Black History Month US: colleagues, communities and change

01 February 2023

From leading with authenticity to supporting new talent – 10 members of Barclays’ Black Professionals Resource Group (BPRG) share how they support Black colleagues and communities throughout the year, and reflect on how the group is encouraging change.

I am... empowering Black colleagues through authentic leadership

I serve as Co-Chair of the Black Professionals Resource Group because I am deeply passionate about the work that we do. I joined Barclays in December 2019, so being part of the BPRG was initially a way for me to build a sense of community – especially during the pandemic when we were all working from home. Being in a leadership role allows me to pay it forward, as I’ve received so much support from Black employee resource groups throughout my career. It has allowed me to help colleagues who I may not otherwise have connected with. Whenever I have the opportunity to speak with Black colleagues, whether individually or in larger group settings, I always ensure that I am fully transparent, honest and relatable so that they – whether they are peers or junior colleagues – can take something away from my insights and experiences. And hopefully, my openness and authenticity can help them feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.

Irene Agyilirah, Director, Markets Compliance, Barclays

Irene Agyilirah, Director, Markets Compliance
Josh McNary, Leveraged Finance Associate

I am... changing the narrative for Black professionals on Wall Street

I’ve been able to serve as an officer in the US Army, compete as a professional football player in the National Football League (NFL) – and finally earn a role on Wall Street here at Barclays. This has provided me with a unique platform to reach unconventional candidates and support their journeys. One area that I am especially passionate about is serving underrepresented communities. So, whenever I get the chance, I volunteer for outreach opportunities, such as helping young adults in New York City to transition into white-collar professions. I’m also part of a mentoring programme, where I offer insights on careers in financial services and help people build their networks. Regardless of our differences, by focusing on positivity and unity, we can move towards social equity for all.

Josh McNary, Leveraged Finance Associate, Barclays Investment Bank

I am... creating pathways for Black transgender and non-binary professionals

I’ve always sought to help create safe spaces in the workplace, and that’s what my role in the Black Professionals Resource Group is all about. I bring my perspective as a Black non-binary person in the LGBT+ community as well. I recently helped organise a conversation in my unit that focused on the use of language around race, and the panel that I helped curate featured several senior Black colleagues. I believe strongly in creating access. Having greater visibility is one thing, but actually creating access for Black professionals to come into these spaces and showing them that they will be valued, that their work is going to matter, that they’re going to be treated properly – that is what will make the change. A lot of people might not have access to certain professional opportunities, so we’re here to address that. Black people exist outside Black History Month – use this time to reach out to people who are different from you and have a conversation, find ways of addressing any biases in your workplace and adjust your own internal bias.

Gwen Rogers, Assistant Vice President, Relationship Management, Barclays Legal

Gwen Rogers, AVP, Relationship Management
Rachel Day, Risk Manager

I am... creating a platform for junior Black colleagues

Because the bank is so large and I really wanted to make connections, I joined the Black Professionals Resource Group a year ago. It has been great to use my experience as a more recent member of the group to support new joiners. Sometimes it’s challenging to navigate a new organisation. I recognised an opportunity to build community, so I led a welcome initiative for the BPRG, in partnership with the Asian Professionals and Latin Professionals Resource Groups – to bring new talent together, equip them with tools for success and show them that they are supported. I think it is so important to have that sense of belonging in all environments. Outside of work, I’m on the leadership council of a non-profit that supports people experiencing homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse, and I also regularly mentor a student. She was interested in my industry, insurance, so I’ve been encouraging her to pursue continued education. I just found out that she’s applied to college and I am so proud.

Rachel Day, Assistant Vice President, Risk Manager, Group Insurance, Barclays

I am... championing young Black excellence

As Deputy Co-Chair of the Black Professionals Resource Group, one of my priorities is making sure we bring in and support the young Black talent that’s out there. We’ve been strengthening our external partnerships – for example, with Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the US, through events like ‘Black excellence’ days and organisations like the National Association of Black Accountants. We’re also working with underserved students in high schools through virtual workshops in resume writing, interviewing tips, information about post-graduation opportunities and even the basics of investing and the stock market. This year, to mark Martin Luther King Jr Day, we assembled inspirational “I have a dream” kits for EastSide Charter School in Wilmington, US, to motivate students – letting them know that you’re never too young to chase your dreams and reminding them not to let anyone discourage them. My focus is on reaching out and supporting those people coming up, trying to empower them. I want to find those diamonds in the rough.

Latisha Ested, Vice President, CFO Business Partnering, Finance, Barclays

Latisha Ested, VP, CFO Business Partnering
Takoya Brannon, Third Party Assurance Manager

I am... creating opportunities to support Black communities

Being part of the Black Professionals Resource Group, of which I’m now local Co-Lead, has given me a sense of purpose – a feeling that I’m making a change outside of what I get paid to do. As a kid, I was encouraged to participate in different programmes that allowed me to go to a school outside of my area. Being one of the only Black Americans there, this experience drove me to want to foster a sense of community. I want to make sure everyone feels heard and can fully be themselves, wherever they are. That’s very important to me. As an adult I’ve found that, very often, there are few Black Americans in the corporate environment. The work we do within the BPRG is about creating an environment for people to feel seen and represented. People need that sense of community. Being in isolation can be scary – it’s very important to have a village to lean on and I believe the BPRG provides this.

