Marking Black History Month, and as part of our ongoing series of events reflecting Totum’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, we were delighted to recently host our virtual event – ‘How black professionals navigate the world of business services’.

The event attracted nearly 100 attendees and covered a wide variety of issues from sharing personal experiences to providing advice for black and ethnic minority professionals developing their careers today. It received great feedback, including from a Director of People from a top-100 law firm who described it as ‘the most useful discussion I have seen on this topic in a long time’.

Joining Totum’s Finance Consultant Carolyn Beckford Balogun at the event, we welcomed an outstanding panel of experts:

  • Justin Gyphion, Senior Recruitment Manager, Slaughter & May
  • ljeoma Hunter, Head of Business Development – Africa, Dentons
  • Natasha Owoh, Head of Business Finance, Herbert Smith Freehills

The full webinar recording can be found below:

Discussion highlights

Each brought to the discussion a variety of backgrounds and experiences as black professionals in business services. Justin began his career as a Barrister – called to the Bar in 2003 – before using his skills to move into the more commercial environment of legal recruitment. He now works in-house as a Senior Recruitment Manager at Slaughter & May, where he is responsible for all recruitment, apart from trainees.

ljeoma is Head of BD and Special Projects, Africa, at Dentons. ljeoma trained as a lawyer before pivoting into law firm marketing, first at Norton Rose, then CMS and now Dentons. In a career spanning 20 years, she has loved business services in law where she has felt it possible to encompass many roles from trusted advisor to coach and, sometimes, therapist.

Natasha is an accountant by profession, who, unusually, qualified into a law firm. Again, she has worked in the sector for 20 years, loving law for the intellectual challenge and presence of people striving to do better. She prides herself on being a voice for change in a profession as traditional as law.

Carolyn, in contrast, chose to pursue a career in recruitment, knowing that she would relish an environment working with many different people. She has worked in the recruitment industry for over 20 years, joining Totum in 2019.

While their different backgrounds brought a variety of perspectives on working in the sector, it was striking how, as black professionals in business services, many of their experiences were very similar. The role of mentors and sponsors (and the differences between the two) featured highly in the conversation, with all panellists agreeing that their careers had benefitted from the input of individuals who supported their progress and provided advice and a career step-up on occasion, pushing them out of their comfort zone.

There were also key pieces of advice, from how to get spotted at work, how to ask someone to be your mentor, and the importance of taking individual responsibility to drive your career. It was fantastic too, to hear how these senior professionals are now driving change for future generations coming into the sector – for example, Justin’s recent blind recruitment campaign which he says has ‘very clearly changed the applicants they’re getting’. It was both exciting and encouraging to see how all are now playing an important role in challenging assumptions and implementing change.

Although none felt that they had experienced major barriers in their careers, it was difficult to hear the panellist’s stories of racism they had encountered along the way – including one panellist who felt the difficulty arose with the intersection of race and class. This seemed particularly apt for a profession that still so often looks to educational background in recruitment – often still meaning private schooling and Oxbridge.

But the discussion was also an inspiring insight into what could be the future – one in which many more professionals like ljeoma, Natasha, Justin and Carolyn make up a truly diverse professional services sector in which there is genuine equal opportunity for all.

Huge thanks to our panellists and to all attendees who joined us on the day.

You can see the whole webinar here.

If you would like to know more about Totum’s webinars, including our future events, contact Sarah.Broad@TotumPartners


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