“I am a black woman. My blackness should not define my career trajectory. My experience, skills and leadership should determine my career success; my blackness is just the cherry on top!”
“I don't feel comfortable saying the word ‘black’ at work!”
This was a phrase Hannah heard quite often in 2020 after the murder of George
Floyd – the fear of getting it wrong, saying the wrong thing, and causing offence!
Hannah Awonuga is a Black British Nigerian, who was born in Queen Mary Hospital
in London to strict Nigerian parents who moved to the United Kingdom in the 80s.
Hannah had always been very aware of her race. Growing up in South East London
around gang crime and low socioeconomic circumstances, Hannah knew all too well
that the road ahead would not be an easy one. Convinced by her father that Hannah
would need to work three times harder than her white counterparts to excel in life,
from the age of 14, she knew she would need to have the drive and determination to
succeed that exceeded her friends and colleagues.
So what has changed?
Today Hannah is a global director at one of the largest financial services
organisations in the world – an organisation Hannah has worked at for 17 years from
the tender age of 17. The lack of black senior female representation meant that
Hannah’s motivation didn't come from seeing black women come before her but the
complete opposite. Her motivation to succeed came from not seeing women who
looked like her in senior positions and wanting to change that narrative for the young
girls and women that would come after her.
There has been a global shift and the world has finally seen the disparities and
inequalities black and brown women face within the workplace and in wider society!
This needs to be fixed!
We can often be convinced by the illusion of inclusion – an illusion created by much
talk but no real action. Many organisations are guilty of this, speaking about race,
creating employee resource groups (ERGs), holding events, and bringing in diverse
speakers. However, their senior boards do not include black leaders and their
leadership programmes have no initiatives designed for black professionals. They
are afraid to set targets!
What needs to be done?
Hannah Awonuga is an award-winning diversity, equity and inclusion senior
professional who uses her voice and perspective to share her experience as a black
senior women in the corporate space. Hannah addresses the intersecting connection
between being a black, female, neurodivergent carer and mother.