Jill is an African American woman with ten years of experience in consulting. She is certified and versatile in the areas of practice in which she might contribute now and in the future. She has deep community roots in the major metropolitan area in which she works and she has shown great promise in promoting the organization in the market. She has demonstrated ability to target in on very valid and significant business development opportunities. She is liked by her peers and develops the people on her teams. She also plans to leave the company and possibly industry altogether. What is wrong with this picture?
Jill feels as if she works tirelessly to stay connected in the organization and to expand her network. She has been successful in this regard and is networked and capable of tapping into opportunities. She feels she has to prove herself every day when she walks through the door and again if she is working toward a significant opportunity in the company or the market. She feels when she speaks she must work much harder to be heard and taken seriously then her white male peers. She feels that her superiors are not connected to her and that she is not on their radar screen. She has observed the favoritism or advocacy circles that drive the assignment of opportunities, promotions and pay increases. She has managed to tap into these organizational circles from time to time, but also notes that she has to assimilate in order to stay connected. She is uncomfortable with the degree of assimilation required. She understands that this assimilation also limits the value she may bring to the company. She has come to the conclusion that the energy she is pouring into trying to fit into the organization could be better applied to her work if she was in a more inclusive environment. Her exploration of the industry marketplace has turned up options. She knows she has many career opportunities. She cannot envision herself staying where she is, on the outside looking in, trying to gain access daily for the undefined and long term future.
The sustainability of our companies is dependent upon attracting, retaining and developing the best talent. A significant portion of this talent consists of individuals who represent something different then our current executive ranks. Our ability to develop and bring new solutions to new markets is dependent on our success in creating an inclusive culture that supports a very broad level of diversity. Diversity in thought, lifestyle, ethnicity, gender, education, socioeconomic experience and much more. Creating an inclusive culture can be accomplished with targeted effort. How do we attract, retain and develop the individuals who represent the change we need for the future while we continue to work on our culture?
What can an organization do now to retain and develop top talent like Jill? One of the most important strategies that an organization can employ is targeted advocacy. In corporate america advocacy relationships drive talent development and career navigation. These relationships are a natural part of our organizations and have been so for decades. Advocates not only understand how to navigate through an organization to access key opportunities and networks at the most appropriate junctures of a career but they also use political capital to facilitate these moves for their protégés. Advocates also help the protégés to become visible in ways that individuals cannot do for themselves. These relationships exist and drive our organizations. These relationships are essential for progression to positions of leadership.
It is critical to note that for individuals who represent something different from the norm, the advocacy relationships do not form as naturally as they do for the majority group. Human beings are drawn to individuals who remind us of ourselves, those we can identify with. This is especially true of advocacy relationships that form naturally in corporate settings. This is significant and an important element in Jill’s story. How can a person like Jill reach the conclusion that the price to pay for success in this organization is too high? As a prior high level executive, I would be the first person to acknowledge the road is long and challenging. We expect to work hard to attain this goal. What is lost on those of us who may represent the majority is that the path is not the same for those who are diverse, those who may represent our future. The path is much harder every day in so many ways. When we hear that these individuals do not want to do what it takes to succeed we must understand that in significant ways we are asking them to do more then we have had to do. This is true for women, minorities, those with different educational or socioeconomic experiences, those with different lifestyles, or those that represent any significant difference that currently requires the individual to suppress a part of themselves in order to assimilate and be accepted. If you are a member of the majority and dominant group, the need to suppress fundamental elements of who you are to succeed may sound like fiction. Those who represent diversity in the ranks of your company would assure you that the energy it takes to try to be a fully accepted and engaged member of the organization is significant.
Advocacy relationships must be in place for all of our top talent. If left to chance, the relationships will most likely not be in place for the individuals who represent a critical part of our future because they represent something different. Targeted Advocacy Programs are not difficult to implement. The ripple effect benefit of these programs is immense. One method of shifting culture is to work closely with those individuals who represent the future. Bias is generally unconscious. Bias begins to break down as we gain personal experience interacting with individuals. Both the advocate and the protégé learn from these relationships.
For more information on Advocacy Programming contact [email protected]