Ten ways to build an inclusive culture for black women

Yetunde Hofmann urges managers to champion black women in their teams. Here’s how…

The black woman in an organisation faces the most intense of any discrimination, exclusion and prejudice in the workplace, as indicated in this piece of research by the TUC. She is also the least likely to speak up and step forward in her own defence. 

The obstacle of overcoming the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype is potentially a step too far for many black women. This is where the role of her manager comes in. The manager’s role in enabling a fully inclusive team and workplace culture cannot be underestimated. His or her role can be the most impactful in enabling inclusion, when the following advice is applied.

First things first: understand you

The first place to start is to conduct an honest self-assessment of your own bias and working practices. It is not unusual to be drawn to working and relating to others who look, think and talk like you do.

Take a close look at yourself; reflect on the potential negative impact you may have on current and future members of your team and be decisive in your leadership –  do something about it, even if it may at first make you uncomfortable.

Do something visible and tangible that can be replicated 

When you’re invited by your HR colleagues to nominate people for the premium leadership programmes in your company, nominate the black woman in your team. When you’re asked to put a name forward to support and/or lead a companywide project, nominate the black woman in your team.

Investing time to listen and show you care will demonstrate that you are not just looking to tick a box on the compliance sheet of diversity and inclusion but that you are interested in the whole person, as an individual.

When you have a vacancy, insist on seeing a diverse shortlist, of which a minimum number should be black women. A recent FT article highlighted the fact that people with foreign sounding names had to send 74% more applications than their white counterparts. You can be creative. You can be decisive and you can send a message by the actions that you take.

Speak up

Choose to amplify her voice. Proactively. A great manager is one who knows that she/he is the primary advocate for and defender of every member of their team, without exception.

Encourage your peer group to take an interest and use your influence to enable forums in which the white people in your team can listen to lived experiences, educate themselves and become genuine and meaningful allies, co-advocates and defenders of the black women in your team and theirs. 

This HBR article is a great illustration of how black women are less likely to get support in organisations than others.

Encourage her to speak up

A manager’s every reaction, response and action sends a message to those observing it and to those on the receiving end of it. Encouraging the black woman in your team to speak up; to share a view or perspective – no matter how insignificant she may herself believe it is – sends a message that her opinion matters, her views are welcome and she’s a valued member of your team.  

Challenge up, sideways and down

What you do when no one is looking and have nothing personally to gain demonstrates the quality of your leadership. Champion the employee resource group that focuses specially on the interests of the black woman.


Work proactively to challenge the core employee recruitment development and career advancement processes that exist. Offer to work with HR to review these processes and be the first in the organisation to implement any changes that emerge.

Mentor a black woman

Mentoring is an effective yet inexpensive way of enabling the successful career development of any talent. The black woman is no exception. Providing a safe space to bounce ideas around and discuss options for career development, vertically and laterally, is one way in which you can make a difference.

Becoming a mentor for a black woman outside of your team or organisation – and encouraging your peers to do the same – will not only educate you further on the challenges and obstacles faced by black women in the workplace, it will also enable you to become a proactive agent of change.

Sponsor a black woman

Sponsorship is not the same as mentoring. When you mentor you are a valued and valuable confidential sounding board. The difference is made clear in this HBR article. As a sponsor, you proactively work to enable the promotion and upward career development of the black woman.

You are the voice in the talent management meetings that highlights her strengths and her positive attributes. You are the one who presents all the reasons why she should be considered high potential and/or promoted into the more senior position and why she is indeed deserving of that much coveted pay rise.

Spread the joy

The one leadership attribute that, when demonstrated, will support the establishment of an inclusive team culture is accountability. As a manager you are accountable not only for your own team’s performance delivery, but for the quality of their lived experiences inside and outside your team.

Investing time to listen and show you care will demonstrate that you are not just looking to tick a box on the compliance sheet of diversity and inclusion but that you are interested in the whole person, as an individual.

When the black woman in your team feels like she belongs, it is more likely that the rest of your team will feel the same way. Then other managers, who are positively influenced, will role model and adopt your behaviour.

Diversify and broaden your own personal network

GHaving a diverse network within and outside your organisation will contribute to the quality of your personal and professional development and provide you with resources to enable the proactive development of the black woman in your team.

This means that you will be able to more easily access the tangible examples and business cases for a genuinely diverse team – gathering the experiences of managers across a variety of industries. This will help you learn about the challenges faced by minority groups across every industry.

It will also help you identify meaningful solutions to the barriers that exist to the career advancement of the black woman.

Put your money where your mouth is

Be willing to allocate funds in your budget to the external personal and professional development of the black woman in your team. The lack of role models in senior positions is perceived as one of the negative factors in the career development of black women.

Not only does a black woman face a double challenge of being female and black, she is also likely to have all the same traits that women are reported to typically have. This recent BBC article reveals that women of colour are more likely to be affected by imposter syndrome at work than white women.

Providing resources for her to engage in focused executive development programmes and/or network proactively outside the organisation will enable her to learn from others. It will also afford her the opportunity to tap into fresh ideas across a variety of topics that will benefit her team and organisation.


About the author

Yetunde Hofmann is a board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert and founder of SOLARIS


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