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What Black professionals and professionals of color hope for from Philadelphia

September 20, 2023 Category: FeatureFeaturedLong

Updates

updated 6/8/2023 at 8:08 am to correct spelling of Candice - source name.

Candice Foster almost left the country because there weren’t any jobs for her in Philadelphia.

She spent a year looking for an administrative services real estate job matching her then salary and where there would be other Black colleagues and colleagues of color. 

“I think within Philadelphia, finding a project management position in real estate as a Black woman has been increasingly difficult,” Foster, 29, who lives in Philadelphia, said. 

At one point, the only job that met these basic criteria was a consulting gig in the Netherlands.

“I think a large part of it is I didn’t want to work for another company where I’m the only BIPOC face that I saw,” Foster, who is also an interior designer, added.

Eventually, she landed her current positions as both an executive assistant and project manager.

“It’s great that I’m there now, but I don’t think Philly has the infrastructure for administrative professionals like myself, where it shouldn’t have taken me a year to find another job.”

With professionals of color leaving the city, Black professionals and professionals of color hope to see Philadelphia provide diversity, equity and inclusion training for employers, prioritize creating flourishing environments, affordable housing, mentorship and skill building opportunities and public safety initiatives. The Connect is creating solutions by supporting BIPOC professionals. The City of Philadelphia is working to provide professionals with new skills and support Black tech workers and tech workers of color.

The Connect, a networking and professional development organization focusing on strengthening connections between Black and Brown professionals, released a report talking about the issues professionals of color face in Philadelphia. 

 The organization, partnering with Reify Solutions, surveyed majority professionals between the ages of 26 through 35 who worked in IT, accounting, banking, finance, business and management.

From our Partners

Philadelphia should prioritize creating flourishing environments for people of color and the affordability of housing, survey participants in The Connect report said. Participants live in Philadelphia and stay here because of friends, family and work. Potential reasons for leaving the city include concerns for health, safety, and a limitation of new career opportunities.

“Being in Philadelphia as a Black professional is difficult enough. Wanting to stay in a city where you don’t feel safe, makes it increasingly difficult,” Foster said. “So I think if the city focused more on their public safety initiatives, and invest in community policing initiatives and built trust between law enforcement and communities, I think people would want to not just work here but also live here and stay here.”

An issue with Philadelphia is its lack of high-paying employers as it has only a handful of large employers, Senzwa Ntshepe, President of The Connect, said. Many high-paying employers like GSK in King of Prussia and Vanguard in Malvern, are located outside of Philly.

… if you go work at Comcast, and you feel like your quality of life has crashed at Comcast, but you’re making 115,000 dollars, you don’t have that many other options to go to that you’ll make the same amount of money that are in Philadelphia,” Ntshepe added.

Foster also said that she would like to see better job opportunities, economic empowerment and more resources and grants from Philadelphia to help support professional development goals.

“If they can kind of foster an environment that supports entrepreneurship, small businesses, especially those that are owned by Black individuals, provide resources and grants, mentorship programs,” Foster said.

Having access to a mentorship program specifically created for young Black professionals and professionals of color would have helped Foster find a job.

“It wouldn’t have taken me so long to find a position because I would have already had someone there who’s already been there, done that and could basically provide a pipeline of job opportunities so I don’t have to go through the struggles of trying to figure it out myself,” Foster said.

Additionally, Foster said the City should provide education and skill development.

Gianna Grossman, the Senior Director of Workforce Development Unit and Commerce in Philadelphia’s Office of Business Development and Workforce Solutions, explained that her office’s Workforce Professionals Alliance supports Black and Brown professionals meeting their professional goals by offering training programs to folks looking for a career change.

“We have so many black professionals and brown professionals of many ages in the city. And so the Workforce Professionals Alliance supports training and upskilling and reskilling. So if someone is here, worked in one industry and now wants to try out tech, for example, they could go to one of our many tech training partner organizations to go through training that is free of cost to them and is able to support them and creating a new career opportunity in Philadelphia,” Grossman said.

On the topic of working in Philadelphia, survey participants mentioned its important career progression barriers are addressed and the need for diversity, equity and inclusion, compensation fairness, work flexibility, and having their work impact society.

“It’s insane that Philadelphia’s what? Almost 60% minority and it’s not representative in the corporate sphere here. And I think that’s mainly just because of the lack of DEI programs,” Foster said.

While Foster thinks companies should want to implement diversity, equity and inclusion on their own, the City should incentivize companies to have DEI policies, she said.

“The same way, you know, if you provide initiatives for developers to do mixed use buildings, where some of it maybe 10% of their apartments are for affordable housing, more developers are going to be more likely to want to build affordable housing,” Foster said.

Companies that had committed to initiating DEI programming back in 2020 did not put in enough care to make the programs effective or did not make it priority, Ntshepe said.

Strengths in Philadelphia’s leisure and civic engagement include visiting restaurants, bars, outside activities and art activities, according to survey participants. On the other hand, survey participants said the City needs to put more attention into solving problems around crime, public schools, economy, jobs, affordable housing, infrastructure and city services. It’s also important to put attention toward local arts and culture, engagement, community events and Philadelphia parks, participants also reported.

Black young professionals are leaving Philadelphia, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

“People feel like there isn’t one downtown area that really caters to them. They feel that downtown isn’t Black, they feel like the downtown isn’t a space in which a space understanding of a young black professional cultural style and validating of that as well,” Ntshepe said.

Ntshepe has seen people leave Philadelphia for New York, DC and other places “perceived as more thriving cities, both professionally and socially,” for Black professionals and professionals of color, Ntshepe said. 

Philadelphia is a very a insular city that way in which the folks who are at the know, know everything and have access to all the resources and all the both, you know, the individuals who are the resources and the actual resources, and the folks who don’t know have no idea, right? So they perceive Philadelphia, as a city without,” Ntshepe added.

Foster said because the City and media outlets don’t cover or promote networking events for BIPOC professionals, one has to hear about these events from their personal network.

“There’s One Philly Wine Fest, you have The Connect, but it’s not being promoted on the Inquirer or Philly Mag. So it’s, you know, if you follow someone on Instagram and you’re lucky enough to have someone that reposted it so that their friends can see, then sure we have those networking events,” Foster said.

Because the City does not provide young Black professionals, Brown professionals and professionals of color with events or spaces for networking, cultural events become a space for Black professionals and professionals of color to network, Foster added.

“If you can’t find a professional networking event here in Philadelphia, try going to some of the cultural events. You will find so many like minded people and you never know who you’re going to meet there,” Foster said.

Foster worked on a contract for a restaurant design for a person she met at the Odunde Festival, the largest Black and African culture festival in the United States.

“I got a contract for a restaurant design from some random girl that I met at the Odunde festival,” Foster said.

The Connect’s goal, in addition to building ecosystems and networking opportunities for Black and brown young professionals, is to share information about these opportunities, Ntshepe explained.

Generocity spoke with the Department of Commerce on programs they may have specifically targeting young Black and brown professionals, to help them meet their work goals. On the record, Grossmann stated, “Our team supports making sure that when we are working with businesses that we are making that opportunity available for all Philadelphians.”

Grossmann then later said, “I think all of our workforce programs have been built in black and brown workforce professionals in mind.” 

Recently, they are trying to put more resources toward helping Black tech workers and tech workers of color get a start in the industry through the Most Diverse Tech Hub initiative and supporting Coded by Kids internships. The Department of Commerce is also working with Venture America to place fellows into Philly, Technical.ly, Mom Your Business and the Enterprise Center, Grossmann said.

 

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