Congratulations! African-American women have made significant progress in the workplace, and are now represented in a wide range of occupations and industries; we're artists, architects, biologists, computer specialists, educators, health care professionals, economists, law enforcement officers and corporate executives. We're educated and experienced, and we're taking care of business in the classroom and the boardroom, and more and more of us have decided to take care of our own businesses as entrepreneurs.
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we?
A recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) study, "Women of Color in the Workplace: Their Employment in the Private Sector," (www.eeoc.gov/womenofcolor.html ) examined employment for African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women during the last decade. The study revealed women of color now comprise 14.5% of America's private-sector workforce.
Of all women of color, African-American women continue to have the highest rate of employment (7.6%) in the total workforce. However, during the last decade, we have made the smallest gains with regard to total employment and higher level positions, and we seem to be concentrated in certain industries and in lower paying jobs. The results of this study are a troubling reminder that although we have made progress, there's a lot more to be done. While there's no magic formula, here are four strategies for increasing your chances for a successful career, whether it's in the public sector, private industry or as an entrepreneur.
Develop your communication skills. Communicate openly, honestly and directly, and be able to clearly communicate your ideas, preferences and needs to your co-workers, managers and clients. Remember that communication involves talking and listening. Carefully listen to others' directions, requests and needs. The ability to do this saves time, avoids errors and helps you give your employer and your clients what they want.
Take responsibility for your career. There are no guarantees. If you work for someone else, instead of thinking of yourself as an employee, think of yourself as a consultant and the organization for which you work as your client. Your job as a consultant is to bring knowledge, skills and abilities to your client. Be proactive. Find out what services your client needs and provide them. Keep abreast of current trends and make sure your service or product is of high quality. Take responsibility for your success and your shortcomings, and do the work necessary to enhance the areas in which you need further development.
Network. Join organizations, attend conferences and network to meet new people and establish mutually satisfying relationships. One organization I belong to is the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs Inc. (NANBPWC, Inc.), a nonprofit organization, founded in 1935, whose mission is to promote the interests of African-American business and professional women and enhance the quality of life in our communities. As immediate past Northeast District Governor of NANBPWC Inc., my 15-plus years of membership have been very rewarding and have enabled me to build a network that extends across the United States. NANBPWC Inc. is an intergenerational community service organization, with clubs for adults, young adults and youth. For more details and membership information visit our national Web site at www.nanbpwc.org .
Commit to lifelong learning. It doesn't matter how impressive your credentials are or how many initials you have after your name. What matters is what you know, and how you apply what you know in the workplace. What are you doing to remain employable and marketable? What skills have you learned or developed during the past year? What new knowledge have you acquired? Take advantage of training opportunities inside and outside your organization, even if you have to pay for them yourself. Those who are the best prepared will have the greatest chance of benefiting from the skills shortage that's predicted for the U.S. workplace in the not too distant future.
To succeed in this challenging economic environment we must work smarter, we must build the skills that will enable us to play a more significant professional role and we must demonstrate the confidence and self-assurance that comes with knowing our jobs and doing them well. Remember, the most successful people are those who prepare to win, play to win and expect to win.
By Yvonne Harris Jones