VENTURES AFRICA – Tidjane Thiam is one of the few Africans to hold one of the most prestigious jobs in the western corporate world, but he prefers to have that very detail deleted when people describe him.
His new CEO role at Credit Suisse , the world’s seventh largest financial institution, makes him the first black person to head a major European bank, as his previous job – CEO of Prudential, the UK’s largest insurance firm – also made him the first black person to head a FTSE 100 company in the UK. However, the Ivorian prefers that these supposed accolades are left out conversation about him.
In a 2012 interview with the BBC Radio’s Desert Island Discs, Thiam who is a mathematician and who once held a ministerial position in his home country Cote d’Ivoire, said he usually felt uncomfortable discussing race as people often struggle to remain “open minded and constructive.”
It is not hard to imagine why he takes such a position. Being African or black in the corporate world can come with certain baggage. Co-workers sometimes question the intelligence and work ethic of black or African employees. In some places it’s harder for people with black or African sounding names to get jobs. Studies show that black people from top American universities have about the same chance of getting called for job interviews as white people who graduated from lower ranked schools. Sometimes black people in the work place can be considered aggressive or intimidating. Thiam, who stands 6 feet 4 inches tall may have experienced this over the course of his career.
While everyone wants to be judged on merit in the corporate world, unfortunately, even in 2015, this still not the case. Thiam has excelled at the highest level over the course of his career, but for many others, bias against and stereotypes about people of different races, ethnicities, and genders still play a role in an individuals work place standing and career trajectory.
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