The Competitive Advantage To Being Black

Diversity just doesn’t address the issues associated with blacks in corporate America,” says a black male vice president with a major financial institution in New York City. “When you unravel the implementations of diversity programs, black men and women are still the last hired and first to be dismissed.”

Although “diversity” has become the hottest buzzword in business, with an increasing number of corporations making “Best Practices” lists, many black employees in corporate America seem unimpressed with the accolades extolled on their organizations. Even chief diversity officers have confessed that in some organizations employees see them as little more than public relations vehicles for the company. So who actually benefits from diversity? The New York City executive responds, “The corporations — easily.”

Kenneth Arroyo Roldan, CEO of Wesley, Brown & Bartle Co., a firm that specializes in recruiting minority executives, understands the frustration, “Often those companies that have received the most recognition, exhibit the least amount of diversity in practice,” he says. “Or the activity that is seen is at the entry level. Many will recruit from such programs as Inroads, a nonprofit organization that trains and develops minority youth for professional careers. But African Americans and Latinos transition out of these programs after five to seven years, never making it to the senior levels. [As a result,] young African Americans are frustrated because when they look up the ranks they don’t see anyone who looks like them.”

Roldan, author of Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge (Collins; $22.95), offers tips on navigating corporate culture, networking, selecting a mentor, and developing vehicles for trumpeting achievement — all in the context of leveraging ethnicity.

Roldan, and other experts believe that although many companies are still struggling with how to develop and implement successful diversity programs, the current business climate around diversity can actually present opportunities for minority executives — if they are proactive, strategic, and unafraid to use their ethnicity to their advantage. The latter, however, is often psychologically burdensome.

“Sometimes we worry about being hired just because we’re African American,” explains Sharon Hall, a managing director for the executive search firm SpencerStuart in Atlanta. “I would encourage us not to worry about why you’re hired, because the only reason you’ll be allowed to stay is if you’re doing a good job. So, whatever gets you a leg in the door is worth it.

“You can be hired because you’re African American and the guy next to you could be hired because he’s the chairman’s godson. He has no shame for being hired for that reason. The difference is, he’ll probably have his job 10 years from now regardless of his performance,” Hall continues. “Just worry about how you’re going to perform and how you’re going to succeed. Those are important things to think about.”

Race is just one attribute that can be used to someone’s benefit, says Joe Watson, CEO of StrategicHire, a Virginia-based diversity consulting firm. “It used to be that being African American was always a disadvantage. That has shifted.”

It’s important, however, that minority