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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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Constructive Termination – Yes, your manager is trying to get you to quit

Socioeconomic Affirmative Action – More reasons for white males to sue their employers

Director of Human Interest – Saatchi & Saatchi’s job title for their HR guy, Seth Wolk

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Addrox @ Flickr

Photo Credit: Addrox @ Flickr

Going to work can feel like you’re going to your parent’s house. And, if your parents get on your nerves, this can be annoying.

You deal with fussy bosses (your parents), co-workers  who get away with murder (your siblings) and the occasional guilt-tripping that comes when attending office meetings (family gatherings and holiday parties).

So, sometimes, I can’t help but feel like I’m a kid all over again when I’m at work. I have to prove that I’m “grown up” to my bosses, despite the fact that they know that anyway.

People have to get over the teasing that gets bestowed upon them when they make mistakes or look stupid. It can be merciless. 

You get nagged.

You’re watched. 

And then, out of nowhere, you get dressed down for stuff you don’t remember doing or happened so long ago, it just seems silly to bring it up now.

You think you are in a professional environment, but then your coworker laughs at his own joke verging somewhere between toilet humor and Chris Farley slapstick.

Roles get reversed too. You end up playing mommy to your 4 year old boss. But, the only difference is that the 4-year old gets the credit and you get the boot. Or, a grade of “mediocre performance” on your once a year employee evaluation.

So, how are people surviving this perpetual “childhood” at work?  For the next week, I’m going to examine the following  themes (in no particular order):

Proving your Independence

Ahhh, the teen years. You’ve got the license to drive, but Mom and Dad (or, better yet, your boss) just won’t let you drive – anywhere. How can you convince them to let up?

Middle Child Syndrome

You’re ignored. At least, you think you are. It seems like no matter what, you aren’t doing enough to get your boss’s attention. What gives?

Oooooh, you’re in trouble: Dealing with Mistakes

A favorite phrase of the corporati – CYA (cover your ass). But, getting in trouble for mistakes is so passe – do you want creativity or people who only do things “right”?

Role Reversal

Who’s really managing the department – and why aren’t they paying you the money to do it?

Am I missing any? Probably. Maybe you should tell me and I’ll add them to my list.

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at Flickr

Photo Credit: ::stromberg:: at Flickr

1. When an entire department is on vacation or during the major holiday season

If the salaried employees can’t be bothered to be there, why should the temp? Once, I was supposed to cover for two admins that were on vacation during Christmas. The agency asked me to work the day before Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.

Ok, that’s fine. But get this: the entire department was gone as well. Actually, not the entire department, just the director of operations, the office manager, all support staff for both floors, the managing directors and the consultants – not to mention, the lights were on weekend timers.

Needless to say, even if I could find another soul in that place (and I did) – none of them could give me work to do. There was nothing I could do. But, the guilt goes away fast. You get some cash in your pocket, at the expense of a disorganized manager.

2. To help someone else with work they were hired to do in the first place

If you need to hire a temp so that someone can catch up on their job tasks – something is seriously wrong. Most likely, this person has too heavy of a workload. Or, they’re an incompetent employee. Or (scarily) both. Either way, it costs businesses money. Hiring a temp to help someone do work that only one person was hired (and needs) to do is a sad case of mismanagement and wasted company funds.

Years ago, the office manager at a company I worked for hired a temp to cover the phones while the receptionist sat in a cube. The receptionist supposedly used this time to catch up on her administrative duties. On the surface, it just seems odd. If you probe even deeper, it just gets stupid. If you are going to outsource someone else’s (current) job, wouldn’t it make more sense to have them perform the “cheaper” portion of it?

You probably wonder what that means.

In reality, it costs more to have a temp answer phones (per hour on average) than it does to have them do data entry at a desk (especially when it takes the same amount of time to train). Also, you’re aren’t doing your business any favors when you pull maneuvers like that in the name of “efficiency.”

3. You are overwhelmed with “outstanding projects”

Outstanding projects are business wild cards. You have the idea that the work should’ve been done. But, it wasn’t. Now, it’s collecting dust. And perhaps, we (the business) should pay attention to it now (for whatever reason).

