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Posts Tagged ‘Career Development’

This post is a reaction to Black Enterprise’s recent article on the state of African American women’s apparent inability to get the corner office in corporate America. The resource is a study from the Executive Leadership Council and the Executive Leadership Foundation.

I suggest you read the article first before you read my post so that you can get a better sense of the content.

In not so subtle ways the findings don’t say anything that I didn’t already know – but what really annoys me is how these findings don’t provide any meaningful insight into how Black women can push through the corporate America log jam…if they so choose.

Find a White Guy

According to BE, Black women severely lack “strategic” relationships in their relationship arsenal. Such relationships are defined as connections with senior level officers most different from themselves. 

In other words, they don’t hang out with enough white men. BE tiptoes around the idea that Black women are probably not aligning themselves with enough of them (or anybody who matters) to make a difference in their career.

And, depending on where you are in the corporate food chain – you’re so far removed from them, your best bet is to hope they trip over you at the next all-staff meeting.

Get a Cheerleader

The first point was about finding a specific mentor. This second point is more about finding someone who can:

  • Give you feed back
  • Understand your strengths
  • Scream your holy praises right through the glass ceiling

Essentially, existing in a professional vacuum is not ideal. Duh. We get that. Do the white men get to wear cheerleading skirts?

Hire a house manager – or find a house husband

Aiming for a cushy senior level position may demand that your strong black motherhood  (or attempts at it) go out the window (I guess Michelle Obama is the only exception to this?).

I’m not sure what ELC means by this since college educated and professional Black women are already marrying and having children later in life (compared to their white counterparts). 

Avoid the secretary route at all costs

I’m cheating a little bit here because this “strategy” (and the next one) come from an interview Workforce Magazine did with Carl Brooks, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council. I couldn’t get the link for it, so here is a portion of the interview: 

WM:

Another problem for African American women is a misunderstanding of their capabilities. How do the jobs they hold influence that perception?

Brooks:

The advice in this research is that if you seek an operational position at the top level, you need to stay focused on that and not move so easily to staff or administrative positions in corporate America.

Your network already sucks

I’m sure Penelope Trunk would love this one. Brooks states that a Black woman’s network is highly social versus professionally strategic. Because this is so, Black women lack the options for opportunistic entry into valuable and professionally strategic relationships.

WM:

What is holding back African American women?

Brooks:

The networks for African American females were considered social than strategic. They know each other , they know the family makeup of each other, they socialize together. But they didn’t have the strategic ingredient that would allow them to advance and ask each other for support and endorsements. Without that, no one moves to senior levels in any corporation.

In short, your momma’s church friends, cousins, girlfriends at old jobs and your lunch buddy can’t do crap for you, jobwise that is.

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Photo Credit: julsatmidnight @Flickr

Photo Credit: julsatmidnight @Flickr

Choosing industry over a certain type of job

If your career is important to you – you won’t fence yourself in by rigidly sticking to industries (advertising, marketing, finance, etc.).

Pay attention to the the type of job (and the skills it demands) and worry less about what industry it is in.

You show more flexibility and value when you can maintain relevance – no matter what the professional discipline.

A good example is someone who takes their skills and can apply them equally across the board –  Desiree Rogers.

The woman went from the Illinois Lottery to the gas company and then to insurance – now she plans the social and events calendar for the First Lady. 

Food for thought: Specialize in skills – not industry 

Use the online job hunt against itself

Online job seeking is like a bad joke. Monster and Careerbuilder aim to have you mindlessly apply to the glut of “open” positions with seductive lures that employers  will actually get your resume. All you have to do is wait for a phone call.

Puh-leez.

Use your network to get your resume in the hands of people who are hiring at these places. Online job hunting at best is a referencing tool.  You’d be more productive hunting down companies that are not “actively” recruiting  (read: the hidden job market).

