the only Black person in your team going for a promotion. Believe in yourself, and back yourself. Surround yourself with role models who look like you and have achieved what you’re aspiring to, so you continue to be inspired by their journey. Professionals like Thiam Tidjane, Bozoma St John, Dara Treseder are Black professionals who are breaking boundaries and can serve as inspiration to you.

Ask for mentorship and sponsorship from more senior colleagues 

Finding mentors and sponsors appropriate for your desired career path is a very important tool for career progression as a Black professional.  Mentors are important for your career journey.  They can give the necessary coaching to help you scale through career challenges and open up access to training and development opportunities.  A sponsorship relationship is slightly different, as sponsors can push you to the next level of your careers, opening doors and connecting you to opportunities that will facilitate career growth.  Both relationships are critical for your career growth.

Invest in networking and building relationships

Research suggests that not all networks are created equal and that there is a difference between network access and network returns. Black job seekers may receive fewer job leads through their social networks than job seekers from other ethnicities, limiting their access to employment opportunities. Black women may also find they don’t have as much social capital as Caucasians which impacts access to job opportunities and eventual career progression. Investing in building valuable networks can be a game changer for you as you aspire to rise up the career ladder.

Build competence

To advance in your career, it’s a given that you must know your onions and be technically competent. Developing a growth mindset, asking questions and learning from others within and beyond your team are quick ways to build competence. Going the extra mile to get certification or an additional qualification can also give you the knowledge you need to stand out.

Tomi Ibirogba, Founder, Career Couch UK says “Knowledge will help you enjoy your work because it boosts your confidence and leads to improved performance. This in turn earns you a seat at the table of rewarding projects, increases your influence and reputation, and ultimately leads to recognition and promotions.”

Knowledge is an asset. It makes it easier to land a job, to succeed in your chosen career path and to prepare for change.

Grow your confidence muscle

Bukola AdisaConfidence is very important to personal and professional progress. Often, people from an ethnic minority background underplay their strengths and skills at work for fear of perpetuating negative stereotypes, such as being labelled aggressive or bossy. Similarly, cultural norms around respect for those in authority could be perceived as timidity and a lack of confidence in the workplace.

However, learning how to communicate with confidence in the workplace can amplify your competence tremendously, and give you a seat at the table. It’s also quite important that you put your hand up and advocate for yourself. Volunteer for committees and for stretch assignments. Just like any muscle in the body, the more you exercise your confidence muscle, the more it grows.

Dupe Akinsiun, a Global Diversity Talent Manager in the UK Chemical Industry says, “Black working professionals in the UK need to build their competence,  haracter,  confidence and composure so much that the colour of their skin doesn’t stand in the way of their career progression.”

Get rid of impostor syndrome

Many Black female professionals struggle with the voice of their own internal critic, which makes them doubt their competence despite evidence that they are highly skilled. If you’re struggling with impostor syndrome, then you’ll almost never put your hand up for opportunities you’d excel at, because you just don’t think you’re good enough, or ready enough.

Silence the critic! Change the internal conversations within your head. Keep a brag list of all your accomplishments and review it often to remind yourself how capable you are of doing great things.

As you practice these six tips, you will see that as you grow in capacity, the opportunities will come knocking at your door, and career growth will be the result.

*Bukola Adisa [pictured above right] is CEO of Career Masterclass and was a judge on this year’s 2021 Top Employer Awards.

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