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African American Women Get No Respect at Work

Recently, an article published in the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business newsletter began with the following statement:

"By choosing self-employment over working for a TV station or network 'she [Oprah Winfrey] began her career as a newssexy Oprah anchor in Nashville 'Winfrey may have avoided a pitfall for many black women in the workplace, namely, being stuck in their jobs."

Research shows that black women are less likely to be promoted then males and white women. Economists, human resource specialists and scholars have gathered conclusive evidence that black women are least likely to be promoted and white males are most likely to be promoted.

The evidence is proof of bias in the workplace. No reasonable explanation for the disparity could be given despite corporate policies meant to promote and encourage diversity.

In fact, a large, multiple firms study lead by Nancy DiTomaso, a Rutgers University professor, demonstrated that black women actually suffered doubly from the disparity. She showed that not only are black women last to be promoted, they also suffer financially because white men earned more on average.

On average, white males in the study earned $68,000. Minority men earned $64,000 and minority women earned $54,300.

Despite the great chasm dividing white men and black women, the study's authors couldn't find any intent or awareness on the part of companies studied. There were no policies favoring white men.

What they did find was the men had more control over their work which, possibly led to greater job satisfaction resulting in better then average performance ratings from other white men AND from minority women.

Only black women were disadvantaged in this setting while all others were neither advantaged nor disadvantaged.

Knowing all this, the authors conclude that in the abscence of intent to discriminate against or in favor of one group over another, that "there is no remedy for those who either lack favor or suffer disfavor."

I'd like to suggest a remedy. White men are often more confident and competent because they have more experience. They have more experience because they take on tougher job assignments. They get more opportunities to do tough job assignments because bias in the workplace says they can handle the tough jobs and others can not handle them as well.

My solution? Take on tougher and tougher assignments and responsibilities at work, be mobile and willing to relocate to where the opportunities are, take line jobs 'jobs with profit and loss responsibilities 'and ask 'even fight 'for those jobs.

At the same time, find good mentors, network often, keep your resume up to date and your career skills on the cutting edge because taking tough assignments means taking risks which can occassionally end up in failure. However, not taking risks is the same as failure for black women as recent research has shown.

In the book, Cracking the Corporate, 32 African American executives dispense advice, share their collective wisdom and experience into how to successfully manuever through the corporate maze. Get the book now, sister. Its an indispensable guide and you may need it more then anyone.

Most Black folks in business now are in jobs that represent cost centers 'not profit centers 'to a company. The work is good, honest work but it often is the work that gets cut, downsized, riffed and reengineered before any other jobs. That is one reason why blacks are often the "last hired, first fired." Jobs such as human resources, information technology, diversity, etc. don't make money for a business (and I know some will argue against that statement). Jobs like sales, finance and operations execute company strategy, interface with a company's customers and ink deals.

They are the last jobs to go and when they do, a company is usually in real trouble at that point. Seek the line jobs. Never say "I can't sell" or "that's too much pressure" or "I don't like speaking in front of groups." Seek these high paying, high visibility, high pressure, revenue-generating jobs at your company. That is where job security is found. That is where the skills necessary to advance in an organization are tested and refined. And as long you invest in being as good and proficient as you can be in those jobs, you will find a higher level of career security and confidence.

If you stay on the cost side, you can be the best at it 'the best in IT, the best in HR, the best in training 'and still lose your job if the company finds it needs to make cuts. That is high risk and high pressure if you ask me.

Good luck, whatever you decide. You have a good example in Oprah Winfrey, among many others, to inspire you.

About the author:
Bret Searles is a freelance writer on Black personal finance and business issues, author of ebook "The 7 Simple Secrets to Building Wealth: An African American Guide" and publisher of the ezine Black Wealth Now.

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