Pitchfork Mob Mantra: Monster must DIE! Monster must DIE!  note: flaming torch optional

You’re not doing a non-job thing – like temping… or working for free

It may not be ideal, but temping can lead to larger opportunities – like (temporarily) keeping you financially afloat. Or, if you have time (and you do have time) – create projects that will develop a shift in your resume.

For instance, I’ve become the project lead for a new exhibit focusing on the drug addiction and treatment of women and children in Afghanistan (side note: I’ve never done anything like this before).

I will have to dust off my rusty research skills, find funding and develop advocacy connections. But, I’ll be creating a project from start to finish. And, I’ll be doing something I’ve always wanted to do: using artistic methods to raise political awareness and ignite action

New motto: Your resume is not just a piece of paper

Go virtual

You don’t need to be in an office to get work done (and be paid for it). Places like Elance provide opportunities for would-be workers to hone (and maintain) their skills in cyberspace. Jobs range from web and graphic design to freelance writing.

Anything goes – you can be a ghost blogger or virtual assistant.

Nudge: Cyberspace is your friend…really

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Photo Credit: Envios @Flickr

Photo Credit: Envios @Flickr

With very little cash, I headed towards Washington, D.C. to gain a little more perspective on my (possible) future as a social justice maverick who uses artwork as an advocacy tool.

The Rayburn foyer, where our exhibit is being displayed, has hideous carpet. I wonder if all government buildings in D.C. have such crappy design.  

Tonight, we are taking 3 hours to set up the Congo/Women exhibit (lasting well into 12 am), despite 12 volunteers and an energetic 3 year old (L’s son).  

After we’re done, my colleague W and I leave and head to our hotel. I get an immediate gush of smallness. Everything feels so tiny now. I feel so tiny right now. I hope I don’t feel any smaller tomorrow, I fear I might disappear.

W and I have a meeting with an NGO the next morning to pitch a partnership with our Human Trafficking project.  During the meeting, they don’t ask many questions, but they want to snatch our marketing materials. I feel like the bad guy when I tell them they can’t keep them.

W is nicer than I am about that kind of stuff – she offers to send a digital copy.

W always thinks of the nicer stuff to say. I’m a little too forward and direct with people sometimes.

After handshakes and goodbyes, we cab over to the Rayburn. We have to hang around for several hours because our event doesn’t end until 7 pm that night (we arrive shortly after 12 pm). And, we have to break down the installation afterwards – but that shouldn’t take long.

Our guest speakers arrive and the program begins. After hearing Stephen Lewis, my gush of smallness evaporates.

Nothing is out of place.

What I’m doing makes sense.  

No ridiculousness or second guessing anything that is happening. I think that can be rare for people.  When you’ve been out of work for as long as I have, second guessing becomes par t of your daily language.

To clarify, there are a lot of things you can do while you have a job that don’t make sense. You may think they are unnecessary, a waste of time or even beneath you. Yet, when don’t have a job; there is very little excuse to do things that don’t make sense to you.

And, that’s the core of good, stimulating and worthwhile growth – the stuff that makes sense. Stick to the continuities that are logical for you before you become part of doing something (for a paycheck) that doesn’t make sense.

Instead of hammering at what you think works, do what makes sense to you no matter how out of whack it may initially seem (like going to D.C. with very little money to help set up a one-night exhibit in a government building).

This is not about being reckless. It’s about taking steps towards the most fulfilling risks and reaping their rewards.

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Photo Credit: Regolare @Flickr

Photo Credit: Regolare @Flickr

Perhaps this post is ill-timed. Maybe, in a deep recession, I shouldn’t suggest that job hopping is (still) beneficial

Nonetheless, today, I’m interested in giving you something a little ridiculous to think about.

You can always top yourself – NOT

Besides the completely 1990’s phrasing used above – topping yourself  is not always the (greatest) end result.  

Outdoing what has already been done becomes a repeat exercise in …what?

