Research over the last two years has pointed to the paradox in the careers of Black women. Our burning ambition is smoldering in our hearts but not realized because of factors both in and out of our control. As an award-winning Organizational Psychologist, I know first- hand the grafting and the skill set needed to move on up the career ladder. As a group, Black women are capable of taking on, and being good at, senior roles within organizations but we are less likely than white women to achieve that ambition. Research again points to us not receiving as much support and mentorship as we would like from senior members of the organization. This is not just a phenomenon in the US, in the UK, there is a similar story, lots of ambition and belief, but a lack of mentors and role models to help translate ambition into position. So, how do you realize your ambition to get to the C-suite or rise to the top of your industry? By being authentic, sharing your ambitions, building close relationships with people in your area…and being twice as good.
One of the criticisms of black women at work is that we are not authentic and don’t show our true selves. Know the difference between being authentic, which is being true to your values and ‘keeping it real’, which is all about giving your opinions and being right. Allowing senior people the opportunity to see what you value, what your interests are and how you are aligned with the vision or purpose of the organization will help to build those all-important relationships with decision makers. Authenticity is less about what you wear and more about what you hold dear.
Focussing on building relationships is time well spent. Developing genuine relationships with peers and seniors allows you to broaden your scope of reference and gives others access to see what you are capable of. It is much easier in genuine relationships to share your career goals, be supportive and give of your best. It then becomes easier for others to talk you up in meetings for those hot projects that you might not even know exist.
Hard Work Alone, Does Not Bring Great Rewards!
Working hard and hoping you will get rewarded with a promotion or a raise is one way to develop your career. It is, however, the hard way. Rightly, or wrongly, sponsorship is one of the key methods of gaining upward mobility in an organization. If a friend recommends a product, you are more likely to buy it because you trust that person’s opinion. The same is true for internal roles. Decision makers take advice from colleagues they trust. Whilst having an endorsement from an influential person gets you in the door of the upper echelons, it is your hard work and your skills at building relationships that will keep you there.