Challenges and Strategies For Up-and-Coming Minority Executives

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You have done all of the right things. You have gone to the “right” schools. You have excelled in your professional career (with the sterling performance reviews to prove it). You seem well-positioned to take the next step: getting a shot at the top executive jobs and boardroom position that non-minorities seem to get when having a track record that is similar to yours. But you do not get that opportunity. You get passed over again and again. What to do?

While certainly frustrating and discouraging, your personal makeup, work ethic, grit and strategic mind have brought you this far. You can make the next step.

First, we need to take into account two truths about the current job market which are hindering many up-and-comers regardless of race: economics and demographics. The recent economic troubles, both domestic and global, found companies streamlining their workforce, including eliminating and consolidating their upper management positions. Simply, there are fewer openings to nab. Second is the matter of demographics. You may be bumping into what Human Resource folks call the “gray ceiling”: the large number of Baby Boomers that are currently in high positions and are in no hurry to retire. Some of this goes back to the recent economic troubles. Many Baby Boomers saw their retirement portfolios savaged during the economic turmoil and do not feel comfortable retiring at this time.

You add race/ethnicity to the mix and you have what seems to be a tough road in front of you.

While the difficulties are real, there are ways for you to navigate that road to the corner office that you seek.

One of the most powerful things that you should do is to build your network. Many of the “informal networks” that companies use to fill upper management slots are all one color. People use “family and friends” to get the inside track on plum positions. Being that there is generally a lack of diversity in those informal networks, the resulting hires will usually resemble the makeup of the members of the network. In addition, there is usually also a shortage of minority role models in senior positions, as well. This, too, can have the effect of limiting the advancement of minorities into the senior roles.

You have to build your own network and be very strategic about it. Seek out higher-ups that are open to mentoring you, both minority and other. Also, have in your network those that may not necessarily be above you, but, perhaps, on your same level that will be honest in giving you valuable feedback. Many times in the informal networks that I spoke of earlier, there are exchanges of valuable information on things such as how you are being perceived, your professional presence, or your style and how it fits in (or not) at the company. This is beneficial counsel that you need to progress, but may not get if you are out of the loop.

Another tactic to employ is to take on challenging, highly visible projects at your company and, in a tactful way, make sure that your successes are known. People who decide your future need to know that you will tackle the hard assignments, lead them with excellence and hard work, get results, and stand up for your achievements.

A final thing for you to consider is finding a company to work for that already has minorities in higher positions. This will demonstrate that there is a path to the types of positions that you aspire to and your current track record of excellence is your calling card.

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Sam Robinson

About the Author:

Sam Robinson is the Founder and President of Robinson-Robinson & Associates, Inc., as well as a Principal Consultant. Sam has executive level Human Resources experience in the computer manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries. He served in various functional roles including Staffing, Employee Relations, Compensation Administration, Organizational Development and Training, and Diversity. Sam is a varsity athletic graduate of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. He continues to be a sports enthusiast and is an avid golfer.