Neil Johnson, ACCA Careers editor

It’s been nearly eight years since Enoch Adeyemi FCCA set up Black Professionals Scotland (BPS) – about to be rebranded as Black Professionals United Kingdom. Motivated by the struggles he experienced after relocating from his homeland of Nigeria to England in 2003 and then Scotland in 2006, Adeyemi wanted to help others emigrating without a network or support structure around them.

‘There was really nothing for people in my situation,’ says Adeyemi. ‘It was a different culture then; businesses would actively take a white person over a Black person, even though on paper we were equal,’ he says.

‘You’re Black, you’re from an African country, you’re deemed “less than”’

‘There’s a lot of discrimination against African experience; it’s almost like colonialism all over again,’ Adeyemi says. ‘If you come from Canada or the US, you can walk into a job on day two. If you come from Ghana, you can’t; you’re Black, you’re from an African country, you’re deemed “less than”.’

Breaking barriers

This is the attitude that Adeyemi is trying to break down through BPS. ‘Thankfully, we’re beginning to see change; we’re starting to see people arrive and go into professional jobs almost immediately,’ he says. ‘We’re not where the Canadians and Americans are yet, but we’re on that path.

‘For me, this is so powerful. It was unthinkable just 10 years ago, but now BPS is making it happen; our members are getting it through the support we’re providing.’

When AB profiled Adeyemi in 2021, BPS had 300 members and was aiming for 1,000 by the end of the year. By late 2023, that number had rocketed to around 5,000 Black students and professionals.

‘There was no plan. The growth has been unbelievable’

‘BPS started back in 2016, and if someone had said this is where we’d be today, I’d be surprised,’ he says. ‘There was no plan. The growth has been unbelievable.’

Beyond partnerships and membership, BPS now has a voice in Scotland on the topic of diversity and ethnicity, and the organisation has won a number of awards; in 2022 Adeyemi won the Diversity Hero of the Year award at The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Award, and in 2023 BPS was a finalist in two categories: Diversity Campaign of the Year for its internship programme and Diversity in the Third or Charity Sector.

Holistic approach

BPS has more than 30 corporate partners, ranging from local businesses to household names, such as JP Morgan and Barclays – organisations looking for diverse talent, but also looking for help in finding, selecting and retaining them.

It takes a holistic approach to supporting members and working closely with partners. Member support involves matching people with jobs at corporate partners; BPS helps them understand the Scottish job market and economy and local application processes, provides CV and interview preparation, runs mentorship programmes and offers access to free courses.

There is also an internship programme for students and junior professionals, as well as a programme that gives people with qualifications and experience in their home countries, but lacking UK exposure, a chance to showcase their capabilities in three to 12-month placement schemes.

‘We make sure that our members believe they can be treated fairly’

On the employer side, BPS works closely with partners to ensure that their recruitment processes, onboarding and work environment provide members with the best chance to perform.

‘Attraction is fine, but retention is vital, which is where consultancy and policy comes into our work,’ Adeyemi says. ‘We work with partners to make sure that our members have an environment in which they can succeed and where they believe they can be treated fairly. It’s not just about shoving them in, but giving them grounds to succeed. It’s a multi-pronged approach.’

Further afield

The 5,000 or so pool of Black professionals in Scotland has grown in tandem with the rising number and quality of its partners. Adeyemi now hopes to roll this strategy out in Europe, with the launch in February of Black Professionals Europe (BPE).

‘Recently we’ve been thinking: what next? We’ve achieved some success in Scotland, but we don’t want to rest on our laurels,’ he says. ‘So, we’re looking to the UK and Europe. There are around 10 million Black people in Europe, which is a huge potential talent pool for us.’

‘I feel very fortunate to be part of an ecosystem that is making exciting change’

The plan is to have chapters in countries across the continent. BPE soft launched in Mannheim, Germany last July. The official launch is on 29 February (a leap day), which was chosen ‘as something we can use in the marketing: taking a leap’, says Adeyemi.

‘We’re planning events for each chapter to get the word out about who we are. What we’ve seen at BPS is this cascades; one person comes, goes home and tells their friends. Then, when the help begins – the CV and interview preparation – there’s a tangibility; we can place people and start to talk about the successes.

‘Once people see others who’ve done it, see people who are now working at Barclays or JP Morgan, we get more visibility and are able to attract more members, who attract more partners, and so on. It’s an exciting time, it’s a good time to be alive. I feel very fortunate to be part of an ecosystem that is making exciting change.’

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