Edima Inyang, from the Nigerian Ibibio tribe, came to Ireland almost a decade ago for a Masters in Software Engineering and never left.
Originally the plan was: “Okay, I’ll be in Ireland for two years and then I’ll go back home”.
“I keep telling people that if you move to Ireland you want to stay for a year, but you will reconsider that plan because Ireland has that effect on you. That one year turns into 10 years.”
Converting her student visa into a work permit was “no easy task,” but once she did, she was hired in front-line positions at retailer Debenhams, financial firm MoneyGram and jeweler Swarovski, and now works in sales at US software giant Salesforce .
She now wants to help other young black Africans to gain a foothold here.
“Although Ireland is a very welcoming environment, there are challenges that you sometimes have to face when you don’t have this network of people who can help you navigate.
“I know what it’s like to be young and confused about your career, moving to a new environment. My parents are not here, my aunts are not here. You have no safety net.”
Inyang was one of the thought leaders at a recent careers day at LinkedIn’s European headquarters on the banks of the Grand Canal in Dublin, organized by the African Professional Network of Ireland (APNI), a 3,000-member organization that seeks to connect African and Afro-Irish people with each other Irish based companies to contact.
The event attracted more than 550 attendees, including recruiters from tech companies Apple and Google, investment bank JP Morgan, consulting giant Accenture and Irish health-tech unicorn LetsGetChecked.
My childhood was definitely less varied than my sister’s
“A lot of the accounting firms have been going to places like the Philippines, South Africa, India, Pakistan for years because there aren’t enough licensed accountants in Ireland to meet the demand they have,” says APNI President Ayo Olabimtan.
“Not only do they want to close the talent gap, they want to close it while making sure their workforce reflects the business or economies in which they operate.
“So we said, ‘Okay, how about we source that talent pool for you?’ Put them in the space and if you really want to hire these people and give them opportunities, you have the opportunity to do that.”
According to the latest census, net migration has been responsible for more than half of recent population growth, with the number of people residing in the state exceeding five million for the first time in 170 years.
The 2016 census found that the country’s fastest growing ethnic group was “Other, including mixed race”, although “White Irish” still made up over 82 per cent of the population.
Crumlin-born Lisa Essuman, whose father is Ghanaian, said things are different now than they were in the 1980s and 1990s when she was growing up.
“My childhood was definitely less varied than my sister’s, who is 14 years younger than me.
“In my elementary year, there was a girl who was black.”
Though she didn’t feel comfortable speaking about race until after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a US police officer, speaking out about her experiences has helped her carve out a niche for herself in her HR role at a large multinational to accomplish. But “not every black or colored person wants to talk about it,” she admits.
Essuman, who worked as a radio producer early in her career, says greater media representation would help black people in Ireland feel more seen.
“I haven’t seen any change at all, except maybe an additional face or two on RTÉ. I didn’t see any real step change. At conferences and events, I’m literally the only black person in the room.”
Almost half of the 118 black professionals surveyed by APNI at last week’s event believe their ethnicity has negatively impacted their career progression in Ireland and the organization is working to change this.
“I remember for myself and I’m sure for a lot of other people who graduated maybe 10 or 15 years ago when Ireland was in recession we had to do certain things like use our English names on our CVs, because we didn’t want any prejudices against us,” says Ayo Olabimtan from APNI.
I think the setting is almost the easy part, right
“I think where the problem might come up now is when you’re through with the hiring. Because I think the setting is almost the easy part, right.
“It’s easy to implement policies in a company to hire more blacks, Asians, women and people of different sexual orientations.
“I think where it gets difficult is where you can change and correct your processes and address the ingrained biases in your organization so that when these different professionals join your organization they feel included – enough to stay with that organization.” and to develop further in this company.”
He says it’s not just about hiring a diversified board – although that’s “extremely important”.
“Hiring a diverse board member is typically the easiest option, but could have the least impact on the group you’re looking to support.
“The reality is that taking more effective action requires hard and sometimes uncomfortable work. It requires a deep dive into your company’s processes, your hiring processes, your performance review processes, where you invest your money.”
Inyang speaks of the support she has received from Salesforce because her work at APNI – the organization is run on a volunteer basis, and she was given time off to help organize and attend last week’s careers event – is one way companies can flex their muscles.
As Black History Month draws to a close, she is optimistic about the future.
“In Ireland you can succeed regardless of the obstacles. Your background, your ethnicity does not have to determine your level of success or how far you can go in life. At the end of the day, it contributes positively to your success. Your ethnicity is who you are.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/jobs/the-african-professional-network-of-ireland-is-helping-young-people-to-find-their-feet-and-a-career-path-here-42080574.html The African Professional Network of Ireland helps young people gain a foothold here and find a career path