If you are determined to best yourself over and over again as long as you can – it will ultimately become unfulfilling, not to mention, BORING.

Among other things, moving away from (or beyond?) your professional zenith requires spreading your scope of experience while maintaing focus

The tricky party is being fooled into believing a unique and forseeable set of risks are in your way.

In reality, you’re only re-hashing previous obstacles. Why accept the possibility of exhausted options when, instead, you can reinvent the same challenges over and over again?

Its a paradoxical complexity shading a simple truth: such challenges ask for very little. In fact, they may insist you become medicore (on the inside) bit by bit.  

Have principles. Learn to walk away

Dave Chappelle essentially gave Comedy Central the kiss of death when he refused to return to Chappelle’s Show. The common knowledge – opinion? – is that the comedian felt his style of comedy was becoming warped by the writers and producers.

Others contend that he was crazy and out of control.

This is not the first time people have travelled down a successful road, danced with greatness and then, moved on. Despite what the world may think about such actions, acting upon them empowers you beyond the usual shifts in career and job adventures.

Instead of becoming subdued by your own power and success, take it at “face value.” Respect it for what it is – and what it isn’t.

Respect for your work (and yourself) requires handling decisions on whether to exploit it and your talents for fame or fortune. Prepare to live with the consequences of accepting or rejecting either of those paths.

Once that is done – you can walk away- and have it be your choice.

Leave a Mystery

Knowing everything you could possibly know about something leaves little to wonder about. What happens?

You move on. The allure is lost because your interest depletes to zero. In an information saturated world, you aren’t necessarily growing just because the knowledge is there.

Leaving mysteries expands the the 3-dimensionality of your career. If you are interested in expanding your professional peak without becoming stale, engage in a mystery.

In short, fresh perspectives breathe new life into your own professional vision.

Being at your peak has little to do with how much you already know, but what little there is left to find out. 

How far are you stretching your current knowledge? What are you giving others to discover and what are you discovering from them?

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Obo-bobolina @Flickr

Photo Credit: Obo-bobolina @Flickr

You can’t get a word in. When you do, it’s glossed over like you are talking about the weather. You are ignored.

Or, at least it feels like it. Lots of twenty somethings complain that their superiors look over their ideas or outright ignore their creativity in the workplace.

Cue rolling eyes and huffy sighs

Frustration is inevitable when one has so many ideas they want to implement – if only their boss would just listen to them!

Contribution and creativity are, in reality, two different things in the workplace. Effective contributions generate ideas that have a foreseeable (and achievable) impact on a company or department’s bottom line, operations or strategical methods (or all three). They are not necessarily plans that have the “wow” factor attached to them or implement the never-seen-before-or heard-before ideas.

Creativity ignores that – not in a bad way, though.

Creativity doesn’t follow the route of necessarily being practical. It tends to be big. It creates new (or side) projects. It requires a leap of faith or someone with guts. Creativity may not always be effective. Yet, it damn sure is interesting (to the creator, at least). 

If, however, you are able to successfully merge creativity with an effective contribution – then, you may boost yourself out of the Middle Child Syndrome.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with creativity. It, nonetheless, may have little to do with work. Here is what you can do in the meantime to get over your MCS:

Ignore

As long as your own work is not in peril, it may be best to “act like it’s not happening.” Depending on the hierarchy in your company, your boss and co-workers might not be ready to bask in the light of your sunny ingenuity. Don’t let that stop you from being your wonderful, creative self.

Keep coming up with new ideas – they’ll be useful.

Tone it down

Are you running down your boss (mercilessly) to get your point across? For example, its’ 8:05 a.m., you and your boss are at the Flavia machine and you hound her with all your “great” ideas for getting involved with social media.

Your boss is a 57 year old Baby Boomer who thinks Facebook is stupid. And, the last thing she wants to hear (for the 8th time) is you cheerleading for blogging, twittering or whatever else.

You have to dole your creativity out in small doses. Don’t stampede people with it – spoon feed instead.