Takoya Brannon, Assistant Vice President, Third Party Assurance Manager, CSO, Barclays

I am... lighting the way for Black men in my community

I’m a Black man in a leadership position. I won’t say that makes me a trailblazer, but it does mean that people might look at me and think, “If that person could do it, maybe I can too.” That motivates me. I am lucky to be part of an organisation where I can be authentic. I’m a young-ish Black man, I have my ears pierced, I have visible tattoos – and yet, I feel like I can walk into a meeting or a boardroom and not be judged for those things. Looking to the future, one of my priorities is identifying gaps when it comes to African American colleagues. Are we doing well in terms of hiring? What happens a little bit higher up in leadership roles? Maybe that’s something we need to look at. How do we attack gaps there? How do we level the playing field? The important thing is to keep interrogating the data and having those conversations to ensure that we get the next generation of leaders. 

DeAndre Esteen, Contact Centre Site Coordinator, Barclays US Consumer Bank

DeAndre Esteen, Contact Centre Site Coordinator
Stacy Thompson, Customer and Partner Experience Lead

I am... leading by example for Black women in tech

Being a Black woman in the workplace can be overwhelming. People have different allies, and for us, those communities aren’t often there. I can count on one hand the times when I haven’t been the only minority person in the room. So, if you make a mistake, there’s not always someone there to advocate for you. On top of that, there’s an interesting thought process where folks will think, “Ah, what do Black women know about technology? They can’t really flourish in this space.” And it is not an outwardly spoken conversation, but you can almost feel it as you escalate in your career. That’s why there’s a need to have spaces like the Black Professionals Resource Group. It’s also why I’m so passionate about supporting young girls coming into the field, telling them, “Hey, you’re not alone. You have folks you can lean on to ask questions.” Otherwise, you’re fresh out of college with no idea how to navigate an organisation and ensure there’s internal mobility that is essential for a successful career. We offer mentoring, advice on how to switch roles and guidance on how to advocate for you.

Stacy Thompson, Vice President, Customer and Partner Experience Lead, Barclays US Consumer Bank

I am... bridging the gap between first-generation potential and the ‘American dream’

During one of my first internships, I felt out of place. I come from a hardworking family – my mother was a hairdresser and my dad was a union carpenter, and they instilled in me a strong work ethic. While it was important to them for me to complete my education, they did not know how to assist me in navigating the education system or the nuances of the corporate world I was jumping into. I was certain I could not compete with some of the other interns. One young man, in particular, unnerved me. He already understood the culture, spoke the industry language, knew how to brand himself and easily gained sponsorship. Interacting with him made me feel like an imposter. I later learned that his parents were very senior executives, and he had grown up immersed in corporate culture. The realisation of how disadvantaged I was motivated me to help others learn how to bridge the gap to success, by combining a strong work ethic with the skills to navigate a corporate environment. I want to be the representation that I didn’t have. I am dedicated to helping others, who may be a ‘first’ in their family, achieve all the success that’s been dreamed of for them.

Jamila Ritter, Assistant Vice President, COO Americas Programme Project Lead, Barclays

Jamila Ritter, COO Americas Programme Project Lead
Ramon Merritt, VP, Consumer Lending

I am... building relationships to recruit Black talent in banking

When it comes to the importance of diversity at Barclays, we’re seeing a shift from awareness to action – and it’s the result of a lot of the grassroots activities happening within the bank. In addition to tangible goals set by the organisation, we now have people whose full-time job is to find ways to promote diversity. That starts at Group level, and it’s trickling down into the different areas of the bank – all of which are finding ways to be active in these initiatives. When you set goals, you can put plans together and encourage people to help meet those objectives. Transparency is really important: having clear reporting on progress towards a goal provides a powerful tool for growth. When I first started with the Black Professionals Resource Group, we did not have statistics about underrepresented joiners and leavers. Now we do. I’ve heard the saying, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” but it’s more than that. Achieving diversity and creating an environment where all colleagues can thrive is what will help us accomplish the objectives we have for the bank.

Ramon Merritt, Vice President, Consumer Lending, Barclays US Consumer Bank

Barclays’ Black Professionals Resource Group

The Black Professionals Resource Group is dedicated to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment that attracts, retains, develops and engages talent at all levels and career trajectories. It is open to colleagues from all backgrounds who are passionate about supporting the bank in building a multicultural Barclays. The group aims to empower members by helping them navigate and leverage available resources and networking opportunities across the organisation.

According to its US Co-Chair, Toks Sotande-Peters, a priority for the resource group’s members in 2023 will be continuing to support Barclays’ broader recruitment efforts. “We’re not recruiters. We’re business professionals with day jobs,” he says. “But obviously, if we have members who are aligned to some of those Historically Black Colleges and Universities where Barclays is trying to recruit, then our presence is going to be way more impactful. The more we show that we have and are developing Black talent within the organisation, the more people will see that it could be a place for them.”

Tangible progress towards racial equity

Race at Work is Barclays’ diversity, equity and inclusion agenda, launched with a 12-point action plan in 2020. Since then, the bank’s strategy has expanded beyond a focus on colleagues to include its clients and the communities where it operates. The Race at Work agenda impact report, published in October 2022, sets out the initiative’s reach so far, including progress against published targets that aim to close the gap for underrepresented minority employees.