Though African-Americans, Hispanics, and Indigenous people represent roughly 30 percent of the population, they fill only 3 percent of senior management positions at American corporations and nonprofits. For minorities entering the corporate world, these numbers, in addition to other obstacles that they face, may make breaking through to the top seem impossible. It is not. There will certainly be challenges, but let’s discuss a few ideas in the effort to create a game plan.
First of all, be comfortable with yourself. While everyone that joins a corporate culture must work to fit into that environment, it does not mean that you have to abandon who you are at the door. Learn how to blend your identity, culture and value systems with the culture of your workplace. Self-awareness, self-confidence and belief in your abilities are very important to your success and getting opportunities for leadership.
Do work that you love and seek out companies with cultures that compliment your strengths and personality. This will make it easier to handle the obstacles that you may face. You will be more likely to stay motivated and driven, as well as excel in your work, if you are passionate about the job that you do. When you raise your hand for a promotion, your work will demand that you be considered. If you do not like what you are doing, it is stressful. That stress, added to the frustration caused by obstacles you may face due to your race, will cause you to be more likely to respond by quitting or working less diligently. Ultimately, job-hopping and/or a less-than stellar work record may be attributed to your inability to hold a job, or work hard, and not any issues of bias you may have faced.
While you need to know the directives and expectations in your employee handbook, be sure to also learn the “unwritten rules” of your organization.
Look for ways to connect with your co-workers. Minorities are often viewed as outsiders in corporate America. To overcome this barrier, it is critical that you seek out ways to bridge the gap and find the common bonds with the people with whom you work. It can be a shared passion for the job that you do, hobbies, sports, music, etc. When people get to know you on a personal level, it opens up opportunities to be seen as a team player and someone to invest in.
To break through to the executive level, minorities must be sure to promote themselves and the excellent work that they are doing. See yourself as a marketing/personal brand expert for brand YOU, and develop the ability to promote your skills and accomplishments. Seek out increased responsibilities and opportunities to take on highly visible difficult challenges. Write articles about your field of expertise, serve on high profile boards and committees, have your name submitted for awards, and look for speaking opportunities. Stay active in both minority and mainstream industry and professional associations looking for ways to contribute and connect with other members. I discuss building your network later in this post.
Make sure that continuing education is a part of your action plan. Pursue opportunities to help you build the right skill set and profile of an executive. In addition, constantly work to develop your communication, self-management and decision-making skills. They are critical to your success in climbing the corporate ladder.
While you are in a job that you love and building a reputation for excellent work, look to develop a diverse network. It is important that you align yourself with the right people within your organization and your industry if you want to succeed. Proactively seek out mentors and strategic allies. During times of company reorganizations, mergers and lay-offs, minorities are often twice as likely to be impacted negatively. It is important that you ensure that your connections, resources and opportunities have been broadened through the cultivation of a diverse network of people on a variety of levels, in a variety of professions and industries, and with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. These are the people that will provide the guidance, opportunities, and information that you will need as you move up the ranks.
These are some of the steps that you can take in creating an action plan to surmount obstacles on your way to the executive suite. Be yourself, understand how to fit that in the corporate setting, do work that you love, produce excellent results and make sure that people know about it, connect with your co-workers, continue to build your skill set through continued education, and develop a diverse network of strategic alliances. You have the goal, now here is the foundation of a plan. Make it happen!