Don’t Whine

“No one listens to me – and I have really great stuff to say!” Ugh. That’s one way to alienate everyone in the office. Don’t (openly) complain about how you are not getting the attention you think you deserve.

Be open and cheery. Whining is a major turn off. Who wants to talk to a whiny (Gen Y) brat?

Find a connector

This is especially helpful for women in predominantly male environments. Gender differences in communication (and creativity) will always exist. Therefore, if you have someone who can help support your innovation, it most certainly can’t hurt. Recognize that nothing gets done alone.

Find an evangelist for your ideas.

If that fails, connect with someone who can help you do the following:

  • Tweak your ideas so that they can better fit with the personality and goals of the company
  • Better address the priorities of the company or department
  • Target you towards existing projects that need a fresh jolt of energy and creativity

Chemistry

Sometimes, the frictions are more personal than professional. It can be hard to fit into a new environment and doubly difficult when the chemistry is off kilter. There are ways to fix this, but it takes time. Spend your time being likeable and dependable, implementing creativity will surely follow.

Good ideas and plans don’t expire, so don’t rush yourself.

What do you think of MCS? Do you think there is more to MCS than just having your ideas ignored?

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success3

Photo Credit: Kevinthoule @Flickr

Dear Readers,

You know, a while back, I was supposed to write a series on Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers?

Well, I hope you didn’t forget. I did. And, the next two chapters I am critiquing didn’t make it any better.

As I am sure you have probably finished the book by now, I can only hope you will share your opinions with me…or roll your eyes in annoyance (as I did).

Gladwell names 3 things as contributing factors for Joe Flom’s success: 

  • Being Jewish
  • Luck
  • Meaningful work

Essentially, Gladwell has framed these ideas in context to his past chapters on a sense of entitlement, birth year and the 10,000 hour rule. In short, Mr. Flom was able to capitalize on the discrimination he faced by “white shoe” law firms in the 1950s and ’60s. As such,  a typical (Jewish) lawyer at that time would be forced to work for a “smaller, second-rate, upstart law firm on a rung below the big names downtown” or if they went into business for themselves, they took whatever came through the door.

This setback primes a young lawyer, like Mr. Flom to do work that the big name law firms deemed unfit to perform. What sort of work?  Primarily, litigation and proxy fights. I could go on and cite more (boring) facts that make Gladwell’s case, but I won’t. To summarize, the remaining two factors involve the luck of being born during the Great Depression and being exposed to parents who performed meaningful work.

Gladwell surmises that the cultural legacy of the three factors frame the success for Joe Flom and others like him.

Rounding out his theory on legacy, Gladwell cites the background of the Appalachian Howard and Turner clans of Kentucky. From the description, imagine it as a cross between The Proposition and Appaloosa

What?!

Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives.

They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.

Gladwell is careful to note that using the idea of cultural legacies to determine success is a slippery slope that can lead to racial and social stereotyping. I’m not impressed. And, neither should anyone reading this book. I thought I’d be “wow-ed” by Gladwell’s interpretations of success – I’m only disappointed. No, I did not read Tipping Point or Blink.

I can only assume that those are his better books because they are a part of today’s b-school and grad school curriculums.

From Gladwell’s observations, I only conclude (so far) that he is supplying interesting facts and tethering what may seem like disconnected ideas to give success a new “spin.”

Maybe, I’m biased or short-sighted. Perhaps, I’m reading everything wrong. Generally, a book that is seeking to change my views on success has only created a set of factors (some within my control, some not) as annoyances and ancestrally created obstacles.

If Gladwell is trying to (re)define success as something that is 3-dimensional, he has succeeded. Yet, only for the wrong reasons.

According to Outliers, if my parents time my birth year just right, I will only need to spend 10,000 hours doing something meaningful and complex that gives me autonomy. I have to remember to speak up and make sure that people accomodate my needs. I just need to be smart enough to get into college, but not necessarily be a genius. And, if I’m raised in the South and haven’t gone to jail (yet)  for someone “disrespecting” me – I should be OK.

