without taking personal responsibility for dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” And as relative newcomers striding up the corporate ladder, they must also develop trust in their black colleagues. This means getting to know one another better.
Consider the case of five African American management trainees who worked for a Fortune 500 company in the mid-1970s. While they had been welcomed into the organization under the new affirmative action laws, there was limited room for rapid upward mobility. Still, the group was determined to make a difference. That meant building trust and sharing information. They decided that their first step to working together would be to break a corporate taboo and discuss their salaries.
It’s an unwritten rule in much of corporate America that salaries should never be shared. In some organizations, salary disclosure could be grounds for termination. These employees were willing to take the risk, and with their newfound knowledge were better able to negotiate their departmental budgets and salaries when promotions came around. They also helped many other new African American employees as they applied their insights and mentoring capabilities.
While sharing information within a company is important, there are other ways African Americans can help each other. For example, what is your responsibility when someone on your staff has been downsized and is looking for a job? Are you reluctant to recommend a subordinate (even if his or her work has been exceptional) because you fear it won’t work out and that failure may reflect on your sound judgment?
“Become an advocate for that person. When you’re referring someone whose work you know is exceptional, go to the mat. Pick up the phone and make the call,” suggests Liz Lowe, a former vice president at the New York Department of Transportation. “Also be prepared to coach and counsel if necessary. Share what has worked for you in the past and, last but not least, stay in touch,” adds Lowe, who has helped outsized co-workers make valuable networking connections. By helping the other person to succeed, you decrease their chance of failure.
African American managers can either step on each other trying to get to the top or forge alliances and partnerships. Peer mentoring is one way to help one another rise through the ranks. “When you use your-experience to help others understand the ways of corporate America, you help them avoid land mines,” says Richard Harris, director of sales training and executive development at Batesville Casket Co. in Batesville, Indiana. “Giving honest feedback to other managers and directors is a way to help each other explore and uncover the blind spots that each of us has. We grow and go outside our own paradigm of needs when we reach out to others and share information with them,” says Harris, who has mentored a number of African Americans both inside and outside his organization.
Another way to draw on shared experiences is to form a peer group of six to eight managers from different departments or disciplines. Plan to meet weekly