Iris Randall is the owner and founder of New Beginnings, a management consulting firm in Danbury, Connecticut.
Joyce, an african american, joined a Fortune 500 consumer products firm as a senior product manager. Her hiring caused some consternation among the other black managers, who saw Joyce as taking a job one of them could have had. Although not much was said, their resentment showed in small ways. They were overly polite when in Joyce’s company and were reluctant to share information with her. And, while no one said anything derogatory about Joyce, no one said positive either. It was as if black managers had bought into the general opinion that Joyce was in just another affirmative action hire.
When Joyce was preparing her first sales presentation on product positioning, not one of her black colleagues told her about an early trend report that would have help her better target her market. Consequently, her presentation was met with only mild approval from her colleagues and superiors. “At first, I thought I was not made aware of this information because I was new,” recalls Joyce. “But I was also left out of informal gatherings and was rarely asked my opinion on projects. It took me having to prove myself as a manager before I was actually accepted into the group.
Why did this occur? When black employees give less support on their fellow black managers than they do to their white counterparts, it may indicate that they have bought into an “inferiority” complex, which they project onto their black colleagues. In The Black Manager: Making It in the Corporate World by Floyd and Jacqueline Dickens (Amacom, $22.95), “black self-hate”–a complicated issue that is deeply rooted in the black history–is discussed in detail. This malady tends to rear its ugly head in the workplace in various ways.
Managers with this mind-set subvert each other by micro-managing–assigning projects to black colleagues only to turn around and take the work back because they are afraid it won’t be done properly. There are some overly conservative managers whose fear of failure is so great that they won’t take risks. They end up holding everyone back to never introducing a new idea or allowing their staff to be innovative.
Then there are the managers who are overly sensitive to any congregation of African Americans in the workplace. “Coupling,” as it’s informally called when three or more black employees gather in the workplace, can include anything from having lunch together to socializing in the elevator. This manager will never engage in such a forum for fear that his or her white counterparts will think that the group is “conspiring.”
THE NEED TO LEVERAGE DIVERSITY
If black managers are to take their rightful place in upper management, they must leverage their diversity. Just because both a manager and subordinate are black doesn’t mean that there will be automatic cohesiveness. African Americans are as diverse in their attitudes and behaviors as any other group. Black managers must be confident enough to let go of the reins