Personal Brand Versus Workplace Stereotypes

I first published a shorter edited version of this post on the CMI blog in October 2018 for Black History Month. However I wanted to share my full perspective on our blog, so here goes.  

At work, the concept of brand-building is often associated with the marketing, promotion (and sometimes policing) of corporate identity. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about building a PERSONAL brand and what that means in the workplace. For any employee, manager or leader, this is important. For people who come from ethnic minority backgrounds, it’s essential. In a recent report by the Guardian, 57% of minorities said they felt they had to work harder to succeed in Britain because of their ethnicity, and 40% said they earned less or had worse employment prospects for the same reason. The impact of racial bias is real and an everyday reality for too many people. And we shouldn’t have to struggle alone. I say we, because, before setting up Brand by Me, this too was my reality.

The CMI's 'Delivering Diversity' report also highlights the challenges that managers from ethnic minorities face in the workplace.

There aren't many of us. As Pavita Cooper, Chair of the Delivering Diversity Research Advisory Board says in her introduction

'Only 6% 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.'

We’re not championed for management roles by the top leadership within our workplaces. In the report, it highlights how uncomfortable leaders find any discussion of race, preferring silence on the topic and it states that just 54% of HR/diversity managers see their business leaders championing BAME diversity.

And, we’re 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.”

It's clear that employees from BAME backgrounds face unique challenges. So how can building a personal brand help counter racial bias in a challenging workplace environment?

 

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 if your face doesn't fit the stereotype of a manager.

Building a powerful personal brand is how to articulate who you are and what you stand for, in a way that calls out to the people who really need it and who can benefit from your unique strengths.

For any manager this is useful. But for any black manager, leader or aspiring leader 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.

This may not be your experience. But it is the reality for many black (and BAME) employees as the CMI and Guardian reports both highlight. So if you work in an organisation, especially in a managerial or leadership role, it’s time to take action. Even if you feel this doesn’t apply to you, read on, share and use the information within to help your colleagues, your staff and anyone you know who is fighting racial bias in the workplace.

And if this is your reality, it’s time to build your personal brand. Because, if you build an authentic personal brand, you'll find that people come to you because of it. 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. And you'll be able to work authentically on your terms doing the work you love because that's what people will expect from you.

Sounds good, doesn't it? So how do we build a powerful personal brand?

 

A powerful personal brand has 4 key elements (just like any brand)

  1. Your purpose (why you exist)
  2. Your vision (what your future looks like if you're living your purpose)
  3. Your personality - the core positive attributes that define who you are
  4. Your values - the non-negotiable principles that drive the way you do things (at work)

I’m going to focus on personality and values here but if you want to explore further, check out this blog post.

 

Identifying your values is really important in the workplace. If you've ever clashed with someone at work, a disconnect 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.

The other aspect of personal brand we will focus on is personality. Personality can be a superpower in the workplace. Unfortunately, as a black woman in the workplace, I found that the stereotypes worked against me being able to show who I truly am. Fear of being stereotyped silenced my voice when I needed to speak up and out, and it took me years to get over this.  You can read about some of my experiences here I eventually learned that 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, what's next?

It's simple. Put them to work by using them to drive your everyday decisions in the workplace. 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 (people in senior positions who can proactively champion you and help you move up the ladder). 

Your personality can help you find your voice and should drive your actions. Think about how you demonstrate your personality in how you act, write and talk so that you consistently live up to your strengths.

Finally, let’s be clear. Building a personal brand is not the magic answer to address stereotyping and lack of diversity within the workplace. Nor is this article implying that the onus is on black employees and those of us from ethnic minority backgrounds to fix these issues or tackle bias alone. It is the responsibility of employers to act to acknowledge bias and address a lack of diversity. It is the responsibility of leadership teams to increase, empower, equip and champion black (and BAME) employees within organisations. Encouraging diversity in managers and leaders by helping people explore, develop, and embed their personal brands is one tangible and immediate next step that organisations can take today to become part of the solution.

 

If you want to find out how your organisation can help employees define their personal brands, do get in touch.

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