Ethnic minority candidates follow a different career path
December 7, 2021

Expanding the ethnic minority talent pool means hiring people from different backgrounds, with applicants don’t always fit the hiring criteria, may need to get visa sponsorship and don’t understand how to navigate the jobs market.

We spoke to one candidate who found a different way into the energy sector, showing the power of networks and mentoring, and the continuing challenges for ambitious ethnic minority professionals wanting to reach senior level in Europe.

Because I am African from a science and engineering background, working in oil and gas was the logical career choice.

My first step was a ‘back door’ move into banking, where I was involved in the financial management of large oil and gas businesses.

I needed a Masters degree to increase my chances with the most competitive jobs.

We had conversations with certain UK universities, and I picked one and moved without really understanding the importance of the choice that I was making.

It was only when I started to talk to employers that I realised the UK jobs market is heavily skewed to your university ranking. But no one tells you this! The system is hard to navigate and there is no map.

I realised that I had an uphill battle because of the university that I went to.

There was no point applying for jobs with companies that only recruit from certain universities, and I focused my energies where I had the best chance. I like to create opportunities and of course, job applications aren’t the only way to get a job.

I decided to network. Even though I might not be able to get a job immediately, I would make contacts who would be able help somewhere down the line.

Joining the Energy Institute plugged me in to the sector. I met other students who already had jobs, senior industry leaders, and potential mentors. I discussed recruitment opportunities. I attended events that helped me prepare and learn about the important conversations.

My first interview came at an event: a VP gave me their number and asked for my resume. Two weeks later I got an interview with HR.

This was excellent exposure and I realised that not every opportunity is posted online. There is another list that only some applicants get to access.

I wasn’t offered a job. Then at another event, a door opened when I asked a pertinent question. Someone came to speak to me, and after a few meetings I became an energy analyst.

I was still on a two-year visa programme and after 18 months I realised I had to find a company to sponsor me. My company liked my work, but they were too small for that level of commitment.

Sponsorship is a huge challenge for international candidates, even from the top schools.

Fortunately, I had solid experience. But I still had the wrong school on my CV and now I also needed sponsorship.

Even though I only applied for jobs with businesses open to sponsoring an international candidate I found the interviews very difficult.

This time I hadn’t been talent spotted at a conference! I reached back through my network and found someone who was willing to advise on how to handle interviews and assessment panels.

This was something else that no one told international students. No one explained how interviews work and what people hiring directors are looking for.

I learned to adapt my story to the UK work culture, and this got me a job visa sponsorship.

The sponsorship meant that I had to stay with the company for five years and I focused 100% on career opportunities within the company.

I was only promoted once while I was being sponsored. Everyone else moved on ahead of me. I was also the only person who had a sponsored visa. Were these things linked? It’s impossible to say. I didn’t want to ask. I had a lot to lose.

At so many points, situations have made me question, why has this happened? Is it because my work is no good? or is it because of the politics? – or is it my ethnicity? It is impossible to pinpoint and very difficult to counter.

If you’re ethnic minority you are constantly wondering why things happen. It is a continuous mental strain.

I have since moved on from my sponsor company after I got my permanent right to work in the UK.

Now I’m in management and career progression continues an issue.

The solutions are being put in place to fix ethnic minority recruitment at entry level. But that’s not enough to increase the numbers in the middle and at the top.

There is still no fix for growing black talent into senior management and there are very few black senior managers in energy that I can ask to help.

That’s how it works. Someone higher up in your network gives you a referral. Today there is not even a black CEO in the FTSE 100.

Many companies have great black ethnic representation at the junior level – and then it just thins out. Can I rise to the top of my profession when there are so few black people at the top?



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