Leveraging Candid Racial Conversations for Your Career

 If you’re a leader desiring to change your organization’s diver leaders, the answer is LinkedIn to start. Many Black candidates are as qualified as those you historically hired. The problem may be your network is as homogenous as your company.

I know professionals who are coaches were asking the question this summer after George Floyd’s murder, and everyone felt the need to say they stand up for racism, who rarely have had a Black client in their practices. I suggested it on one Facebook page that I thought many of my colleagues didn’t know what to say. Of course, no one admitted I was right.

When you treat people for who they are rather than what they look like, it opens a whole new world of opportunities. Danny, who has held management and leadership positions, including large corporations, made inclusion a lifestyle, choice, and mantra. He has helped many who don’t look like him and has set an example for all.

He told me, “…sometimes in life, your values are challenged; that’s where personal integrity comes in. Integrity is living a principled driven life, and for me, diversity is one of those principles.”

One Holiday Season, the company Danny worked for announced the location of our annual Christmas party. The only problem? On the outside of the building facing the freeway was proudly displayed the “stars and bars (the Confederate Flag).” He was shocked to see the confederate flag displayed so prominently. It sent a powerful message, and to Danny, it was wrong.

“People were shocked when I told them that I was not going to the Christmas party. Having relocated from Ohio and living down south, my work-mates were even more surprised when I told them why. I responded, ‘ I was not going to the Christmas party because the company stressed diversity. Yet, the Christmas party was being held in a location that displayed the confederate flag.”

He finished by saying, “Many people just shook their heads and walked away. For the few that were interested in learning more, I said: “I just can’t be a hypocrite because diversity is a lifestyle choice; not a corporate saying plastered on posters throughout the building.”

Only two other people joined Danny didn’t go. This is the way Danny rolled.

After hearing several leaders of organizations both big and small talk about how tough it is to hire Black people in the C-Suite or even coveted management positions, I, like many, are tired of hearing excuses. They don’t have to be like the Wells Fargo CEO has said the Black talent pool is shallow. It told us what we needed to know and simultaneously enacted an avalanche of other questions on what it takes for Black people to reach the C-Suite.

In what I call poly pandering, a leader can sound like the dude that says he’ll go out with any girl no matter her shape, height, size, or skin condition. Of course, few exist, but there are those leaders who say they’ll hire the best candidate whether he or she is Black, Brown, blue, green, or purple. All you have to do is look at their hiring list to see who have they’ve hired in the past. Many Black people are starting to look a little deeper and see the homogenous disease in the sea of White and move on.

I spoke about unconscious bias in the job search and workplace at a university in front of many college professionals during their half-day workshop/luncheon. In researching the organization, I found out somethings about the school that concerned me about their campus. Without going into what transpired, I got a call from one of the university’s Vice President. I told her what I discovered in my research. I purposely didn’t make this confrontative, and in return, she became brutally honest about the university’s history.

In the university’s leadership make-up, they had very few Black people leadership. She also disclosed that one of three campuses were “allowed” to remain White. Similarly, she requested what they wholly considered off-limits. From there, we had an uncomfortable but needed dialogue about why and compromised what I’ll be doubling down on. She agreed, and the presentation went well.

I spoke to the group five years ago. Not in the 20th century.

Black professionals too often are rejected and uninvited before someone tells them. It’s a more misconstrued message by the sender, and in all honesty, it’s a lie. I don’t get mad when people let me know I’m not wanted. I don’t take it personally (although it’s personal). I respect it and at least know where the boundaries are set. You can use these when looking for the right company with matching values and genuine care about being racially diverse:

🧐 Say “no” to the employer who is not candid.

Ask where the “stars and bars” are or why they are displayed so prominently. No “stars and bars?” Then ask why isn’t the company isn’t as diverse as they say they are. A lack of honesty shouldn’t be a fit.

🧐 Ask a question they should “know.”

Melanie noticed the hiring manager had a bi-racial family on her desk. She found the company has only 5% of Black employees through her research, and none of them were managers. During their discussion, Melanie asked how did the company become so diverse. The hiring manager said, “We take pride in we hire many diverse employees.”

🧐 Ask follow-up questions as another opportunity for honesty.

When Melanie said she found out the company had only 5% Black, 4% Asian, 1% Hispanic, the hiring manager said she meant “diversity of thought.”

This company once had job ads to brag about their diversity showing White, Black, and People of Color. Melanie didn’t take the job offer. That’s how Melanie rolled. Rejection sets clear boundaries for your career. And likely, people won’t say “no” for you to “know.”

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