My experience of working in HR changed significantly the further I progressed. In some of my early roles I was overlooked for promotion opportunities – sometimes, I believe, because I was an introvert. However, I was good at building relationships and getting the job done. Whenever I received feedback from any of these declined opportunities, I cannot recall any of my line managers supporting me to 'make the grade' for when the next opportunity came along.
One such incident that has stayed with me is when I had gone through a redundancy process and ended up having to take a job at a lower level as a suitable alternative to redundancy. When a 'suitable' HR vacancy came up I applied, as did a white male colleague. He had no HR experience – rather only management experience – and, guess what, he got the job. By this time I had clocked up 11 years of HR experience and had been covering aspects of that role for a period of time. So I was really confused about how he had managed the technical HR questions. He left less than a year later to do something completely different and an external person was brought in, so I eventually left.
It became a familiar occurrence that where my non-black colleagues were friends with those who were making the hiring decisions (always also non-black by the way), or working within that 'clique,' they would almost certainly get the job. This became the norm I accepted for a long time, without realising it. If I wanted progression I would either have to do more – which meant I had to prove my worth – or find an opportunity elsewhere.
As a black HR professional it often feels like you have to be head and shoulders above your non-black colleagues to succeed. Often that means you have to operate at a level above that which you are actually aspiring to attain, just to get there. There is no real development available to help identify and overcome those barriers. And I can only think of a handful of managers or directors I have worked with who genuinely sought to create transparent opportunities for development.
I would like to see more black and ethnic minority leaders who can be role models for those who are hoping to move up the HR ladder – individuals who can provide tangible insights to help others. There needs to be more transparency and accountability within HR itself across organisations, and I don't just mean tokenism. More needs to be done to nurture and develop those who want a seat at the senior leadership table and have the talent for this. There needs to be acceptance of difference and acknowledgement of how that can positively impact the workforce.
Even now I am contemplating my future in HR. Do I really want to continue in a working environment where I have to work twice as hard to be acknowledged and accepted? And where if I am acknowledged, I am scrutinised until I start doubting myself? Let's see what the future holds…
Anonymous people manager