is going to equal you getting a promotion in six months- or not. When you have 18-19 years experience under you belt, you’re less likely just to stay at an organization hoping to excel. We hear the clock ticking.
EBONY: Interesting. Let’s talk a little about being a GenX-er of color, or a Black professional across the board. As professionals of color, how can we better position ourselves to be of greater value to these corporations?
CO: We as Black people have been given this advice for so long of just ‘go in and work hard’, “pay the tax.” But a mentor of mine told me: If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted. And if you think about it, why in the world would you get promoted if you do such a great job doing what you do?!
CO: For this reason, I suggest two things for us. First, make sure your direct reports can do your job. Work to get them to the position where the organization can function without you. Secondly, ask for opportunities to operate at the level you want to be. You can’t just sit there and hope someone sees you working. Go to your boss and ask, “What can I take off your plate?” This is the winning question! This one question takes you from being someone of high-performance to someone of high potential.
EBONY: Wow! You need to write a book or something!
CO: Here’s a profound message to keep in mind that a Caucasian mentor enlightened me to: “People of color get promoted based on the work they do. Caucasians get promoted based on what they might be able to do.” Just something to keep in mind.
EBONY: Wow. Interesting. Ok, last question. In terms of professionals of color and gender, what is the difference between Black men and women in corporate America? And what can Black women do differently to become more competitive?
CO: I’ll start with the second question first. What I’ve found most effective, as a Black man moving up the [corporate] ladder is to seek out the people who were at the top of their game within the organization; typically those people happened to be Caucasian males. Women, Black women especially, tend to seek out other women to build a mentor relationship. While there is nothing wrong with that, I would suggest to a young Black woman to find a Caucasian male to be her mentor. And I say this because Caucasian males are in places in the organization and having conversations, regardless of ethnicity, that a woman is not privy to. This relationship can prove highly beneficial for Black women trying to be more competitive in corporate America.
EBONY: I think you’re on to something here, Dr. Odom.
CO: Also, we [Black professionals] need to be more forward with asking to connect with people. When you are in an organization, build your network to look like your bosses network. We [Black people] tend to build comfort zones instead of networks. Ask your boss who are the people you should be talking to, and seek to have coffee with them. When you do have that coffee, ask him/her the same thing and keep it going.
This says two things: 1. You are looking to build your network; which is key. 2. It allows your boss to have ownership over your relationships. See now, those people will go back to your boss and tell him/her how great you are, thereby making your boss look amazing for bringing you in.
EBONY: I am floored. Speechless. So this is the game?
CO: Yes, this is the game. And I didn’t learn it from us. I learned it from older Caucasian males…. Regardless of gender or race, we have to seek out those power brokers that will take you to places the people who look like you may not.
EBONY: Well, thank you for enlightening me this evening. This has been quite the conversation. It truly crosses many generations but I especially hope it helps your peers get unstuck.
CO: You are very welcome. It has been a pleasure. I hope so too.
Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a freelance writer and young philanthropist. Her energy can be read weekly on Friends of Ebonie. Her favorite food is food, ice cream and cheesecake. Home is Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on @EbsTheWay.