The projects become outstanding because they fall out everyone’s primary job description. You know how it goes, “I don’t do that, Pete does that!” “Well, I used to do that, but my boss says it’s not my job,” blah blah blah. You know the drill.

As a manager, you can stick it to some hapless soul and make it part of their job description. Nevertheless, it sounds like you may need to create a new job position within your company. For the sake of employee morale and efficiency, hiring a temp to take over tasks that are too time consuming for one person to do is the best use of time and money for any company.

4. When someone quits unexpectedly or you haven’t hired anyone yet for a job vacancy

This is a perfect opportunity for managers to evaluate if the position needs to be filled, eliminated or rewritten. Some companies take the cheap (and most inefficient) route. Managers lodge additional job duties onto other employees to pick up slack. Unfortunately, business suffers in the long run when employees have to deal with handling two jobs instead of one (in the long term). 

Not only will you have cranky employees (who question your management skills), but you will have to deal with confused clients and a medley of whining complaints thinly disguised as “concerns.”

After a few weeks, if you don’t expect to promote or hire anyone soon, it’s your best bet to have a temp come in.

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What's your bankability?E! Online’s Answer B!tch featured a question regarding Nicole Kidman’s mainstay in the public (and cinematic) eye. Someone wanted to know why the “tired” Kidman was able to bank much bank from Hollywood studios.

In short, Answer B!tch retorted that Kidman can maintain her popularity because she ranks mile high on the Ulmer Scale.

Essentially, the Ulmer Scale is a very handy database that tracks the bankability of all the major Hollywood stars. Bankability is narrowly defined as the degree to which an actor or director’s name alone can raise 100% financing up-front for a film. It, ultimately, determines whether or not a certain someone headlines a film (or not).

In other words, how many butts in the theater seats can say, Nicole Kidman get in versus Tara Reid? Will you make more of your money back by hiring Brad Pitt or Ashton Kutcher?

Who knew? I got to thinking about the bankability factor for us regular Joes in the non-Hollywood world. While, Joe and Jane Employee (or Jobseeker) doesn’t have access to a list that literally determines their employable worth translated into dollar signs – you can still track your professional bankability, if you pay a little attention to what employers are looking for.

Bankability = money. Here are three simple routes that can get you to the same place.

Money, time and knowledge

Money is the obvious factor, but not necessarily so for some. If you directly handle money (through budgeting, accounting or some other measure) than your influence is clear. Money is saved through proper budgeting and careful spending. But, let’s say you are the guy/gal who is in charge of ordering office supplies. You don’t have much say (if any) in how money should be spent, but you may have say in when it gets spent.

Before you were hired, the office employees would order supplies willy nilly whenever they wanted. This drove you nuts. Therefore, you implemented a rule that allowed office supplies to only be ordered once a month. In doing so, you cut down shipping costs and evened out the supply budget.

Food for thought: Think of your bankability in the steps you took to have business procedures make more sense not necessarily more money.

Time is precious. Are you saving your employer time? Maybe you create ways for the workplace to be more efficient or you provide services that decrease your co-workers overall all workload. What’s being done to keep your employer from wasting his/her precious time? If you perform work quicker, smarter or better (or, wonderfully, all three) – than you bring valuable time management to the table.

Ideally, good time managment brings a sense of immediacy without losing quality in your work.  How can you recognize that? Do you meet deadlines (or beat them)? Can people count on you to strategize work  priorities in a timely manner? Organization is key when factoring in (saving) time for an employer.

Food for thought: Think about your bankability in terms of how you are a time strategist as well as a time saver

Perhaps you are in a business that’s heavily leveraged on relationship building (hmmm…aren’t they all?). You have a large Rolodex (or a knack for creating one). Perhaps you have specialized experience that breathes new life into how a business operates. You are a game changer – and employers value that. The catch-22 with knowledge is that it is powerful, but if you don’t know how to wield it, you will be another dumb cog in the machine. What you combine in various types of knowledge (read: experiences) is translated into a highly specialized skill set.

