At work, the concept of brand-building is often associated with the marketing, promotion (and sometimes policing) of corporate identity. But personal brands have a role in the workplace too.
For any manager, a personal brand is important. For BAME managers it is essential. The CMI’s Delivering Diversity report highlights the challenges that black managers and other minority groups face in the workplace.
Why Black Managers Need to Build a Personal Brand
Firstly, there aren’t many of us.
As Pavita Cooper, chair of the Delivering Diversity Research Advisory Board says in her introduction: “Only six per cent of top management jobs are held by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders, which just isn’t good enough when BAME groups make up 12% of the working population.”
Secondly, we are not championed for management roles by the top leaders within our workplaces. The report highlights how uncomfortable leaders find any discussion of race, and states that just 54% of HR/diversity managers see their business leaders championing BAME diversity.
Finally, we are often not seen as ‘management material’. The report found that BAME managers question the perceived ‘fit’ for BAME employees in their businesses, pointing to norms that favour “white middle class men from elite schools and universities.”
So how can building a personal brand help managers thrive in a challenging environment? The experiences of each individual are different, but in this post I want to reflect the experience of some black managers.
How to Create a Personal Brand
First, let’s address a common misconception. Building a personal brand is not about developing a professional ‘mask’ you wear whenever you’re at work, to fit in with the culture or to be accepted.
Building a powerful personal brand is how to articulate who you are and what you stand for, in a way that challenges the people who really need it and who can benefit from your unique strengths.
For any manager this is useful. But for a black manager this is essential. Often we labour under the weight of assigned stereotypes. Our successes and achievements are invisible, but our appearance and behaviour is a matter for workplace scrutiny and discussion.
If you build an authentic personal brand, you’ll find that opportunities will come your way because of who you are, not just what you do. People will understand your strengths and how they come across at work and you can use these strengths to develop your own management style, rather than having this imposed on you.
The Four Parts of a Personal Brand
A powerful personal brand has four key elements (just like any brand).
- Your purpose (why you exist)
- Your vision (what your future looks like if you’re living your purpose)
- Your personality: the core positive attributes that define who you are
- Your values: the non-negotiable principles that drive the way you do things (at work)
Identifying your values is really important in the workplace. If you’ve ever clashed with someone at work, a difference in values may have played a big part. If you’ve ever thrived somewhere and found it really rewarding, it’s probably because your values are in sync with the organisation.
To identify your values, think back to the above occasions. What were the principles that drove your behaviour or decision?
Once defined, you can use your values to hone your instinct and ensure your needs are met at work because it gives you something tangible to evaluate situations and decisions against.
How to Define Your Personality
The other aspect of personal brand is personality. Personality can be a superpower for black managers. Unfortunately, it’s also where stereotypes work against us being able to show who we are. Overcoming this is about translating your innate strengths into a strong and defined brand personality that drives everything you do.
Here’s a simple personality exercise:
Think about yourself on your best day. How would someone you admire, like and trust describe you in 3 words? What does this look like in practice? And what you need to do differently to demonstrate this consistently?
When defining your personality, think about what makes you stand out. Terms like ‘professional’, ‘friendly’ or ‘perfectionist’ may be the first that come to mind, but they are generic to the point of being clichés. Find the words that capture what you're all about. Instead of ‘friendly’ it could be your affable good nature or bubbly infectious energy. And be real. This is not about faking what you think people want you to be but staying authentic to who you are.
Once you’ve thought about your values, and articulated your personality, put them to work by using them to drive your everyday decisions as a manager. Your values can help you define ways of working and shape your leadership style. Shared values are also a great way of connecting with sponsors and champions, a positive action the CMI recommend organisations take in their report.
Can Personal Brands Beat Stereotypes?
Finally, building a personal brand is not the magic answer to address stereotyping and lack of representation among managers. Nor is this article implying that the onus is on black managers to fix these issues. It is the responsibility of employers to act to address a lack of diversity. It is the responsibility of leadership teams to increase, empower, equip and champion black managers within organisations. Encouraging managers to explore develop, and embed their personal brands is a tangible and immediate next step that organisations can take today as part of the solution to discrimination in the workplace.
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