It's not always easy being me. I lead a fairly calm life, going around pretty much to my own beat, my own comfort level. There are those times, however, when, just like everyone else, I have to alter my normal life in order to work on a task that requires me to leave my comfort zone and get out there among the people, so to speak. It's a consultant's life, and for the most part I enjoy working like this when I can.

Me as a consultant

Here's the scenario. I was working within an organization that many people across the country would say had the perfect balance of workplace integration. If one tried to estimate the racial balance of this organization, you'd come up with some figures that would indicate that these folks got it right. At least on the surface that is.

As I was walking the halls of this organization, I noticed some of the looks I got from many of the employees who worked there, regardless of their racial background. It took about a day for me to realize that, as my dad used to say, there weren't enough "folks" wearing ties.

It's actually kind of weird, if you're of the proper mindset, to observe the reactions I get quite often, both negative and positive. To break it down further, people in the majority would give me one of those looks as if to say "where did you come from." People of color, and I don't just mean black people, would give me a look as it to say "are you sure you're in the right place?"

Many of the people of color smiled at me, especially when I said hello to them first. All of them acknowledged me, which may not seem like such a big deal to some, but it's something that's common among people of color, who sometimes feel overwhelmed by numbers in some situations. Just to answer this one, which I've been asked on occasion (smh), no, we don't all know each other.

After about three weeks, I learned that there were no minorities in upper management or middle management. There were only 3 minorities in lower management positions, which is appalling considering there were over 1,300 employees in the medical facilities alone, which was a part of a large university system. Of the people in upper management, none were women; in middle management, you began to see a bit more equality based on sex, which is typical in health care, one of the few types of vocations that will offer women the possibility of equality when it comes to middle management.

It's important at this time to make a distinction between giving someone an opportunity to work and giving someone an opportunity to establish a career, and what the ramifications are, both positive and negative, of not addressing these issues.

Every person deserves to be treated fairly; every person deserves an equal opportunity for employment, to provide for themselves and their families. Whereas there is acknowledgement that, for certain skilled positions, one may need educational credentials to be eligible for a position, the great majority of jobs and professions in this country can be learned by almost anyone with a credible high school education.

What I've described above is the opportunity to work. The opportunity to establish a career means that once a person has been given a job, if they excel in that position they deserve to be evaluated for an even higher position within the organization. They've acquired the skills needed for those positions, and have shown themselves to be more productive in doing the job than most of their co-workers. They've shown dedication and the yearning to be better, to make more money, to be taken seriously, and to be accepted as someone ready to move to the next level.

The truth, however, is that oftentimes that next step just isn't forthcoming in the same ways for minorities as for everyone else. It's been talked about for decades in conversations with coded messages:

"They're not suitably equipped for management; they haven't got the background to show they can handle the responsibility; we're not convinced that they would know how to work well with others reporting to them; we don't know that others will accept them as leaders."

I've personally heard phrases like this uttered during my lifetime. It shocks me every time because I could never figure out how someone could have the nerve to say something like that to me, as if discounting me in some way because I've already crossed what I'll call the "Great Divide".

Here's what happens. A person gets hired and works hard to become proficient, not only to the best of their own ability but better than anyone else in their area. They've been taught by their parents that if they work hard they will ultimately be rewarded for their perseverance.

What they notice after a while, though, is that they keep getting passed over by people they feel are less qualified or proficient than they are, and when they ask about it they're given superficial reasons that make no sense. Eventually, they stop trying; they don't complain while doing their work, but their performance starts to slip. Now is when their work habits are noticed, and someone says it proves they would have never been competent to be moved into a management position.

But it doesn't end here. Whereas they don't complain within the department, they complain to others who they have lunch with or go on break with. The people they interact with share the same kinds of complaints. They all then complain to their friends; they also complain to their families.

The word gets out; the applications start to dry up because word gets out that this will never be a place where they'll get a fair shake. There will always be someone who hasn't heard the word, someone who just needs a job to take care of their families, but the cream of the crop, the types of personnel companies and organizations need to help them take their businesses to the next level, leave because they see the glass ceilings that are above them.

You don't have to take my word for it. If you dare, go up to a few folks and ask them what they've experienced. They may not tell you, because they may not trust you enough; that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But if you ask enough of them (if you know enough of them), you'll hear the truth, and you'll know why the struggle still exists, why there's still this need for affirmative action (don't want to hear the code word "quotas"), and why this is a topic which will, unfortunately, never go away.

Somebody better start dealing with it soon, because within the next two generations the majority is going to be in the minority; then what will they do? I have a feeling I know what will happen, and I'm old enough to know I won't be around when it does.

By the way, just before I left that consulting gig, after giving my final report, I told management that they needed more folks with ties, then explained it to them. Was it out of place? I didn't think so; it needed to be said. Did anything change? I don't know, but probably not since, based on my own history, things never changed where I worked unless I initiated it; a tale for another time.

© October
Mitch's Blog