many from succeeding.
Know when to change gears. Learning how to be more flexible is probably the biggest challenge for people of color, mainly because the connection between title and accomplishment is a tightly woven mindset, says Watson. The person who loses an executive position mentally often has a hard time settling for a job of lesser rank. As a result, he or she will have difficulty identifying opportunities outside of their sphere of familiarity.
“If I’m the VP of Tide, that’s a big deal,” he explains. “I worked 18 years to get there, and now you’re saying I should think about going into manufacturing of auto parts.” What becomes a bigger deal, however, is not realizing that it may become necessary to change gears, such as considering a new industry or accepting a less prestigious title–just to stay marketable.
As Hall states, professionals also often have a hard time assessing their capabilities beyond a title. A vice president of marketing has difficulty seeing how the skills that he or she developed could serve in another position or in another industry. Declining to interview for a job based on the title and not what the position requires will oftentimes result in lost job opportunities. Enough lost opportunities can keep a job seeker out of the market for an extended period of time. “I can’t tell
BLACK ENTERPRISE / blackenterprise.com / FEBRUARY 2004
you how many people I have talked to now look back and [regret turning down offers] because they weren’t right,” says Hall.
But, as Mason points out, being flexible extends into a number of areas that include relocating and accepting a pay cut. “You’ve got such a [high] concentration of people and a low concentration of availability in major cities.” He suggests that candidates should consider places like Abington, Wisconsin, or St. Louis for work. “Headhunters themselves are feeling better about the talent, being able to draw them to those places,” Mason explains. “In the past you couldn’t get them to leave [the major cities.]”
Learn how to play ball. Giscombe, in her groundbreaking study for Catalyst, Women of Color in Corporate Management: Opportunities & Barriers, among a number of discoveries, found that there is reluctance by African American women to share personal information such as hobbies, family concerns, etc. with colleagues on the job. This creates a potential problem of perception. Unfortunately, she says, “Because you are [perceived as] an outsider, people will assume things about you or make up things about you.” It puts you under significantly more scrutiny, she notes. There are also professional repercussions.
“As people of color, we’ve got to challenge this particular notion that somehow we can stand apart and say, ‘Well, you know, I just don’t socialize,'” adds Watson. “If you make the choice to play on a field with rules, whereby golf is part of the rules, or socialization after work is part of the rules, understand by choosing not to participate, there are implications.” As a result, Watson adds, many corporate executives spend years on the sidelines, screaming,