NatWest Group’s Black Professionals Network (BPN) recently brought together a community of over 150 Black professionals from across 20 FTSE 250 companies including McKinsey, Deloitte, KPMG, Netflix, Barclays, Citi Bank and more at an inaugural event in London. We interviewed colleagues and BPN members Sharniya Ferdinand and Honey Ajuwon on the importance of the event and what’s coming next…


Q. How did the idea of this event, and creating a community of Black Professionals across different organisations, come about?  

Sharniya: During lockdown I felt quite isolated and one of the things I did to alleviate that was catch up regularly with colleagues from NatWest Group’s Black Professionals Network, of which Honey is a co-chair. Those calls meant so much because we were able to share and discuss things impacting our careers, and we were able to share and celebrate our wins and support each other. Knowing the value I personally got from that network, it felt right to create something bigger that would have real meaning to our community, and also be able to show Black professionals that although in your day-to-day work it may sometimes feel as if you are the only one, actually there are so many other people who are working hard and who understand the experiences you’re having.

Honey: We were also really motivated by the positive change we’d seen happening around racial equity and inclusion from other organisations as well as NatWest Group, largely due to the work and support of Black employee-led groups in those organisations.  We wanted to celebrate this work and harness the momentum for a greater purpose – and the best way to do this was to collaborate and bring Black professionals together.


Q. And the theme of the event - Black Visibility is Power – tell us more about that?

Honey: When we launched the bank’s Black Professionals Network in 2021, which aims to encourage psychological safety, provide well-being support and career development guidance to Black colleagues across NatWest Group, our launch event focused on Black Excellence. The event commemorated and celebrated Black people striving to be the best version of themselves. This year we wanted to build on that theme by bringing together Black professionals from a range of sectors and companies, and showcasing Black excellence, with a focus on how the power of visibility is driving change in our organisations.

Sharniya: We all know the phrase ‘representation matters’ and what it means for people from diverse backgrounds to be able to see people who look like them achieving great things. But to be able to do this, we need to be visible – both to our own communities, and to colleagues and senior leaders in our organisations. The Black Visibility is Power theme seeks to encourage, empower and champion the potential of Black professionals at large, by nurturing their aspirations and inspiring them to become future leaders.

Q. The event was attended by around 150 people, well done on such a brilliant turn-out. The community you’ve brought together sounds quite extensive which is great. How did you go about setting it up?

Sharniya: Essentially we in the Black Professionals Network started by reaching out to the people we knew who worked at other companies, on whether they’d be interested in potentially getting together as a wider network of Black professionals.. Most people came back straight away to say they’d be interested in hearing more, and also reached out to their own contacts to promote the idea further. Before we knew it, we had 20 companies that wanted to be involved!

Honey: Fully embracing the ‘connected’ element of our CPC (Critical People Capability) behaviours was really important when bringing the network together! We created a culture of collaboration across the bank and outside the bank by actively breaking down silos and we leveraged and developed our personal and professional networks to raise awareness and get people involved.


Q. And what do you aim for this community to achieve together going forwards?

Honey: There are so many things that we want to achieve – we’re really shooting for the stars. Most importantly though, we want to:

  • Work collaboratively with other organisations to create a more equitable society around racial equity and inclusivity, by supporting and building a strong pipeline of young Black talent across the social spectrum, with a specific focus on young adults from deprived backgrounds.
  • Build a broader network of Black professionals across a variety of sectors to enable mobility across sectors and provide a broader base of skills and talent across industries.
  • Benefit from the cross pollination of ideas and best practice to support career advancement for Black professionals, especially into senior roles across organisations.
  • Create a safe space and community for Black professionals and foster sponsorship and mentorship across different companies and sectors.

Sharniya: We also have our hearts set on creating networks like this outside of London, and being able to utilise the community we’ve created here to bring people together in cities with higher Black populations, like Birmingham and Manchester. This is something I’m already working to put in motion, so watch this space!

Q. We’ve spoken a lot about bringing people together from other companies – why was it so important to go cross-sector and involve other organisations?

Sharniya: It was important to think more broadly than just our organisation; there are a lot of advantages for everyone involved to collaborate across sectors/industries. Best practice and broader knowledge are usually gained through looking outside of the silo you’re in. I’m also conscious that skills are transferable and from a NatWest Group perspective, if we want to engage the best Black talent, we have to be open to looking for professionals who work in industries other than finance, who can bring fresh, innovative ideas and different ways of working.

Honey: To add to that - having a broad coalition of communities coming together to make change happen is a huge part of creating a societal paradigm shift, which is why going cross-sector was crucial to what we were looking to achieve. It provides the opportunity to tackle the issues around diversity, equity and inclusion through a variety of lenses and as Sharniya says, it brings together a diverse range of opportunities for the talent we are looking to attract into our respective sectors.

To build a strong and sustainable pipeline of Black talent for the future, strong collaboration and co-opetition (cooperation and competition) is required across sectors. We can act fast in building this pipeline focusing solely on the bank or our own sector, but we can go much further and embed the change for generations if we focus on doing this as a broader community and coalition.


Q. Thanks for giving us an insight into the hard work and strategic thinking you’ve put into bringing this community together and holding the inaugural event. We’ll finish by asking - how was the event, and did you enjoy it?

Sharniya: I absolutely loved it! I’ve hosted and attended many events over the past 6-7 years and I can honestly say this was one of my favourites. To have a vision and then see that vison come to life was something so special, I’ll never forget it. So many of the guests have shared how much they enjoyed attending. If I could bottle the feeling I felt that night I would! The vibe was magical!

Honey: Yep wow I agree! The event was awe-inspiring. It definitely achieved what we set out to do, and the feedback we’ve received has been wonderful; we’re still getting messages telling us how great the event was, with so many people looking forward to the next one. It’s so encouraging for us, and we’re now looking to build on this momentum for greater societal impact and change.

Did you know?

The Black Professionals Network is part of our employee-led Multicultural Network.

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