The importance of Black role models for young Black professionals

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Seeing someone like you, doing something that you would love to do,  at a more senior level can be the most empowering and motivational resource for anyone in the early stages of their careers. 

It starts with understanding who a role model is.  This definition of a role model in vocabulary.com is as good a definition as any – it says that  “A role model is someone others look to as a good example. A role model is someone who is worthy of imitation”. It provides a great clue as to the importance of Black role models for young Black Professionals.  So why is this important? Here are some reasons why:

It impacts performance

Right from an early age being coached and tutored by someone who looks and sounds like you can impact your performance, as highlighted in this article by the NCTQ which shares research on the impact on the performance of students who have a teacher that looks like they do. This carries forward into the world of work today where having a line manager and boss who looks and sounds like you can also impact performance positively. 

It attracts talent

Visible black role models in senior roles in an organisation can be a draw for talent because of the message it gives. It sends a strong message not only as an indicator of an organisation and prospective employer who takes inclusion seriously but it also signals to the black professional that there, he/she/they can make a career within that business.  This article in the FT shares an example from the life of Ann-Marie Imafidon, Founder of Stemettes, of how having black role models to look up to and emulate can influence the career direction of young black professionals in a positive way. And in a world in which the availability of strong talent is continually challenging, being able to demonstrate in every way that you have a business that not only provides exciting work for young black professionals, but also provides opportunities for career advancement and increasing influence is one way of ensuring that the talented black professional in the market takes a closer look at what you have to offer.

It fuels ambition

There have been to date very few black senior leaders in the C-Suite, Chief Executives in the FTSE, and even fewer Black females. Yet, the visible presence of them fuels ambition and presents a vision of what can be possible to influence and make a difference from the highest levels of organisation.  Ambition is motivational and builds resilience when that role model is accessible, because through the sharing of relatable life stories, the ups and downs of career journeys, obstacles encountered and overcome, the toolkit of resources, ideas, tips and “how tos’’ for the young black professional expands and the journey ahead looks increasingly doable.

It adds power to mentoring and sponsorship

The power of having a mentor – that confidential sounding board with whom you can test the substance of your ideas and the rigour of your thinking – and a sponsor who is your advocate and internal agent ensuring you are put forward for those career-enhancing and advancing opportunities is significant.  There is no argument on that.  However, when that mentor and/or sponsor is a black senior leader, the power and impact is doubled. It is the power of helping one’s own whilst helping the wider community. It is confidence building, it enables challenge from a place of empathy and because whilst each person is inherently individual, there is one similarity that cannot be ignored, it is the similarity of walking in the same skin colour.  A young black professional wrestling with career choices and direction when challenged by someone who looks like them will feel even more understood and heard.

It inspires

Hearing about the success stories of black leaders, the difference they are making in their organisations, in the communities their organisations serve and in society inspires others and importantly the young black professional to follow their own dreams and passions. Many are inspired to do something that makes a difference now even in the early stages of their careers. Many are not waiting to get to the senior echelons of power to start contributing and this is the influence of seeing the accomplishments of others like them at the most senior levels making a difference.  They don’t have to wait. They are doing so now. They are not only pursuing credible side hustles, they will feel even more like they belong and can fully contribute in their current environments, as reported here in Stylist magazine. Having black role models not only inspires the black professional in the early stages of his/her/their career, but it also inspires other young professionals because the message it sends is that this is an environment in which ALL our talent, regardless of who they say they are, can thrive.

Yetunde HofmannAbout the author

Yetunde Hofmann is a Board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for black women. Find out more at http://www.solarisleadership.com/

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