Entrepreneurs Raphael and Opeyemi Sofoluke want to help Black professionals thrive in the workplace and have written a book providing tips and ways to separate yourself.
Raphael is the founder of networking events, including the UK Black Business Show and UK Black Business Week, while Opeyemi is a diversity and inclusion lead at Facebook. The British couple’s new book Twice As Hard aims to be a handbook for Black professionals. The book includes advice and input from 40 successful Black men and women, including Matthew Knowles, the father of Beyoncé.
“There wasn’t ever a guide for Black entrepreneurs and professionals that as young adults ourselves that we could turn to, to look for advice on how to navigate White spaces,” Raphael told Business Insider.
Here are are the five biggest takeaways for Black professionals to succeed:
1.) Build your personal brand in workplace early in your career
Raphael writes it’s important for Black professionals to work on projecting their own self-image. There is significant evidence suggesting non-Black managers and employees hold racial stereotypes about their Black colleagues, intentionally or unintentionally.
“A lot of the problem is that, as Black professionals, a brand is already created for us in the workplace,” Raphael said. “So if you do not create your own brand, you will be given your own brand.”
Bianca Miller-Cole, entrepreneur and founder of personal branding consultancy Be Group, says in the book that a Black person in a new job has to prove they’re qualified for the job and and disprove any stereotypes colleagues may have about you.
2.) Back Yourself
Due to the stereotypes of Black people that can persist in a workplace, the Sofolukes believe it’s important for Black professionals to have confidence in themselves.
One of the biggest lessons in Twice As Hard is not just to work hard but to vocalize the value of their work internally. It may feel uncomfortable for an employee to advocate for themselves, especially in an environment where they are the minority, but tooting your own horn is a must to be successful.
Kenneth Gibbs, a marketing executive at Amazon, says in the book to “never assume that your work will speak for itself, especially in an environment where there is potential to be overlooked.”
3.) Bring your authentic self to work
Opeyemi encourages Black professionals to be their best, authentic self to work.
“We each have multiple social identities and how we draw on these identities is dependent on the environment and situation in which we find ourselves,” she writes, adding that Black people entering corporate settings may feel insecure about how their colleagues perceive them and whether they fit in.
According to the book, this is especially true for Black women, who may feel pressure to change their hair in a corporate setting. Trina Charles, an influencer, writes that “the corporate world, for the most part, does not permit a lot of self-expression of Black women, or men and that’s just the reality, so it’s either you show up or you don’t. My advice is you show up, just take that step, take that leap to be yourself.
“So if that means showing up with your natural hair out, do it—deal with the questions, nip it in the bud, and set the precedent, because, if you don’t, then you’ll have to assimilate for the rest of your time there. If you don’t set the precedent, it will be set for you.”
4.) Combine a strong work ethic with societal capital
According to the Sofolukes, being a hard worker is not enough for Black professionals, it must be combined with networking and building genuine relationships.
“An individual can work hard and build a reputation as the go-to person, or the problem solver for their department, but if the individual is not considered a thought leader, or is not seen as someone who can drive organizational strategy, then an opportunity to progress can easily be missed,” Opeyemi writes.
5.) Find a sponsor, and a mentor
Having a sponsor is an underrated part of the work environment that can do wonders for your career. Allyson Zimmermann, a director at Catalyst, says in the book, “While mentors may be seen as career developers, sponsors are considered to be career accelerators.”
The Sofolukes write that having a sponsor is more critical to success than a mentor because for Black professionals “having a sponsor or senior leader in your corner who is willing to clear away systematic roadblocks in order to propel your career forward, is invaluable.”
In order to attract a sponsor, the couple suggests performance, potential, and passion.
“When a sponsor decides to invest in you, they do so because of what they believe you can be, and not necessarily because of what you are today—they see a greatness in you and it’s that greatness that they want to nurture,” Opeyemi writes