Belton Flournoy

Director of Digital Identity and Security at Protiviti UK

We were delighted to sit down with Belton Flournoy, Director of Digital Identity and Security at Protiviti UK and Co-Founder of Mayor-backed initiative Pride in the City with Pride in London to talk about his career journey to date and unpick some of the core inclusion challenges in his industry.

Headshot of Belton Flournoy in black and white
Belton Flournoy graduation

In a nutshell, please tell us a little about your career journey to this point.

I am originally from Houston, Texas. I attended Marquette University in Milwaukee and held a variety of internships before graduation. I came to London 11 years ago for a two-year assignment, fell in love with the city and decided to never leave. I am now a director with Protiviti, based out of its London office and leader of its Digital Identity practice in the U.K

I have always been extremely passionate about inclusion and frequently speak on the need for organisations to maintain a focus on ethnic minority, female and LGBTQ+ growth at all levels. My parents are the foundation of what I’ve become today by teaching me I can be anything that I want to be. My mom was raised in a convent with nuns and my father was one of three raised by a single mother in 1950s California, so neither of them had life handed to them easily. They instilled in me a sense of ‘you can achieve anything that you want to.’

“Success is measured not by the position reached, but by the obstacles he has overcome”

Who is your role model and why?

A quote that has always stayed with me is by Booker T Washington: ‘Success is to be measured, not by the position that one has reached in life, but by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed’. I used to think success was all about title and money but now I realise that what makes someone successful is their lived experiences and the challenges they have been able to overcome.

I am also extremely inspired by Indra Nooyi, the now ex-CEO of PepsiCo. She was a trend-setter as a female CEO bringing such diverse ways of thinking to PepsiCo, which helped to rebrand an organisation that was seen as just selling sugary drinks. She transformed the structure and rebranded them from ‘Fun for you, Good for you and Better for you’. The ‘Fun for you’ is the junk food, ‘Better for you’ is the diet snacks, and ‘Good for you’ is the waters. By changing the organisation’s mentality, people can now view the organization in alignment to what they want, rather than being ‘that junk food company’.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

As I progressed through university in technology and marketing, I didn’t see anybody in business that looked like me, so I started telling people that I wanted to be the very first openly gay black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Why not set your goals high?

What’s your biggest career regret and your biggest career achievement?

My biggest career regret is something I am still working through which is falling victim of imposter syndrome. The voice in my head tells me that I’m not good enough and that I’m just lucky to have gotten to where I am today. Luckily, my boss in my current role makes sure I recognise my own past achievements and understand that what I have done in the past will enable me to continue to be successful in the future. I should stop telling myself I’m not good enough and let him do that!

My biggest achievement is supporting the launch Pride in the City for Pride in London. I started working with Pride in London to create an initiative to drive inclusion across organisations across London. It got support from the Mayor and we’ve been able to reach over a thousand people since its creation in 2017.

Four people handing over award

“Focus on getting each person reporting to you to be as good at your job as you are”

In a short sentence – what would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Don’t stress yourself out over every single failure—instead, focus on what went wrong and realise that it will only make you stronger.

What challenges have you faced within a work setting and how did these challenges differ at each stage of your career?

At the beginning of my career, the biggest challenge was how to capture notes and track actions. It’s something that’s so often overlooked by people, yet the importance of ensuring the completion of tasks is essential to getting ahead. I have since decided to use technology to track all my actions and take notes which allowed me to proactively provide updates to my manager, so they didn’t have to chase me. The best skill you can have is if someone hands you something, never let it fall off as they should never have to chase you.

At middle management, I realised it was becoming difficult to stand out amongst equally talented peers, as well as get experienced and manage other people. My mentor said, “If you’re not given the opportunity to do something within your job, then go find it elsewhere.” So, I created a scholarship initiative in Milwaukee where we were able to run competitions and award people scholarships through ISACA and The Institute of Internal Auditors.

At senior management I found the challenge of building my professional network both inside my organisation and across the industry. Networking is important and it becomes more evident when you reach senior management. The more senior you get, the more you need to be able to find the answer to any questions asked, as you are less involved in the day-to-day activities, and more involved in the strategy. As such, the bigger your network is, the better-informed you can be once you hit senior level.

At director level, my advisor told me, “I don’t want you to focus getting any better at your job. I want you to focus on getting each person reporting to you to be as good at your job as you are.” Understanding how to effectively manage people is important because this involves how you engage, inspire and work with your team – this is just as important as how capable you are at delivering outcomes.

Do you think that there are any inclusion related challenges that are unique to your industry?

I wouldn’t say unique, but at the forefront. I recently joined the inclusion initiative at the London School of Economics as an Advisory Board Member supporting a three-year programme that uses behavioural economics to understand how to create more inclusive work environments.

Dr. Grace Lordan, the co-chair of the initiative put out a report called Virtual Inclusion in The City which follows a variety of business leaders across financial and professional services to find ways to increase inclusion in this new remote working world. ‘In-groups’ were found, which is what happens in this remote-working world where we are more inclined to set up meetings only with people we’re comfortable with.

Inadvertently, we’re excluding people who might be new or different. We don’t have those water cooler conversations anymore so it’s important for leaders to proactively take steps to drive inclusion amongst teams. We can no longer just sit by and hope that inclusion happens through the D&I streams that many organisations have.

Belton Flournoy presenting at a podium

“I should stop telling myself I’m not good enough”

Nine people sitting on a bench, two standing up

How has your lived experience helped you in the industry you work in today?

Growing up I was frequently the only person of colour in the room. Sometimes, it’s not anything overt that people do, it’s the thousand little interactions that slowly chip away at you.

For much of my life I have not said anything because I did not want to rock the boat, but I have learnt from those before me that I not only need to speak for myself but for everybody who may try to challenge me. My lived experience taught me that I’m the only one who can control how I feel when faced with challenges and that I need to respond to those challenges to drive change for myself and for others.

What is one thing leaders can do to help advance inclusion in your industry?

One mantra that I have is to consistently give. Look for ways to give your time, treasure or talent. Give your talent to those following you and inspire others to do more in their careers. Truly be an advocate and drive top-down culture. Don’t wait for an ally to ask for your support, make sure you’re the one who has it on your agenda.

We often reflect on how you “can’t be what you can’t see”. How far does this resonate with you and your experiences in business?

Whilst moderating a Telegraph D&I panel discussion, Baroness McGregor-Smith said less than 10 per cent of black children pursue a career in technology. This surprised me because I am a Black leader working in technology, yet less than 10 per cent follow in my footsteps.

Technology needs more diverse leaders. Sometimes it is because people do not think they can do it until they see someone else doing it. It is particularly important for children who may not have had as much engagement with people from a business background to start seeing familiar people with familiar stories go on to achieve success.

“We can no longer just sit by and hope that inclusion happens”