Insight & Analysis

Black Lives Still Matter

Published: Apr 2021

How can the corporate world stay focused on its commitments to racial equity and how can we all be part of continual progress? We speak with Sharon Weise-Nesbeth, Senior Global Marketing Manager at HSBC, about her experience of race and why the momentum around Black Lives Matter in 2020 in the corporate world must continue into 2021 and beyond.

Sharon Weise-Nesbeth, Senior Global Marketing Manager at HSBC

My journey has been a long one. Coming from first-generation immigrants to the UK from the Caribbean, we were brought up to be really respectful and stand up for ourselves. But the key thing for us was work ethic and education. My parents strived to equip us with values, education and to have deep belief in ourselves to make sure that we could handle the challenges that they knew we would face as young black adults.

My ambition was to be a journalist. I didn’t have a degree, however I didn’t let that hold me back from my desire to have a professional career. I built up my communications and marketing principles from working in agencies and agency partners like Saatchi & Saatchi and Purchase Point. When you got into those organisations you really learned from the ground upwards.

Right across media, advertising, public relations, digital design and events management, I really built my skills as well as taking time out and going to evening school. My ambition to succeed meant that I always sought and negotiated opportunities to push me hard so that I could grow and develop. I got an opportunity to join a financial services company, a software firm. It was small, but it was global, and that was what I wanted so that I could build up my visibility or climb the ladder. I was over-qualified for the role, an EA position, but I knew that once I got through the door I would be able to impress and show my capabilities in marketing and communications. I always had my sights on a bigger role. And I learned fast as well.

I was very fortunate that I had two really great leaders who supported me and pushed me. They really opened me up to a whole different experience and the meaning of responsibility, confidentiality and decision making.

I absolutely don’t see that as a pathway for the next generation coming up. You just don’t get those opportunities any more. You wouldn’t be an EA and have the opportunity to sit in a board meeting and be asked for your opinion.

There are people coming through the door, but they are not breaking through that glass ceiling. I don’t see people that look like me in senior leadership roles.

Organisations are not looking in the right places to have enough diversity. If you only look at those top universities, you are not going to get a diverse group of people into your organisation and are not opening up opportunities to a broader audience.

This has never been a conversation or a topic that I could speak about quite freely, or even have my managers or my peers want to have a conversation about. You know, it has always been off the table as far as I could see. People find any conversation about race a dark issue to discuss, and in the past the conversation was silence. Under the D&I; umbrella there are other topics that have prominence. Where in that circle of conversation did you ever have race and equality in finance? It is hard for businesses to take a real look inside their organisations to see that they are hiding behind the mantra of unconscious bias, because it is down to a structure. It takes bold and relentless purpose and intention to make change and it has to come from the top.

There is a system that benefits a certain group of people and that is not the ethnic minority, or the global majority. Fixing the problem will involve critical examination of the process and procedures of how individuals are recruited and how they are supported to progress to their full potential. Today there are only four black CEOs in the Fortune 500, down from six in 2012. And guess what, they are all men.

I have spent nearly all my life trying to prove myself to people by showcasing my capabilities, backed up by achievements. Now, I have had a conscious shift and I am no longer responding to that narrative. I have worked hard, and I deserve the role and the recognition, just as others do. My response now to people is ‘I was the best candidate for that position, for that role. I was the best candidate to be put in that role. I was the best candidate to be put on that project’. And you know, right now, it is a great time to be a woman and be a black woman. Now that the subject of race and ethnicity is getting attention, I am encouraged and can only look forward and think that organisations will start to be more reflective with better representation of ethnic minorities breaking through that glass ceiling.

The rise of Black Lives Matter as a movement, and a slogan has been very divisive. This is the first time in my professional career that race, the black experience, has been a conversation that is happening. It is the first time the world has united in protest over the murder of a black man. There is a culture-shifting consciousness, now, but there are a couple of things that spring to mind: have organisations jumped on the bandwagon? Is it a scorecard exercise? It will be a test, and a challenge, and we will see when you ask me in a couple of years’ time what has changed.

For me personally, it has ripped the bandages off and opened up a lot of wounds that really, to be honest, I buried. It is painful. It is very hard for me, and for my black colleagues, to continually bare our souls and our experiences. When I share my story, I am not looking for you to feel sorry for me. I am not looking for you to apologise for the past. But what I am looking for is an acknowledgment: – recognition that there is an issue, and empathy to realise that, you know what, that was something that happened to one of my colleagues and maybe I should start thinking about it. Together we are stronger, let’s lift each other and be that change. That is what people need to do.

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