Economies are stalled. Businesses are struggling. Careers are disrupted. Millions are unemployed. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing how we live and upending how we work. While it might be difficult, careerists – especially under-represented women and people of colour – must embrace opportunities and make the decision to press on.

Take the time to thoughtfully plot your career path through these rough waters. As a brand strategist and career coach, I am committed to helping individuals launch, develop and advance their career and, in the process, break down barriers. During my work with clients, I share my experiences and the lessons I learned while holding senior and executive-level roles at several multi-billion dollar brands, including Reebok, Nintendo, and Boston Scientific. Career experts agree that now is the time to take advantage of career-support resources, including mentors and coaching programs. But for people of colour and women, those resources are more difficult to access.

Higher Glass Ceilings

According to the report Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration published by the Center for Talent Innovation, black professionals are “more likely to encounter prejudice and microaggressions” than any other racial or ethnic group in the workplace. They are also less likely than their white counterparts to have access to senior leaders and support from their managers. As stated in the report’s press release, “The study finds that black professionals are more likely than white professionals to be ambitious, and they are more likely to have strong professional networks. Despite these assets, black professionals hold only 3.2% of all executive or senior leadership roles and less than 1% of all Fortune 500 CEO positions.”

For people of colour, advancing from entry-level or middle-management to the executive level or C-suite is especially difficult, often requiring working longer and much harder than their white counterparts. In fact, according to the report, 65% of black professionals say that black employees have to work harder in order to advance. And even when that happens, glass ceilings are higher, and too often out of reach.

Reaching for the glass ceiling can be all-consuming for even the most confident and ambitious careerist, but the journey can be especially intense for people of colour. I smashed my head against many glass ceilings during my nearly25-year corporate career. With a clear understanding of the challenges that race and gender presented, I eventually learned to navigate the corporate environment and carefully plotted my career moves. This led to my being named to executive level and C-suite roles, including senior vice president, chief communications officer, and chief marketing officer. But it was far from easy.

As referenced in an article in the Journal of Leadership Education, successful minority professionals cite the below as primary obstacles to success:

  • Stereotypes
  • Double standards
  • Extra burdens
  • Unconscious bias

Careful and strategic career planning can help professionals of colour knock down concrete walls, breakthrough glass ceilings, and overcome far too many opportunity gaps. For women, developing the confidence to overcome those gaps is especially difficult.

Lessons of Limited Leadership

The research outlined in the KPMG Women’s Leadership Study found that women are taught lessons that limit their ability to rise to the executive ranks of leadership. For instance, according to the study, almost 90% of women are taught to be nice to others growing up, but only 44% remember being taught to be a female leader. It’s not for lack of interest. Seventy-six per cent of women surveyed wanted more senior roles and leadership lessons. However, most women say they need more support to build confidence and develop into upper-management leaders.

Moreover, according to the study, nine in 10 women admit they don’t feel comfortable asking for support or sponsors, and most women say they are not confident about asking for access to higher-level and senior positions.

When asked what training and development skills were needed to help move more women into leadership roles in the future, professional working women most often cited leadership training (57%), confidence building (56%), decision-making (48%), networking (47%), and critical thinking (46%).

Standing Out and Breaking Through

There are gender and racial challenges that prevent women and people of color from standing out and breaking through at the same rate of white leaders. So, how can these groups overcome such challenges? And how can they prepare – or help prepare their employees – to push through these leadership barriers during this current period of disruption? As a black woman, my experience tells me that the best weapons are self-confidence, a defined personal brand, a supportive network of mentors, and, as aforementioned, strategic planning. In addition, according to the Journal of Leadership Education article entitled “Developing Professionals of Color: Going Beyond the Traditional Leadership Skill Set,” women and people of colour reach their professional goals through determination, relationships, communication, excellence, intelligence and, perhaps above all, courage.

During this pandemic, take the time to explore the resources that can help you move closer to – and eventually reach – your goals.

MDK Brand Management is a Resource

My company’s10-week virtual career advancement program, Mainstream to Top Tier, details the experiences and key learnings that led to my breaking through glass ceilings. The program’s S.T.O.R.Y. framework, supported by five modules and five LIVE coaching sessions with me, is designed to help mid-level professionals and entrepreneurs.

Before the Break is our 4-week, 6-part virtual career development program designed to compel early careerists to analyze their personal brand and understand their professional impact in ways that help them stand out, move up, and breakthrough. This program includes 5 modules and a LIVE coaching session with me.

My company’s newest program is our most unique. Millennial Launchpad is a virtual 4-week career-support program that creates and empowers a strategic and unique partnership between a parent and their career-impacted millennial. Millennials have been hit the hardest by the economic challenges created by the pandemic. This program can help them launch and develop their careers.

Challenging times test our resolve to press on. It is important to take advantage of opportunities that help you discover and maximize opportunities for career launch, development, and advancement. For more information, visit any of the above links or set up a discovery call with me.