I am interviewing professionals, entrepreneurs, students on their perception and experience to be Black or Brown in corporate Brussels. So far, quite often, professionals told me that “being black is to be inferior“.
To be successful with your career, I believe that you should fully embrace who you are and find workplaces where they will expect that you bring your whole self to work.
Here are nuggets of these conversations. I intend to make it a series. Professionals in the below stories asked me not to reveal their name.
“Never again” by Selena (not her real name):
They may hire you in a sales function for example in a call-center but you will not reach management positions when in fact you have the required skills and credentials.
Sometimes, you see people holding management positions who do not have the right skills.
I went from managing a team of 20 people to 100 people.
The following five are my handicap for corporate Brussels:
I am a girl, with origin from Morocco, Muslim, wearing a veil / hijab and I am French speaking. I am fluent in Dutch but not native.
If I was native in Dutch, my chances would be higher. I have passed tests with the VDAB and they wonder why I was going to them as my Dutch is good they found.
There is racism underneath the surface.”
“Being the only Black employee” by Nathalie (not her real name):
“I started working 20 years ago mainly in international companies. I am fluent in French, Dutch and English. Often as the first and only black employee in the company, people look at you strangely.
Through my family education, it is all about being excellent, not making mistakes at work so that they can’t say
- see, we knew,
- I told you, typical,
- these people, all the same, etc.
It is an enormous pressure.
You also hear things such as ‘I don’t like the other black people but I like you‘.
I came to realise that after considering me as a successful case, they try and hire a second and third black employee. But often on short-term contracts, the rationale being ‘they will never last the duration of the probation period‘.
So, by opening the door via referrals, I always tell new recruits; ‘make no mistake, it is my reputation on the line‘.
It is up to us to show our abilities and the value we bring to these companies.
I have always found work easily, never considered my origin as an obstacle. But for the first time in my life, it has been a few months since I am job-hunting and it starts to creep into my mind.
The hard part in interviewing for a job is when you hear nothing from companies. For the last position, I reached back to the HR Manager who promised an update quickly. Weeks later, still no news.
What plays against me is that I am great at spotting where teams, systems, processes are dysfunctional.
So, I end up doing much more than what is on my job description. Gaining the attention of N+2 and N+3 Managers or VPs. As a result, people who acted as team leaders or supervisors were scared of me, they fear that I will take their job. And I got not major career advancement proposal, no substantial pay rise versus the big money that I helped companies win.
“It takes courage”
Selena has a Master degree and a PHD, now working in the non-profit sector, she is struggling with low-paid and temporary assignments. She is resolute to never return to corporate Brussels because she feels like she will never be considered for positions in line with her aspirations.
Nathalie is contemplating a career change to become self-employed and start a consulting business. But her key question is ‘could it be feasible without an extensive corporate network’?
Both asked me:
“Can you connect us to organisations that truly value diversity and have an inclusive culture?”
The bottom-line with these stories for companies…
- Are they trying to attract talents from these communities and do not succeed?
- If they hire candidates from non-EU origins but do not succeed in retaining and promoting them, “how does race impact their workplace?“
If you feel like sharing your story, would you send me a message?
Grégory Luaba Déome
Contributing to more inclusive workplaces
More from me on Ethnostratification and Diversity Strategy:
Born in Congo, I am committed to developing more inclusive workplaces. My passion is to enable others to achieve their potential and to advance equity in corporate Brussels.
About eight years ago, a friend told me something like “in my company, they consider me as a high potential. I participated to the annual event of our industry, 500 people – la crème de la crème – and I was the only non-white in the room. A journalist even came to me and discreetly asked “what about upward mobility”? The problem is that in our industry, the majority of the workers at the bottom of the pyramid are non-whites. The higher you go in the hierarchy, the whiter it becomes.”
What is systematically happening in the mid-to-senior executive levels that you’re not reflecting the cultural diversity of the city that you’re in?