Community & Connection: How Sisterhood Supports Personal & Professional Development

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October 30, 2023

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As an organisation that aims to build ethnically diverse leadership pipelines within businesses, we want to continue to celebrate and recognise the hard work others are doing to build and grow diverse communities. With Black History Month in the UK recently passing, this year’s theme was ‘Saluting our Sisters’, a fitting topic that speaks to how, despite the odds, Black women continue to inspire change.

Community means different things to different people, but it’s more commonly known to mean “sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”. There are many reasons why communities are built and continue to grow in the facets of day-to-day life; whether it be support (emotional or tangible), exchange of knowledge or a sense of camaraderie – but why are these communities important? What sets them apart from Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for example?

We spoke to founders of three Black women-led and focused communities to learn more about their work and mission across real estate, technology and marketing sectors. Here’s what they had to say:

Why did you decide to create or be part of your community and why do you think it’s needed?

Hannah Afolabi: Black Women in Real Estate (BWRE) was started from my own personal experience while working in the industry. After several years working on regeneration projects in London, I began to notice how few black women were in similar or senior positions and not only was I craving a community of Black women, I also started to question what that meant for my career. It was at this point that I reached out to women on LinkedIn and invited them for a private dinner in 2019 and this was the genesis of BWRE. Since then our community has grown to 400 people with the ambition to ensure that black women are seen, heard and grow.

Jasmine Coleman-Miller: I discovered Black Women Marketers during the pandemic. Clubhouse was a big thing and people were finding their community since there were no in-person events or contact. By the time I had discovered the club on Clubhouse, they had 10,000 members and kept growing. They hosted rooms that allowed Black Women in the industry to be heard and that was the biggest thing. Black women are only 6% of the marketing industry. We deserve to be seen and heard! I love the organisation so much I actually work for them and currently work as the Creative Operations Officer!

Naomi Williams: As people, we need community and Black Girls in Tech provides that for Black women in the technology space. For all the visible strides being made, our work shows us that there is still a way to go to ensure diversity is not a tick-box exercise for the organisations we partner with and continue to work with.

Source: Black Girls in Tech

The key theme here is a lack of representation as well as a safe place where Black women can be heard, acknowledged and speak freely among people who look like them. These communities also act as safe spaces outside of the workplace environment, where women can seek counsel and support.

ERGs are designed to be an empowering way to create connection and belonging amongst a community of employees. Employee groups create value in a variety of ways, and these benefits can strengthen entire organisations. However, it’s also important to note the ways in which this can impact employees, especially ones who take on roles of responsibility within these ERGs, who now have an added unpaid workload and can sometimes be blocked from implementing changes that could benefit the organisation in the long run. External communities and groups are helpful in this regard.

How has your community supported the personal and professional well-being of Black women in this industry?

Jasmine Coleman-Miller: The community (Black Women Marketers) has helped me gain my confidence. This year, we hosted a challenge where we posted every day on Tiktok which helped me with my consistency as I navigate being a content creator and a mother. The community is so encouraging. There is no gatekeeping. It’s all about support. Everybody wins.

Hanna Afolabi: Community is at the heart of what we do, we want to ensure that our members have the opportunity to create personal relationships with their peers but also provide safe spaces for them. We host regular community events for members to create these connections and we also organise industry-wide events demonstrating that Black women are professionals and encouraging networking beyond the BWRE community. The personal connection is so important because it aims to alleviate the feeling of isolation which can hinder people’s ability to thrive professionally. Professionally, we seek to open endless doors of opportunities for our members and that means working with our partners and allies to enable access and increase representation.

Naomi Williams: By partnering and working with the corporates that we do, we provide our community closer access to the companies they could end up working for, our partnerships often involve having recruiters present so that not only do our members hear about the work they do to build products, they can meet and interact with potential hiring managers and level up their careers.

Despite these communities being built and growing out of concerns about their professions – support, guidance and opportunities are also extended to their personal lives too. In a world where everything feels interconnected, having access to reliable people to lean on in different ways is important.

Source: Black Women in Real Estate

What is a misconception about your community?

Hanna Afolabi: We work really hard to ensure that our message and aims are clear. We want to connect, empower and allow Black women to grow in our industry. To do this we work with all people in the industry (allies, business leaders, peers) as we know collaboration is the only way to solve such a huge gap.

When race is being addressed and discussed, it’s common for people to feel discomfort. However, for many race isn’t something they can actively ignore. Being hyper-visible but overlooked and undervalued is a lot to contend with alone, which is one of the many reasons why communities like the ones mentioned are necessary. These communities don’t exist to be an attack or a call-out but more to be a supportive community for Black women already in the industry and those keen to enter. This more than anything is an invitation for people to be allies and show support as opposed to an exclusionary measure.

What piece of advice do you have for Black women in need of a sisterhood or support?

Jasmine Coleman-Miller: You have to have support to get through this. Find your community and build on it. When one of us succeeds we all succeed.

Naomi Williams: Don’t be afraid to go out and find your tribe or community. Network and interact with others!

At Roots Inspire, we understand the importance of communities and collaboration – as we can’t achieve our mission of diverse senior leadership on our own. Don’t be afraid to engage with external communities and groups to expand your worldview – there are so many opportunities available to learn and grow that may surprise you.

Thank you to Hanna Afolabi (Founder of Black Women in Real Estate and Mood and Space), Jasmine Coleman-Miller (Digital Marketing Manager and Community Manager at Black Women Marketers) and Naomi Williams (Principal User Researcher and COO of Black Girls in Tech) for your answers!

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