Saluting our Sisters – beyond a month

Published: Posted on

Flowers for you by Jeannyfar

By Jeannyfar Gelpcke, Senior Executive Advisor to CEO of The E.ON SE Group & Birmingham Business School Advisory Board Member

Dear [insert your name here, yes – this is for you],

When it comes to things like “Black History Month” I tend to avoid engagement. This is the bitter truth. Although I understand and appreciate the necessity that goes into celebrating, encouraging, fighting for, and remembering women that look like me; it always feels like very little consolation for the other eleven months.

I am quite privileged when it comes to black women. My family boasts incredibly strong women who paved the stony way for me – with my inspiring mother leading the pack. However, growing up in Germany I did not have friends that looked like me outside of my family. At that time there just weren’t black families with the same socio-economic background in my neighbourhood. And oblivious of the history of struggle you face as a black girl in this world, racism only came very late to me. It was in my 20s when I saw the ugly face of this very vile creature; scaring me for life. I was studying abroad in the beautiful city of Vienna. Being reduced daily to one’s (I have to say, very beautiful) skin colour led to a feeling I had never previously experienced: depression. It was horrible but the worst was constantly being asked how much I charged for my services. As I was a black woman, I had to be a prostitute. Obviously. Now, I could go on and say that this made me stronger and the person I am today. But I am pretty sure skipping that chapter wouldn’t have caused a dent in my success and I would have retained my love for Wiener Schnitzel. Today racism around me is mostly reduced to micro aggressions – to be nonchalant about it. The classic: “Why is your German so flawless. You don’t have an accent.” Well, no s*** Sherlock but I digress.

The changing point for me was when I decided to leave Vienna midterm and move to Birmingham, meeting the most amazing black women, remarkable peers, who showed me how to find myself. Engineers, marketeers, lawyers, economists, communicators, future politicians, human resources professionals… a range of highly intelligent women unapologetically applauding their heritage, expressing their challenges, and celebrating their successes. The power of this sisterhood really brought out what would be a cornerstone of my accomplishments. They restored my self-worth and well-being. Some of my career highlights have been an amazing career within one of the top energy companies in the world. And being on the advisory board of one of the top business schools in Europe. I am leading the way in places where people do not look like me, let alone women. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the sisters instilling in me that where I chose to be, is where I belong.

It still saddens me to see no or very few women of colour in my professional setting today. However, I owe it to the sisters to do my part and be the trailblazer for others. An example of this is the network I have created. “Corporate Women of Colour Roundtable” brings together black women from around the globe and empowers their professional development within a corporate setting. A niche topic I saw us lacking representation in. I am creating belonging.

Today, I boldly embrace my hyphen-identity and use my position to be the voice for my sisters.

Today, I want to stand in the front lines and present the flowers these women deserve. Today, I am saluting and thanking all my sisters, mothers, and aunties… beyond this month.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *