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What New Workforce Dynamics Mean for Black Professionals

The last two years have resulted in a paradigm shift in the global workforce. The pandemic drastically changed behavioral norms– and businesses and employees alike had to adjust to the new rules of corporate America.

Businesses had to identify ways to retain productive employees, particularly during the “Great Resignation of 2021 which saw thousands of employees exit the workforce to seek better working conditions, compensation, and opportunities. As corporations set up for remote working, they also engaged in culture work – having outside consultants perform a culture audit, work on team dynamics, and identify ways to shift the corporate culture toward a more collegial environment. These efforts often included weaving equity, inclusion and diversity (EID) into the DNA of the corporate culture – a trend that accelerated as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.

However, with these new dynamics came new opportunities and strategies for success in today’s business environment. “People were asking themselves, ‘Do I actually belong here? And if I look at equity, inclusion and diversity, do we have a culture where people of color feel like they belong here?’” says Reggie Butler, founder and CEO of Performance Paradigm, an executive education, human capital consultancy.

Butler says many professionals of color also felt left out of the conversations when corporations pivoted from holding large in-person meetings to smaller, more focused virtual discussions. “They weren’t invited to enough meetings in the first place because they were people of color. Now they are put in a one-down position because of the new meeting culture,” he says. “So now the pre-meetings went away for people of color, and they started to realize, ‘I literally am by myself navigating this virtual world.’ As a result, many professionals realized they needed to pay attention to their life first – work to live, not live to work.”

For those younger professionals, finding mentors also became additionally challenging. The mentoring process, too, experienced a dramatic shift due to a remote workforce. The days of striking up a conversation with a potential mentor in the hallway, by the water cooler or cafeteria are done for the foreseeable future. Without those face-to-face chance encounters, young professionals have to be more intentional about finding a sponsor or mentor. “A lot of people say, ‘I want somebody to be my mentor. I want somebody to be my sponsor,’ And I always look at those people and say, ‘Are you sponsorable?” Butler asks. “Why would I want to mentor you? Why would I want to sponsor you? You have to first show me that you need this for a relevant reason in order to progress your career.”

Butler also points out that not every professional needs a mentor. “It could be about your technical acumen. You don’t need a mentor to become better at what you do in your role,” he points out. “Sometimes you need to spend your time creating a brand and a voice and building technical confidence, so that’s never in question.” When that’s accomplished, potential mentors will be more amenable to take a young professional under their wing. Butler also cautions against seeing mentorship as an end-all. “It’s a facade that mentoring will get you promoted. There’s a fluid spectrum of support that people of color need,” he says. “Some days, you’re a coach to your person. Some days you’re a mentor, and others, you’re a sponsor.

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