I discussed ending a job/relationship in one of my more recent blogs but I never offered any insight regarding keeping a job. I should say maintaining a career instead of a job. When your working a job, it may not necessarily be a career. If your flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant or mowing lawns you may not say it’s your career. If you’re smart these jobs will help you understand business and the develop the attitude you need to represent a company.
I’ve been working in corporate America since graduating college in 1996. What I think now and what I thought or perceived in 1996 are like night and day, or should I say black and white. I graduated from a historically black college or university(HBCU). My education fully prepared me for the technical rigors of the position without question. Unfortunately, going to an HBCU, may have handicapped me regarding the culture of corporate America. The corporate racial make up is about 80% white. I’m making that number up but when you’re the only person of color in the audience of about a hundred people, you’ll realize I’m being very generous with my estimate. So…when I say corporate culture I mean, dealing with white people or a non-diverse population and their perceptions and insecurities of a black people. I’m not pointing a finger at racism, I’m not even pointing the finger, I’m just aiding you in understanding how to identify the behavior without losing your cool or your job. As the black person, it’s key not to allow people to disrespect you. If you try to make everyone like you, you’ll be miserable for your entire time in that position. You rather people respect you than like you. You’re not there to make people laugh, that’s not your job. I’m not saying be angry or militant like I was, but understand if everyone wants to joke with you, the black guy, ask yourself why. It’s not a bad place to be if everyone really is cool and respectful but it’s a slippery slope. Next thing you know, they’ll be saying, “My niggah” as a joke and you’re left standing there debating breaking his jaw and going to jail or laughing uncomfortably cause you want to keep your job. Don’t friend anyone on Facebook, keep your social life private, I just tell people, “I don’t friend co-workers.” I can’t control what my friends on Facebook will say and if a deep discussion about Obama, Zimmerman or the justice system pops up then I don’t want to hear about it at work. So learn to keep your private life private. If I leave the position then maybe, but I don’t want to introduce any coworkers to all my friends. People pass judgement, they get jealous and it’s not necessary. My friends on Facebook are MY FRIENDS and my co-workers are not allowed in that world. Again, you’re here to do your job, not make friends.
Don’t be unapproachable or angry, the angry black man persona is just awful. People won’t want to work with you, you may not get key emails or invited to meetings. The pro-black, militant image will make your environment horrible. People won’t want to associate with you. It’s a hard balance to maintain but for success you must do it. I’ll use an example, be approachable enough to where someone will give you a ride if you’re stuck in the snow and be prepared to do the same for someone. Even if you don’t agree with them from time to time, be professional enough to help them if their car needs a jump.
Be nice to everyone but don’t be a push over, remember you want people to respect you. I mean nice to the janitors, window washers, cashiers in the cafeteria, everyone. You’re not that important, I don’t care how much you make. It’s nice to be important but it’s important to be nice.
When you communicate, ask questions, be clear in your statements, most times just say, “I don’t understand the expectations, can you provide a little more clarity?” Be the team player, if someone asks for someone on your team and they’re not present respond, “They went to lunch, you need me to help you with that?” Just be pleasant, like the cashiers in Chic-fil-a. When they say, “My pleasure.” I think it’s different, pleasant even. You may think it’s corny, phony or uncool, it’s not meant to be cool. You’re a professional now, act like a professional, you want to be cool and unemployed or a working professional buying cool stuff or going to cool places. Being broke ain’t cool.
Dress the part, pull you pants up!
YOU WILL NEVER BE A MANAGER FOR ANYTHING BUT A FAST FOOD RESTAURANT IF YOU DON’T PULL YOUR PANTS UP! I’m not going to say anything else about that, because I’ll just get off subject.
People are going to piss you off, they are going to annoy you. People will test you where they won’t test your white coworkers. I don’t know why this is, it’s just the culture but this is the time to be cool. Don’t retaliate, just seek understanding and then respond professionally. It’s hard I know, real hard, but when you’re angry, you allow them to win. Don’t reinforce a negative stereotype about black men that will justify them not hiring another person of color…ever. If something upsets you, don’t be angry, excuse yourself walk around the building and clear your head. I remember this woman was setting me up, trying to get all this ammunition against me. She didn’t understand my job, the team or the dynamics of getting things done and protocol. I allowed her to think she was going to embarrass me in a one on one meeting with my manager. After successfully dismissing her assumptions about what I was doing and not doing, I asked her a simple question, “Is this your first position in a leadership capacity?” She almost broke down and started crying right there and I was very compassionate in my inquiry. Man, it was beautiful. That was when I realized that it’s not cool to lose your cool. An older gentlemen(white) later made a comment about her to one of my friends that she, “didn’t like black people”. I felt good about the vindication but it was an empty victory because I left the job, and it was a really good position. I had made some angry decisions prior to our meeting and it caused me to leave that position.
When you mess up, own up to it, be responsible and be the first one to fix it. If your white coworker makes a mistake, it will be much easier accepted and excused. Hey…I don’t make the rules but after 19 years of witnessing how they respond to my mess up versus “Paul Whiteguy”, I know the game. It’s all good, I don’t like it but hey I’m still employed and it could be a lot worse.
I’ve also learned that I shouldn’t share what I do in my personal life. After working in my first corporate job for about one year, my black friend told me, “They don’t like you.” He was talking about my team. Stunned, I said, “WHY?!” He said, “You’re making the same amount of money they are, you’re younger than they are…and you’re black.” Still shocked I said, “I don’t understand.” He said, “Come here.” We walked over to my cubicle, and he pointed to where I had scuba pictures in Grand Cayman, horseback riding pictures in Virginia and indoor rock climbing tickets posted in my cubicle. He then said, “They are jealous, and you’re black.” It was my first wake up call and it wasn’t my last. So…also keep your personal pictures home. Be ready to leave the job in one hour if your fired. It’s not personal, it’s business.
I had a woman ask me,”How did you get this job?” I said, “I went to college and graduated with a degree in the IT field.” She responded, “How did you pay for college?” I responded, “Student loans”. Seeing an opportunity for both of us to learn something, I said, “What college did you go to?” She said, “I didn’t.” Shocked I said, “How did YOU get your job?!” She said, “I’m friends with the managers wife.” “Figures”, I smirked and walked away. I wasn’t compassionate or interested in entertaining her ignorance at that point, but back then I wasn’t mature in my responses to people. Again, I don’t raise the racism flag, it’s just the culture. Some white people have never been around black people, all they understand is what they see on tv. Your inherent duty is to give them the best representation of a black civilian you can. It’s not totally their fault but take advantage of the opportunity to properly correct them if the opportunity presents itself.
“Things like racism are institutionalized. You might not know any bigots. You feel like “well I don’t hate black people so I’m not a racist,” but you benefit from racism. Just by the merit, the color of your skin. The opportunities that you have, you’re privileged in ways that you might not even realize because you haven’t been deprived of certain things. We need to talk about these things in order for them to change.” Dave Chappelle
DISCLAIMER: My hopes is that the culture of racism will have died off and you won’t experience this racial double standard my generation had to endure. I call it the Obama phenomena, where you have to be over qualified, make no mistakes, be perfect in all you do just to be equal to someone white that’s under-qualified, inefficient and a product of the “good ole boy” system. What I talk about is the inherent entitlement of whites. I hope you don’t ever get a taste of the stereotype association. Things are changing yes, but I would rather you step into a position somewhat prepared, than not be prepared at all.
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