game strategy and the challenges outlined in Frankel’s book. We also spoke about how these errors could have derailed their corporate climbs and how those coming after them can make adjustments to avoid them.
MISTAKE No. 1: Working Hard Instead of Working Smart
Debra Langford never fell into the trap of toiling quietly in obscurity when she could be out cultivating relationships. The Los Angeles native learned this at her first job, where she handled public relations and marketing for a family-owned restaurant chain. She welcomed every opportunity to attend events on the chain’s behalf, knowing that her bosses valued community exposure.
At one such event she met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the cartoon geniuses behind The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. “The conclusion of the lunch was a job offer,” says Langford, who launched her 17-year entertainment career that day. Positions with Warner Bros. Television, Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment, Essence Entertainment, and Urbanentertainment.com followed. “All of those were relationship-driven introductions.”
In 1999, when Langford was transitioning out of a job, she decided to attend the BFF/HBO Summit, an annual gathering of senior executives of color in the television and film industries hosted by the Black Filmmaker Foundation and sponsored by HBO. Langford was seated next to Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons. “Instead of trying to sell myself directly to him, I decided to let him know who I was and introduced him to other people at the [event],” she says. “At the moment I was introducing him to people, I realized the real value of relationships with diverse executives.” Three years later, a position at Time Warner opened up. “My choice in attending the conference was working smart. Look what it translated into three years later.”
Today, a little more than two years since becoming director of strategic sourcing, worldwide recruitment and executive search at Time Warner Inc., Langford has identified more than 40 top-tier executives who have since joined the company. How many of these corporate fast-trackers would she have wooed by working late hours at the office, mired in administrative details? Probably none.
Langford knows her contact list and ability to build relationships with peers and colleagues are as key to her success as her professional knowledge. In fact, Langford, 41, says that 90% of her time is spent making and leveraging connections.
“In the entertainment business, there is such a fine line [between] someone’s ability to do the job and the relationships you need to get the job done,” she offers.
Langford suggests these network-building tips:
Reach out and develop rapport with colleagues. Langford often e-mails professionals she reads about in the media. “If I see a notice about them in a [trade magazine], I will send them an e-mail congratulating them.” As for colleagues you feel uncomfortable approaching but need to know, she says: “Find a topic that would give you insight or create a casual dialogue.”
The Catalyst study reveals that 75% of black women are resistant to, and limit, disclosure. But such resistance often puts women on the periphery. When colleagues