According to a recent report by Catalyst, Navigating Organizational Cultures: A Guide for Diverse Women and Their Managers, there are four specific and implicit behaviors necessary for corporate success across industry: performing well, and producing results; networking and building relationships with mentors, sponsors, and coaches; fitting into the corporate culture; and communicating effectively. Requirements to perform and produce results are nothing new for minority professionals. In fact, according to Audra Bohannon, a principal at Global Novations in Waltham, Massachusetts, minorities have been raised to work twice as hard in every professional pursuit.
The “unwritten rules” have not been as obvious—or easy to apply. But Bohannon believes that the problem for most African Americans, particularly women, is that aligning themselves with their company’s culture presents an inner struggle between operating authentically and managing the expectations of the company code. “Ambivalence is one of the biggest advancement obstacles for black women in corporate America,” Bohannon says. There isn’t ambivalence to moving ahead, but what one has to do to get ahead.
“If you’re not ambivalent,” Bohannon continues, “you’re more focused and more disciplined because you can see what it is that you want. If you’re ambivalent, the energy around ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ or ‘I feel uncomfortable doing it,’ slows you down.”
The reluctance and indecisiveness, Bohannon says, around embracing the unspoken requirements of the work culture, such as developing engaging relationships with colleagues, socializing after work, and attending company functions, has a lot to do with how we were socialized. “Black women tend to be very guarded and very protective about their personal lives. And if what I have to do is not part and parcel to how I was raised or going to compromise me as a black woman then I pause for a moment.”
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