“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” – Albert Einstein
I’ve spent the last few months of lockdown writing my new book which explores Imposter Syndrome in BAME achievers. The landscape has changed significantly over the last few decades so that there is better ethnic diversity at graduate level and high-quality BAME candidates are getting their foot in the door of the corporate world. The trouble is, they are not making it into the senior leadership positions – why is this?
Because many of them end up leaving. The corporate culture still discriminates against BAME people and women and many feel that they can’t progress because they are excluded from the opportunities that are so readily available to others. The system isn’t just biased, it’s broken. When you’re a minority, the odds are so strongly stacked against you, How can you hope to achieve to the best of your potential?
It’s certainly true that many corporate cultures are not inclusive and put invisible barriers up to the progression of people who do not conventionally fit into those cultures. But while this systemic problem remains – what can you actually do about your own, personal situation?
This is where opportunity comes in. If the system is not readily providing you with opportunities, it is imperative that you take the initiative to look for, or create your own. What do I mean by this?
Be alert to any events or situations that could potentially become an opportunity for you. If you feel that you are ‘outside’ of the corporate culture, be aware that these opportunities will usually involve risk. You may have to work twice as hard as someone else or operate seriously outside of your comfort zone. You will need to be proactive. How does this work?
If you are a BAME or female lawyer, the chances are you’ve felt excluded by the corporate culture at your organisation. It is, after all, a culture that has been shaped and formed by a dominant group to which you do not belong. Perhaps you are not included in certain client entertainment events, or you have difficulty attending meetings which keep being scheduled at baby’s bedtime. Perhaps you are constantly overlooked for promotion in favour of others who ‘fit’ in with the company culture. So what can you do?
You will need to work harder to create the opportunities for yourself. If you are not being included in client entertainment events, you will need to initiate your own events and build your own client relationships. Instead of waiting to be recognised as promotion material, you will need to think about how you can ask to be considered and the steps you need to take to get there. If you feel you are not taken seriously you will need to work out ways to hone your expertise, raise your profile, promote your personal brand and extend your influence as a thought leader. Of course, it’s not fair that some people should have to work so much harder for the opportunities that simply fall into other people’s laps – but it is possible to recognise the unfairness without giving in to it. If no women or BAME people ever make their own opportunities for progression, no one will ever be in an influential enough position to start to change that system.
So – beat the system by stepping up to opportunity. Create opportunities, seek them out, grab them with both hands. If anything resembling an opportunity appears, convince yourself to take it – every time. Practise. The more things you try and the more you get used to making mistakes or sometimes failing, the less afraid you become of the outcome. The less afraid you are, the more opportunities you take. The more opportunities you take, the more you attract. It’s a virtuous circle of upwards progression which can only bring you benefits.
Feeling excluded from opportunity may be justifed, but it’s also handing control of your life over to someone else, or to external circumstances. If you have the courage and make the effort to create and find your own opportunities, you are taking ownership of your life and career. You are in control – and you can direct your future.
Go for it!
“Expect change. Analyze the landscape. Take the opportunities. Stop being the chess piece; become the player. It’s your move.” – Tony Robbins
To hear more of my thoughts on opportunity, tune into this week’s episode of the Caroline Flanagan podcast. If you would like help in creating your own opportunities, email me firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about my Having it all coaching programme.