3 recommendations to help Black Americans navigate career growth (from a career coach)

Black History Month is a time in America when we celebrate the contributions of African Americans. These stories are usually filled with unimaginable hardships endured and circumstances that the average person would not be able to overcome — and that includes the workplace.

Despite anti-discrimination laws and employers’ best efforts to address the bias of employees, Black Americans are still plagued with overt and covert racism. As a career coach for 5 Minute Career Hack, I want to take a moment to reflect on anti-Blackness in the workplace and provide three recommendations to Black Americans on how to get the support needed to succeed, evaluate opportunities, and overcome self-doubt.

1. Find a mentor

There is a lot of talk about finding a mentor — or even creating a personal board of directors from multiple supporters — to help you in your job search and to grow in your career. But let’s acknowledge this is hard.

A board of directors is an elected group of people that provide an organizational structure and valuable insight into running a business. They align the interests of several competing factors and, most importantly, they are required to always act in the best interest of the company. A personal board of directors takes the same concept but for an individual. A personal board of directors is made up of mentors and allies you have elected to support you who have your best interests in mind in terms of your career and professional growth.

You may not see mentorship as a critical step in your job search, but it is. Having a mentor will help you stay focused on your goals and values. It will also make sure you are asking the right questions when it comes to evaluating opportunities or identifying allies to add to your board.

When it comes to evaluating allies for your board, there are two things to ask:

  • First, ask the ally who was the last Black person they mentored.
  • Second, ask them to name a Black person that they advocated for to receive a promotion.

Simple, right? Yet these questions will provide insight and help you with your board of directors’ interview process. It isn’t uncommon for allies to fail this test, and if they do, then you might want to reconsider relying on them as a mentor, or at least couch your expectations to account for their inexperience.

Although it can be difficult to find mentors, it is ultimately worth it. A five-year study of 1000 employers by Gartner in 2006 found that mentees are 5 times more likely to get promoted than those not in a mentoring program. Mentees are also much more likely to become mentors themselves.

For other supportive statistics on the value of mentoring, check out this post from The Mentor Method.

Need more help?

5 Minute Career Hack has a YouTube channel and podcast that covers tips to grow your career, including videos on creating an Army of Allies and forming a Board of Directors.

2. Align on values

How do you determine whether an opportunity is a good fit for you during the job search?

You shouldn’t just be thinking about how you meet the qualifications, your interest in the work, and the salary you can expect. You should also think about the culture of the company and whether their espoused values align with your own.

A general Google search is a great place to start your research. This isn’t just to find the organization’s website, but also other information that has been published about the organization, including reviews and comments from current or former employees.

You should also look at the information companies publish on their hiring or team culture pages. In particular, you may want to look for a DEIB statement and what they say about their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging against other evidence you come across.

If you note any red flags but still want to pursue the opportunity, you may want to ask about it during the interview process. If something you see while researching a company “doesn’t feel right,” don’t ignore it and “hope for the best.”

Even though it may be difficult to bring some of these topics up, the reaction HR or a future manager has to your question can sometimes be more telling than the actual answer. We acknowledge this is hard — but choose your hard.

3. Overcome imposter syndrome

What happens when you feel like an imposter?

Coined by psychologists Suzanne A. Imes and Pauline R. Clance, “imposter syndrome” is the experience of not feeling intelligent, capable, or creative enough despite one’s qualifications and abilities. People who suffer from imposter syndrome are typically high achievers who nevertheless struggle to internalize their success and feel like frauds. Although it is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a study in 2011 found that this condition affects 70 percent of Americans at least once in their lifetimes.

Imposter syndrome can hit Black Americans harder. It can add to the anxiety and stress Black Americans already feel navigating microaggressions and feeling like they don’t belong. It can also intensify code-switching or the need to represent all Black people. This is taxing, both emotionally and physically, and can require careful evaluation to know how to operate or whether to explore new opportunities. Let’s call out; it is hard to keep up with a double mind. Any space where you can’t be your authentic self is not a place you want to be.

So how do you navigate this workplace challenge?

First, you need to be aware of this reality, especially when you are operating in all-white spaces or jobs that no Black person has previously held. Second, be aware of your resources. Remember to activate your professional posse. As previously mentioned, it can be incredibly helpful to find mentors or elect a personal board of directors to support your career development. Sharing your feelings and doubts can be incredibly therapeutic and people with your best interest in mind will be able to remind you of all the reasons you are absolutely deserving of your position if you are indeed suffering from imposter syndrome.

However, don’t ignore red flags. If the workplace environment is hostile or unsupportive of your development, or your mentors aren’t helping you to succeed, you may need to look for a new opportunity.

Being Black is such a privilege to be a part of the rich history of perseverance, overcoming, and excellence. But none of us overcomes or achieves alone. For any of us to achieve the results we want, we need an army of allies, a team that will support us, mentors who will guide and empower us, and to believe in ourselves too. This takes discernment and skill and the willingness to also support, celebrate, and empower others.

For more specific advice on how to build a community to support your career growth, check out more content from 5 Minute Career Hack.

Remember, you are your ancestors’ wildest dreams.

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