Fall is the busiest time of year for me – and it’s also my favorite. Because it’s when I get to meet and talk to potential new employees about one of the most important decisions they’ll make: where to start their career.
At the National Black MBA Association conference (this year partnering with Prospanica, the Association of Hispanic Professional MBA’s) I will represent two minorities: I am African American and I am a woman. And I will also represent a common work situation: I work mostly with white men.
So while I can talk to potential employee about the obvious – competitive pay and benefits, world-class innovation – my real focus is on our culture. I need to help people understand who our company is, and what they can expect from a career here.
It’s my story: how an African American woman can strive, perform and succeed in an environment where she is a minority.
In my opinion, the single most important factor in your career success is joining a company with a culture that makes you feel like you belong.
It’s that culture that will enable you to grow your career. To do your best work. To be rewarded for that work. And to feel like you’re contributing to the company’s mission, and to your own growth.
I know what ‘you don’t belong here’ feels like. While I attended a historically black university, as a black woman, for most of my life I’ve been the minority in any given situation.
And I’m a minority at Rockwell Automation. So what brought me here, and what keeps me here?
The company’s inclusive culture.
Here’s just one example. Our company has 13 employee resources groups (ERGs). These ERGs bring together people who share a common experience – women in engineering; African American professionals; military veterans; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and allies. In these ERGs – and throughout the organization – people are encouraged to network and talk about what’s working in the company, and what’s not.
But the dialogue does not stop there. The next step is answering the questions, “What can we do to facilitate change?” and “How can we make this a place where you want to stay, grow your career and do your best work?”
Why is this important?
Because enterprise-wide support of non-dominant groups is one of the clearest signs of a healthy company culture. Leaders are inviting groups to share their experiences, to be strong and challenge stereotypes and norms, and do hard things, together.
The company helped me to grow my career the way I envisioned it, not a prescribed ladder approach. Career planning tools, mentoring, sponsorships. I employed all of these in my effort to grow.
And now, when potential employees tell me that they want proof of what I’m saying, of a culture that’s flexible and structured for support, that appreciates and values differences – I tell them, ‘I am the proof.’
During my time here, I have stepped into my identity as a woman and as an African American. I’ve been part of the company’s culture of inclusion journey.
This journey has not been without trials. I’ve been defensive – and now I see the reaction in others as well – and assumed that when something happens, it’s because I’m a woman or I’m African American.
I get it. For many, it’s a protective response based on a lifetime of experience. They default to, “That just happened because I am (fill in the blank: a woman/Latino/young/old/gay).”
If that is part of your past – and it likely is – then I am here to say that’s not our present and it’s certainly not our future. We consciously and purposefully address diversity and inclusion, through dialog and action.
Do we always get it right? Absolutely not. Are we always trying? Absolutely.
Company culture makes a difference, and it’s worth considering when you decide where you want to grow your career.
Visit me at the annual conference & exposition presented by NBMBAA and Prospanica September 26-30 in Philadelphia. Or send me an email. I want to share my story, and I want to hear yours.