Guest Agony Aunt: I keep getting passed over for the promotion I've earned. How do I find out why?

Sabrina Lynch (pictured), integrated marcomms specialist and adjunct professor, teaching advanced comms and strategy planning, offers advice.

Should workers still have to go into the office if they have to commute on the Tube? (©GettyImages)
Should workers still have to go into the office if they have to commute on the Tube? (©GettyImages)

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

I work for a PR agency and have been told I will be on furlough until at least the end of
September. My employer asked me not to look for another job, but I’m concerned that my role will disappear. I’m also concerned that my boss, who is well connected in the industry, will find out if I start approaching other employers or in-house comms teams. What should I do? 

Job security is so important in this unstable market, and you don’t know what tomorrow will bring in terms of client, or agency, budgeting, financial priorities or even procurement reviews. 

Ultimately, it comes down to making a smart business decision that helps your career trajectory and is better for stability of income. 

If your boss is asking you to commit to the company and not look elsewhere for employment, then you are also at liberty to ask the employer to make a similar commitment to you – by promising to uphold your position within the company. 

However, this ‘contra deal’, of sorts, is founded solely on the trust you have with your boss; it is a promise with no legal substance. You should think of it more as an acknowledgement of what you expect of each other, from a moral standpoint.

It is not a poor decision to explore other opportunities to hedge your bets in case your furlough situation changes unexpectedly as the weeks progress. The industry could look very different in two weeks, or even tomorrow. 

If you do decide to have tentative conversations regarding other roles, make sure they are with senior HR directors and recruitment specialists with reputations for having the utmost discretion. 

Why do I get passed over for promotion?

I’m a Black PR professional in my 30s, working for a large agency. I’ve been in the same role for four years and see some of my other non-white colleagues being promoted ahead of me. I can’t prove racism, but I also think my performance justifies a promotion. How should I approach this? 

It can be exceptionally frustrating to feel you are not growing in your role, and seeing colleagues and peers promoted above you exacerbates the situation. So it’s time to have an uncomfortable conversation with your direct manager and a representative from HR. 

Start by sharing a list of tangible examples where the agency has profited financially and culturally as a direct result of your job performance and internal/external efforts. Explain the value you feel you bring to the agency, how you believe your presence creates a more empowering environment, and that at present, you do not feel empowered or supported by the senior team due to a lack of recognition for the contributions you have made to the agency’s operations and staff development. 

Express that you do not want to falter in your career path and how the agency can support you in achieving your professional goals. This then gives you the opportunity to better understand your manager’s intent and starts to unpack the reasons why your promotion has not yet been greenlit. 

If you do not feel heard or are not satisfied with their responses to your concerns, then you will know it’s time to start looking for a role at another agency that will support your growth. 

More important, if you believe that racism is at play in hindering your progression, seek legal counsel. 

Don’t mask your coronavirus concerns

I work in-house and our office is starting to reopen, in stages. We’ve not been told when we must return, but some of my direct colleagues have started going in several times a week. I feel I’m missing out on being part of the team – and I miss my teammates! But, unlike them, I need to commute on the Tube, and I am worried about catching COVID-19. What should I do? 

First and foremost, you need to feel comfortable – health-wise – in any environment you work in. 

I empathise with missing the camaraderie of your colleagues and the need to switch up your work environment, but this should never be at the risk of putting yourself in a position where you could make yourself ill when there is no need to. 

Your colleagues would not want to you to feel unsafe and exposed during your journey to and from work for the sake of being in the same physical space, especially as we are still going through a pandemic. Your teammates would understand. 

If you feel like you’re putting yourself at risk by going back into the office because of the nature of your journey, check with your boss about current policies and practices that you can continue to adhere to. 

Try looking at it in a different way – it’s best to spend minimal time with colleagues in a physical space now so that you can spend more time with them in the office in the near future.


More articles from the BME special edition:

'I’ve started a new chapter and I don’t want to go back' - Chuka Umunna on Edelman, ESG, purpose and politics

The roots of racism at work – is discrimination today a legacy of slavery?

'Humour is a powerful tool for persuading people' - Grilled with Ayesha Hazarika

'Being different is an advantage' - BME Comms Stars: Preena Gadher, Riot Communications

Thumbnail image ©GettyImages

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