What Can Black Men Do To Compete In Corporate America?


By Ryan Velez

Corporate America seems like a minefield to navigate, but just because it's difficult does not mean it's impossible. Black Enterprise recently covered an event handling this exact question, the session “Leading and Succeeding in Corporate America,” sponsored by Georgia-Pacific at the first-ever Black Men XCEL Summit at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. However, there are several things Black men can do to help their chances.

Yes, on paper, the odds are stacked against Black men. Moderator Ronald C. Parker, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, noted, there are only two Black male CEOs in the S&P 500, and only 5% of senior positions are held by Black men.

“Still there’s quite a few employees of color, who when they look around their offices they only see people who look like them in cubicles, not in offices,” echoed Terrence Reed, vice president of talent selection at Georgia-Pacific.

Some strategies include Black men having to be more aggressive in finding where the opportunities are. These include pursuing STEM, an area that is guaranteed to grow. “You have to be heavily focused on where technology is taking us,” Anthony says. “It will democratize opportunities, not just across the country but around the world.” Even people working outside these fields will likely need tech to succeed. This also includes pursuing a global mentality. The fact of the matter is that while corporate America may be difficult for black men to get ahead, this doesn’t apply to corporations everywhere.

“I lived in Istanbul for three years when I worked for Coca-Cola. I was able to get business done in the Middle East and Africa in a different way as an African American,” says Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. “And I didn’t know that until I got there. There are places where we have an advantage over our white counterparts.”

However, part of working your way to the top means not being afraid to confront your fears. “A lot of us still suffer from that little voice in our head that asks do you really deserve to be here,” Anthony says. “It took a mentor to slap me around a bit. He told me, ‘If you’re in the role, you’re there because we believe you will be successful.'” Don’t be afraid to demonstrate your performance and skill to provide evidence that you are the best. One interesting thing Ashford points out is that many Black men are reluctant to share information with each other, to everyone’s detriment. For example, a lack of knowledge of salaries makes it difficult for African-Americans to get what they deserve when they are at the negotiating table.