a business guy. You don’t speak our language and this time you didn’t get invited to the dance.’”
Fast-forward to 2003. Edmonson, who is in his fifties, now holds the position of vice president for information technology business management at Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health Inc. He credits his ascent not to his technical skills, but rather to learning a lesson that so many black professionals miss–the key to climbing the corporate ladder is not so much the written rules of the job description, but rather the unwritten rules of mentoring and networking both inside and outside of the organization.
“I was a great technician and became noted for my technical ability. But once I started to look upward, it became even more important that I actually networked and I got other people to value what I brought to the table,” Edmonson says. “It’s a matter of just getting to know what people need and understanding their needs so you can help them and they can help you.”
Understand what networking is. Effective networking isn’t looking for what someone can do for you, but rather what you can do for someone else, says George C. Fraser, author of Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the Black Community (Amistad Press; $13.95), newly revised and updated for 2004.
Whenever Angie Pace Kirk, a human resources generalist for an investment management firm in Baltimore, has a conversation with someone at her company, she always tries to find some bit of information she can provide to that person at a later date. “If something comes across my desk that’s useful to them, I may send it, or give them a call and let them know [what's happening].” Even if the person can’t use the information, Kirk has opened up the dialogue and deepened the relationship.
Make time to network. “Successful people–people who are at the top rung of every ladder in America–spend about 54% of their time working on cultivating, nurturing, and developing relationships,” says Fraser, who in 2001 commissioned The Gallup Organization to conduct a study that looked at the networking practices of black Americans. “According to this [Gallup] study, 70% of black professionals spent less than five hours a week cultivating, nurturing, and developing relationships.”
But where can busy professionals find 50% of their time to network when there are deadlines to meet and projects to complete? Mason says it’s an investment you have to make. “You have to say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to make sure that I take time to keep myself vibrant, to keep myself contemporary, to keep myself known. Without it, I’ve given them 110% but when they are done with me, what do I have?’”
Lunchtime and coffee breaks provide an excellent opportunity for informal meetings, while workplace organizations such as affinity groups, softball teams, and voluntary committees offer more structured methods of getting to know people from all walks of the organization.
Networking also often spills over after hours in the form of happy hours and other social