Manchester-based Sharon and Afiya Amesu are leading the charge in highlighting the need for increased support and equality for black female businesswomen in Manchester and the Northwest.
Black Leaders Awareness Day
As Black Leaders Awareness Day approaches, they are working tirelessly through their She Leads for Legacy movement and annual event ‘Empowered to Lead’ to campaign for better representation and opportunities for black females in the workplace.
According to research published in the Guardian, Manchester’s most influential positions in various sectors are significantly unrepresentative of the city’s black population, with just 4.6% of black people holding such roles.
Black business owners in Manchester
In response to these shocking statistics, Sharon and Afiya Amesu are driving change and inspiring businesses to prioritise diversity and inclusivity.
Speaking to I Love Manchester, Afiya Amesu shared how she got involved in the project.
She said: “My mum practised as a criminal barrister for 16 years and I am currently undertaking pupil (training to be a barrister).
“As we discussed our professional journey we became increasingly aware that many of the barriers and obstacles that existed for my mum in the 1990s, were still in existence today as I embarked on my own career.
“Whether it was, micro-aggressions, discrimination, a lack of role models and a lack of diversity at senior levels, it was clear that a lot of work was needed to address the negative experiences of Black women.
“We broadened our discussions to Black female colleagues and friends and realised that these issues went beyond the legal sector and was widespread in numerous industries. We wanted to do something practical to address this and so ‘She Leads for Legacy’ was born.”
She Leads for Legacy Movement
The She Leads for Legacy movement, running for three years, provides black female professionals with a range of resources and a supportive network.
Their annual event, ‘Empowered to Lead’, serves as a platform to celebrate achievements, share experiences, and inspire positive change.
With keynote speeches from influential figures and a lineup of renowned speakers, the event attracts forward-thinking businesspeople and allies who are committed to driving workplace equality.
Afiya explained: “We exist to work cross-sector with Black Female Professionals and allies to increase gender and racial equality in work and business.
“Our ambition is to build a community of purpose-driven, ambitious Black Female Leaders who are increasingly visible at senior levels of leadership.
“We work to both empower Black women to take their seat at the table but also with Allies who are wanting to be more inclusive, to attract and retain a diverse workforce and play a part in advancing the Equalities Agenda.
“Our work is underpinned by three key pillars: Connectivity, Influence and Learning and Development.
“The ‘Empowered to Lead’ conference combines the three to create an event where Black women and Allies can come together to network, have honest and candid conversations, broaden their understanding of the challenges that impact Black women and leave empowered to use their voice and be change agents in their spheres of influence.”
Sharon and Afiya Amesu emphasise the importance of allyship in creating meaningful change and empowering black female professionals to recognise their power and influence.
The event acts as a catalyst for connectivity, influence, and learning & development within the community.
Afiya says she has noticed a change in attitudes, but there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“Immediately after BLM in 2020, there was a dramatic shift in the engagement of both individuals and organisations to address the inequalities experienced by marginalised communities.
“Deliberate efforts were made to raise awareness, increase understanding, and tackle systemic bias.
“And, some progress was made: initiatives such as ‘10,000 Black interns’ enabled and continue to enable Black students to undertake work experience to enhance their CVs, grants have been made available specifically for Black-owned businesses and generally, an awareness of the systemic biases at play has been heightened.
However, as time has gone on, engagement has waned, lip service has become the norm and those who meaningfully engage with the agenda have dwindled in numbers.
“In May 2022, the Fawcett Society reported that 75% of women of colour have experienced racism at work and Black women of African heritage were most likely to change their clothes, hair, accent and language to ‘fit in’.
“Further, a recent series produced by the Guardian entitled ‘Cotton Capital’, explored the legacy of slavery in the UK.
“As part of the series, research was undertaken to explore the ways in which Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol (three cities that were beneficiaries of the slave trade) have owned their history.
“Research revealed that in Manchester, where 14.8% of the population is Black, only 4.8% of top public positions are occupied by Black people.
“It’s clear that whilst positive steps have been made since BLM, there is so much more work to be done for our leaders and those in senior positions to reflect the communities they serve.”
She Leads for Legacy are looking to upskill members of the community so they can thrive in the workplace.
Queen Bee Coaching
Last autumn, they launched their inaugural leadership coaching programme, in collaboration with a coaching service, local to Greater Manchester, Queen Bee Coaching.
This programme was specifically designed to provide key tools and strategies for Black professional women seeking to advance their careers.
The women embarked on a 6-month programme focussing on leadership development, communication, resilience and executive presence, the aim being to enable Black women to bring their authentic selves to work, whilst expanding their leadership capacity.
And, the programme was a huge success.
Both coaches and coachees shared how transformational the coaching experience was.
One of the women who participated received a promotion, another felt empowered to leave her job and find a better role elsewhere.
Coachees described the experience as ‘life-changing’, enabling them to find their voice and feel more confident and comfortable voicing their views at work, and being their authentic selves.
Afiya continued: “The coaches themselves reported feeling shocked at the level of discrimination still being experienced, and some of the issues that the coachees were facing, such as being bullied, wanting to make sure they are not seen as argumentative, bullish or difficult.
“There was clear evidence of unfair systems, stunted career progression, and disproportionate sanctions being meted out.
“As a result of the programme, one coach said they felt they now felt like an advocate, fuelled by anger towards the injustices experienced by their coaches.
“The coaches also developed and strengthened their ability to coach from this experience, working with Black women, understanding their unique challenges and building a trusting and safe relationship.”
Afiya stressed the importance of allyship, which can often be hamstrung by ‘fear of making mistakes, but stressed it’s important to understand two key things:
“Allyship requires action, you need to be an active ally. Educating on racist and sexist behaviour, putting forward diverse candidates who you know are capable of delivering, when the next promotion comes up, mentoring an individual with the potential to be a leader, recommending diverse initiatives for the organisation to get involved in and support.
“Be deliberate and intentional about challenging yourself, challenging others and challenging the institution.
“You will make mistakes, it’s inevitable.
“Ultimately, you’re not expected to have all the answers.
“When you make a mistake, acknowledge responsibility, apologise and learn from it. It won’t be held against you – rather it builds awareness and understanding.
“It’s important that Allies leverage their privilege.
“All of us can be allies to each other.
“There are so many different forms of allyship, but the starting point is accepting that you don’t know everything, but you are ready to learn and ready to act.
“We need co-pilots, mentors, collaborative partners, sponsors, advocates, champions. Silence is no longer an option.”
Afiya said that there were three easy steps to help create a more inclusive and diverse workplace, which would help to attract, recruit and retain black women.
“Implement effective ‘anti-racism’ policies and plans with measurable goals that encourage accountability.
“Create spaces where Black women and other marginalised groups can share their experiences candidly and openly and contribute to the initiatives designed to address their negative experiences.
“Audit the efficacy of your existing frameworks, environments and opportunities available for staff. Do an organisational diagnosis to see the current profile of senior leadership and use the data collated to put measures in place to encourage diversification.”
As the Empowered to Lead conference approaches on October 28th, the momentum behind the movement continues to grow, bringing Manchester’s black female businesswomen and their allies together to forge a path towards greater equality and opportunity in the workplace.