Culture Cues

How can professionals discern the truth about a company’s culture?
The best way I’ve found to validate the culture of companies is to look at their track record in terms of where are the people of color, the African Americans, in the firm. Are they at the top level or are they just at the lower level of the firm? When a company makes a true commitment to have an inclusive culture, you see people of color at all levels.

What does it tell you when African Americans are in different roles throughout the company?

It tells me that the firm truly searched the nation and identified a pool of candidates that were diverse. They actually did an extensive recruitment effort and hired the best person for the job.

Is the opposite true if there are very few African Americans or none at senior levels?
If you find a company that has headquarters in any major urban city throughout this nation and their answer to having no African Americans at the top is that they could not locate any, it is not acceptable. They may be focused on trying to sell their products to our community, but they’re not committed enough to hire or do business with African American professionals and businesses.

Should African Americans avoid seeking employment at firms that don’t have a diversity policy and supplier diversity program?

I would not go as far as to say folks should avoid going to work for them. But if there is a company that does not have a practice of inclusion, I would not spend my money with them. If one has a great opportunity, especially a young professional, to go into a place that is making a strong attempt to diversify their workforce as well as their business practices, they should do so because many of us have been ‘first’–the first African American board member, the first African American chief marketing officer–and we need those trailblazers to effectuate change so that others can come behind them.

How does a trailblazer change the culture?
A very big challenge is maintaining your individuality. But once you get in a position of influence or in any role in a company, you bring who you are to the role. I think companies that value inclusion value that. When I’m sitting at the board of directors’ table and I hear something that is not inclusive of all cultures, I raise my hand and I bring that issue to the table so that the board members understand that this policy may have a negative impact on single women or on African Americans or Hispanics. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s a burden that we must carry when we are in these roles. We can’t say that we’ve made it and not make the trails easier for others.