Prominent Companies Now Embrace Black British Business Awards

Prominent Companies Now Embrace Black British Business Awards

In the not-so-distant past, prominent corporations shied away from endorsing the Black British Business Awards.

“When we initiated this awards program, some companies hesitated to join us because the term ‘Black’ was not a part of their corporate vocabulary,” cofounder Sophie Chandauka, MBE, told The Telegraph. “They viewed it as offensive and were unwilling to introduce it, let alone nominate someone.”

Now the Black British Business Awards, in partnership with The Telegraph, boasts support from some of Britain’s largest corporations, including JP Morgan, Barclays and Chandauka’s former and current employers, Baker McKenzie and Meta.

The upcoming October ceremony, the awards’ 10th anniversary, will celebrate the accomplishments of over 350 business leaders, companies, and emerging talents.

The concept for these awards emerged during the 2012 London Summer Olympics. While the world celebrated the achievements of London’s multicultural population, Chandauka and co-founder Melanie Eusebe, MBE, noticed a strikingly different narrative. The severe underrepresentation of Black professionals in senior positions at FTSE 100 companies created a false perception that they were not contributing significantly to the British economy.

Chandauka, head of Americas risk management and intelligence at Meta, shared with The Telegraph, “We possessed the talent, so why weren’t Black professionals reaching the top? Something was happening in the middle that marginalized us. We either felt the need to disengage or believed we couldn’t participate or advance.”

The Black British Business Awards aimed to change this perception, emphasizing the existence of Black talent. The challenge lay in persuading companies to endorse that vision, with the added pressure of potential career repercussions. Chandauka, a corporate lawyer trained at global law firm Baker McKenzie, received grave warnings about the impact on her career.

Nonetheless, Chandauka’s early life in Zimbabwe, a country that gained independence in 1980, provided inspiration. She also drew strength from South African leaders like Nelson Mandela, who dared to challenge the status quo.

“When you have a platform and a voice, you must use it to address issues that benefit everyone,” she said.

Chandauka and Eusebe persevered, knowing they could secure new employment if their employers were uncomfortable with their activism.

It took them two years to secure their first sponsor, EY, where Eusebe worked as an advisory manager for nearly four years until 2013. However, billionaire Richard Branson played a pivotal role. In 2014, the Virgin founder shared an article about the awards on Twitter, which propelled the initiative.

More recently, Chandauka’s mission to elevate and advocate for the role of Black individuals in business received a significant boost following the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“In the UK, we’ve been quite polite and hesitant to engage in honest discussions about systemic issues that require addressing in the business world—George Floyd changed that,” she said.

After spending the past decade highlighting these issues, Chandauka is now focused on taking action. The Network of Networks (TNON), a sister organization to the awards, equips companies with the skills to help ethnic minority professionals overcome career obstacles.

Her message to employers is clear: “Small, everyday decisions can make a difference. From choosing meeting attendees to buying coffee for someone, or selecting the right individuals for a deal—by consistently making these everyday actions, we can transform systems and cultures.”

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