So far…(maybe not) so good.

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newspapersLast night, I attended the Association of Women Journalists annual meeting. Initially, I was there to promote my NPO, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. 

In hindsight, it may have not been the best venue to pitch our organization, but I got some great information that I want to share with you.  

Jane Hirt, newly minted Managing Editor of the Chicago Tribune, served as the event’s guest speaker. As she centered on the crisis of newspapers and media, Ms. Hirt gave the expected “anti-hunker down” pep talk.

Essentially, journalism is changing. Get used to it.

Wanting information will never go away, but how that information is accessed will always evolve. If that includes moving from one platform to another, then I consider it a small (albeit, inconvenient) change. 

Nonetheless, her suck it up speech was palatable. Mostly, it was because she didn’t sound like a jerk. Nevertheless, how can you sound like a jerk when you have a smile like that?

If you dislike change, you’re going to like irrelevancy even less.

Maybe journalists take themselves too seriously. Perhaps, so seriously that change seems too ludicrous to even consider. Change, however, is about the ridiculous. There’s very little room (if any) for staid conformity and static values.

In a world where it’s possible to meet your lover or wife online, how can journalists not expect to have their own medium do the same?  Being productive involves remaining relevant. Remaining relevant has nothing to do with the phrase “staying the same” – no matter how much you convince yourself otherwise.

The world likes to fall into this trap of thinking when it comes to success, “Well, that was them and we’re not them.” But, you  know what? They were not always who they were. In other words, Oprah wasn’t always Oprah (as she is now) and online journalism wasn’t always online journalism (as it is now).

So, if you insist on believing that change involves some instantaneous and overnight boom of recognition, creativity and wonderfulness – then close your eyes and wait. While you’re at it – hold your breath.

Widen the scope of your competition.

Ms. Hirt mentioned that when she started RedEye, she wasn’t just competing with other newspapers. She was competing with how people chose to spend their time. Books, sleep, ipods and blackberrys were her competitors as well and factors to consider when launching a newspaper geared toward the 18 to 34 set. 

Consider that the “spirit” of competition is not just about becoming the next Google or Apple. You aren’t just competing with other bloggers or journalists. Remember what you are vying for: people’s time or money (or both) and how they choose to spend it.

Insist on riskiness if you insist on longevity. Manage reinvention…and stay on your toes.

People mistake that if you’ve been around for a long time, you probably don’t have to reinvent yourself. Or, shouldn’t need it. This reminds me of a podcast with Guy Kawasaki and Penelope Trunk mentioning the “democratization” one can enable.

In other words, what are you freeing up (or locking down)?  What ways are you creating access to your product or information? Are you (re)inventing opportunities for people to access it?

Simply, are you a connector or a disconnector?

Reinvention involves risk. But, everyone knows that. And, people like to take what they call “calculated risks.” But, those are iffy too, because the payoffs can be so variable. Even failure can be the better reward.

If you got everything right the first time, how do you know if you are doing anything truly meaningful?

Millennials and a woman’s style of management. Common sense meets youth?

As Millennials enter the workforce, baby boomer-esque management styles will inevitably need to transform. Gen Y’s are less tolerant of the once-a-year performance evaluation and the Big Boss you never see 25 floors up. 

We want collaboration, less hierarchy and to be treated as peers (not wage slave underlings). We take soul searching to the edge because we cultivate our own fulfillment to the maximum. We give ourselves space to grow and opportunities to grow it. That’s where our loyalties lie.

Ms. Hirt mentions that a woman’s style of management appeals more to the Gen Y job seeker. Yet, I like to think that a desiring collaboration has little to do with the womanly style of management (and more to do with common sense). 

It can mean all the difference between a dying industry and a dead one.

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