Black People in Corporate America

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Exploring the problems black people face in Corporate America.

It really doesn’t matter who you talk to or where you go. For black people working in Corporate America, the dynamic is pretty much the same. Whether it’s racial politics from non-blacks, or hostility from other blacks, these situations are all too familiar. So why does this dynamic exist? Most folks would give some generic answer such as, “That’s just how it is.” 

First off, let me say that office politics and co-worker envy is common in almost any workplace environment. The reason why it’s more prevalent towards blacks, however, is due to one simple fact: Non-blacks have been told their whole lives both directly and indirectly they’re better than you.

We don’t have to speculate what other groups say about blacks behind closed doors. (If we did, many of us couldn’t handle it.) All we have to do is look around us. The economic and social disparities between blacks and whites in this country have always been justified by black people’s poor decisions and lack of discipline; an indirect way of saying other groups are better than you.

If someone is convinced they are better than another group, what do you think their reaction will be when encountering someone of equal or greater intelligence/talent within the other group? One of two things are going to happen: They’ll either accept the fact that the stereotypes given to them over time were lies, or they’ll try to sabotage that person in order to protect their superiority complex. Unfortunately for many non-blacks, they choose the ladder. This is where the office politics come into play.

How does this affect the work environment? Blacks simply can’t be “too good” at their jobs. One of the quickest ways for a black person to get fired is doing his/her job too well. It’s ridiculous but true. I remember I was working a temp job in a call center once. This wasn’t a long-term job; just something to make ends meet until I found a permanent position. Nonetheless, I worked hard. After a week on the job, my manager calls me to her office and says in a serious tone, “I’ve been getting negative reports about your phone calls. You’re a little too confident and casual.” Yes, this is basically what she said. I preceded to “tone it down” a little. Whatever that means. A couple weeks later they let me go. Immediately I learned from this experience that coming off too confident would instantly put a target on my back.

Another hurdle that blacks have to face is not appearing too threatening. It’s no secret that we’ve had a tough time in this country. For this reason, many other groups are always on the lookout for rebellious outbursts. If you aren’t smiling or appearing gleeful, it may set off an alarm which always leads to a downward spiral.

So what’s the solution? Be the most mediocre yes man you can be. No, seriously. It’s important for blacks (specifically young adults) to understand the game before entering these environments. Realize that Corporate America doesn’t have to be a life-long situation; rather a revolving door. You can learn what you need to from these jobs until it’s time to be your own boss. If you do plan to make a life-long career in Corporate America, understand the dynamic and play the game for your own benefit. Do not lose yourself in the process or else you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of frustration and disappointment.

 

Kevin Lavaughn

20 thoughts on “Black People in Corporate America

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  4. JayBay says:

    So what’s the solution? Be the most mediocre yes man you can be. No, seriously. It’s important for blacks (specifically young adults) to understand the game before entering these environments.

    If I could offer another solution, it would be to come to Japan (or any other non-European country) and use your skills here. The only thing they care about is do you have the work ethic and getting fired for being too good is unheard of. Do a year or 2 teaching English. In some cases they’ll pay for your ticket out here! During that time go to different headhunting agencies and pass out your resume. You’d be surprised at the amount of opportunities and it only goes up if you learn the language.

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  14. Mikey Stephenson says:

    Lots of good stories and experiences here. I’ve been in Corporate IT since 1994. Here is my recommendation to any and all.

    1. Get into leadership. No, not telling people what to do, but being the best in your role. Help others, have a positive and listen first attitude and produce more quality work than anyone else.

    2. Choose a company with a reputation for great leadership. Glassdoor.com can help immensely! If you steep yourself in leadership and join a company who promotes it, you’ll go far.

    3. Most of your success comes from your ability to develop and maintain relationships. Building alliances and allegiances is key. Read “The 48 Laws of Power”!!! When you join a company, the best relationship you can begin with is your manager. If your manager likes you, very few folks can take you down. This means learning what their expectations are and delivering to them to make them look good. Some call it kissing ass, but they are usually the ones with poor relationship management skills. I’ve eaten dinner at my manager’s home and even brought along a $48 of wine. We had a great time! He’s invited others on the team, but they’re too wrapped up in low self-esteem to do it. I’m not. He’s just like anyone else to me so I treat him as such.

    4. Mentor!! You’re hired by a manager who believes you will make them look good. They like what you bring to the team. Use that as a base to offer mentoring to your peers and also learn from them. I mentor people who I KNOW 100% don’t like me. And my boss knows they don’t like me and that makes him think even higher of me. I know because I’m cashing bonus and award checks at a much higher clip than those around me. I make his life easier. You know who’s not getting paid though? The negative folks saying they won’t mentor anyone, it’s the manager’s job to do that.

    5. Finally, move on to something else to stay sharp. I have the attitude that I will learn the role in the first year, master it in the second and then look for my replacement in the third as I move on to something newer in or outside the company. That way, you’re not sitting around wondering all the time if they want to keep you. Think about it. As a manager, do you want people who will just stagnate or people who want to grow in helping the company.

    Some may disagree with me. But I acknowledge the race issue, and either continue to focus on the items above or I move on to another place where I can be happy.

    1. tmack says:

      I hope your white because most melanated people feel the opposite and know as soon as they can replace a so called minority they will. You upgrade these people who would never do the same for you. They will always have the glass ceiling. Don’t fool yourself the game does not change only the players. Like Tariq says get all the knowledge from them and then flip and provide better service than they ever could. Give the knowledge to your own first, that’s what they do.

      1. Mikey Stephenson says:

        I’m a black man. I mentor people with the same attitude you just exhibited. The best mentees I have do a few things.

        I can see your point. It’s just never applied to me because I don’t allow it. I don’t agree with Tariq on many things, but I know that he figured out that he could allow others to hold him back or he can acknowledge and then plan how to overcome, yet maintain his professionalism.

        I’ll admit though, it is one of the hardest things to do with many of the people I mentor, not just black people. A good rule of thumb is even if you are sure they are out to get you, stick to the framework… or just leave. That’s what I’ve seen work across the years. Being the victim is comfortable because you don’t have to make that person in the mirror step up.

      2. Mikey Stephenson says:

        Also, I work with 3 other melanated men who are killing it here. But we share a common view that we know things are tougher for us, but this is only a stop in our journey. We’re creating the leaders of tomorrow today and we are it. The one melanated man that I mentor who is not doing so well continues to struggle with the reality. He wants others to leave him alone and just focus on their own world. That’s not the reality.

  15. Mikey Stephenson says:

    That’s a great analogy. My experiences have been different as well. Great recommendation on how to go about building your own brand. Most people I mentor fail to realize that even when you’re working for someone else the best way to think and execute is from a business owner perspective. Building a record of success in order to sell yourself works across corporate and business ownership.

  16. Aurea says:

    Along with every thing that appears to be building inside this particular subject matter, many of your points of view tend to be rather radical. Nonetheless, I appologize, because I do not give credence to your whole suggestion, all be it radical none the less. It would seem to us that your remarks are actually not completely validated and in fact you are generally yourself not really totally certain of your point. In any case I did enjoy reading through it.

  17. Barry Obuttma says:

    What is the message here? Telling us Black folk to be “yes masser” house niggas? Ok, I can live with that.

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