For example, I once got a contract job specializing in arts public programming (think event planning for the masses). Having mainly worked as an administrative assistant for various financial firms throughout the city, you could say I seemed to be more on the path to working in finance. Before that, however, I completed a few internships that focused on developing cultural events.

I convinced my employers that my unusual skill combination would prove beneficial because, overall, they were looking to hire someone with an understanding of the arts as well as someone well-versed in keeping track of expenses, budgets and the businessof event planning. Nevertheless, my skills  provided a great foundation for handling the hijinks of public programming year round for over 100,000 people and was one of the best job experiences ever.

Food for thought: Think about your bankability as your unique transferability that would be beneficial to any potential employer.

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jerry-yang-and-yahooJerry Yang’s recent departure as CEO of Yahoo has sent a long awaited cry of relief from investors and Yahoo insiders alike.

Although the bittersweet ending for Yang means he is no longer in charge of Yahoo’s strategic plans, he will remain “Chief Yahoo” while helping the board look for his replacement.

In the meantime, take heed of some lessons from Mr. Yang and Yahoo’s business debacle.

1. Being too close

When we literally put our blood, sweat and tears into a project, we have an even more difficult time letting our baby go and “grow up.” 

Don’t let ego get in the way of good judgment. Analysts, Yahoo insiders and tech pundits generally agree that Yahoo is choking because of Yang’s passion and closenessto the quirky internet start up turned struggling web search behometh.

After all, he had been with Yahoo from day one. In this case, many believe Yang missed a fundamental opportunity to seize Microsoft’s unsolicited bid to purchase Yahoo for $44 billion.

Yang thought it seriously undervalued the company and refused to sell – some contend that it’s the most boneheaded move in tech history.

Sometimes, taking an objective “cold” look at the reality of your professional circumstances is the best way to move your career (or business) forward.

Passion is great, but you can’t afford to have it undermine clear business objectives. After all, it’s dollars and cents that keeps a business in business.

2. Having an identity crisis

Wenda Millard, ex-head of sales spoke candidly about Yahoo’s inability to recognize it’s own brand identity at a media summit. Commenting on Microsoft’s earlier bid for Yahoo, Millard said,

It was absolutely inevitable and predictable. Yahoo lost sight of who they are and who their customers are. Yahoo’s perception is that their only competitor is Google.

But 95 percent of their revenue comes from advertising – so their competitors are really the broadcast TV networks.

They think they’re in the search game, when they should really be in the brand advertising game.

Expect to evolve and grow throughout your career. When we suffer, however, from an identity meltdown – we lose our way and become blind to our own “professional brand.”

Growth is impeded and careers stall. Inevitably, we lose our consistency and you need consistency in order to maintain identity.

3. Crippling creativity

During Terry Semel’s tenure at Yahoo, individual departments were rewarded by their own efforts to produce profits. These controls were created to jump start innovation on underperforming units.

When we make our careers only about getting ahead – we eventually lose steam. Thus, robbing us of any genuine professional innovation that could potentially develop.

Although Yahoo saw vast financial improvements, unfortunately, they bred another problem: departments become more  territorial and less willing to exchange ideas.

It led to a breakdown in team collaboration and company ingenuity overall.

If all your inspiration is focused towards “winning” you lose the magic that comes with creating for creativity’s sake. Collaboration and learning are the core roots for creating good ideas.

When you delete those concepts from the equation, you lock others out and impede your own “creative self-interest.”

4. Changing too slowly or not changing enough

Yahoo was way too slow to respond to its competition, Google. So slow in fact, that analysts opined that Yahoo could never catch up no matter what it did.

When we stubbornly stick to the “basics” of what we know and don’t adapt quickly enough to evolving industries, changing trends or work on developing our skills – expect professional trajectory to tank.

Recognize that careers are fluid – not static.

Yang recognized Yahoo’s need to change, but didn’t implement any concrete strategies on how to get there.

Change is not negotiable in context to career fulfillment and development. The same goes for business survival.

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