Converting Bias and Racism in Your Workplace: A Primer for Minorities in the Business World
by G. L. Harris
Being There - Excerpt
You can’t hear the message if you’re not in the pew. You can’t go into the game if you’re not on the sidelines. You can’t play if you don’t know the plays. You can’t lead if you don’t know the players. You can’t be a leader if you’re not in the leader pool. You can’t be chosen if nobody knows who you are!!!
Being there is about expanding you knowledge and influence base. Being there - are social gatherings after work, informal lunches, coffee times, company get-togethers, dinners etc. These are opportunities to learn people, agendas and what’s happening in the business above and below board as well as what and who is fading in importance. Information obtained from these meetings can help you learn what is Truly Important and Urgent so that you can make informed decisions on where you spend your time and efforts.
The Japanese organize ‘nomakais’ (employee gatherings which you may have seen in movies) specifically to develop business rapport. These are after work drinking parties but the goal is bonding, networking, improving and repairing relationships after the difficult work days. They believe it works for building camaraderie, effective work teams and getting promoted. Many U.S. companies have informally adopted this practice.
Many minorities at first feel uncomfortable getting in the mix of after work drinks, group lunches and social gatherings but it is a fountain of business information with unfettered opinions and input. It offers an opportunity for inclusion as regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, you still work for the same company so naturally you should be there. Take advantage of it.
Being There ensures majority people know you are part of it, part of the work, part of the success. It helps to make them familiar and comfortable with you which is a key for personal and cultural success. It doesn’t have to become a way of life (drinks every night) but it is an opportunity that works for you across all lines by simply Being There.
As an IBM salesperson, I had an account that was 60 miles outside of Indianapolis. They focused on catalytic converters and other devices for the big four auto makers. We had two deals going: one for a large mainframe computer upgrade and another remote computers at plants throughout the country, total value ($3.8 million).
As we kept going through the process for implementation planning and order placement, there was a recurring issue with the Information Technology VP. He was always friendly enough and I had known him for almost a year after taking over the account. However, as I led the next steps and decision discussions he would always get antsy towards the end and usually ended up excusing himself before we got to decisions and action items for him and his team. This went on for two months and we were in jeopardy of missing deadliness that could affect his resource needs and our implementation/revenue plans.
I consulted with my management in Indy and our local support person Delores (also African American) who worked the account with me. None of us had a clue. We were doing the right things, following the process.
One afternoon after another stalled out meeting, I was staying over to discuss the account with Delores and avoid the traffic. As we played video games at a local pizza parlor Delores paused after hearing some laughter from a coupla of other tables. Her black woman’s intuition kicked in and she said “I’m gonna see what’s so funny, I'll be back”.
She returned with a local IBM Hardware Support manager I had only met once when I took over the account. What he told me explained everything: It seems Brentwood (IT VP) was recently divorced. Reason - he had caught his wife in bed with a black guy, a 6'5 240 lb black guy built a lot like me. His issue was in dealing with me, although he liked me. My leadership in meetings was getting in the way. He saw his nemesis the longer he looked at me!
He went on to tell me that his service and software teams (like all good teams) liked to review the account and what was happening, over beer and pizza in the bar at least once or twice a week. They knew what the issue was.
Maybe it would have come up if Delores and I had been there. We had been given an open invitation, but had never attended the informal get-togethers. You see these were technician/good ole guys and Columbus Indiana (home of the account) was only 10 miles from Franklin Ind., the original home of the northern branch of the Klu Klux Klan. But those experiences are another story.
After that meeting it became a simple issue for the account. Delores or someone from Indy did the pitches and I was low key and answering questions only. We got it done in 38 days, And once a week I bought as much beer and wine as I could at the pizza joint 60 miles outside of Indy building business and personal relationships that bridged the racial gap and helped me with business for the next two years. Being There (for $3.8 M) and a better future was definitely worth it. Converting some good ole boys over a period of time was even more important.
Spending time with the people who work with you internally, those who work with customers, and those who work processes and functions key to you, often can give you the information you need to be successful. The Key for you is Participation - Being There.
Available December 2016 on Amazon