On Thursday July 13, 2017, Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit held an inspired panel discussion on navigating corporate America as an African American. Bamboo was packed with over 60 attendees, ready to receive the message and advice of our four-member panel of seasoned business leaders. The panelists answered many questions including the importance of having a diverse workforce, being the spokesperson for your race, finding a mentor and natural hair in the workplace.
Our panelists for African American in Corporate America:
- Bruce Jackson
Global Director of Side Closures, General Motors
- Camille Bryant
Executive Director of HR, GE Digital Hubs & Application Architecture
- Sonya Smith
Director, Pharmaceutical Account Management, Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy
- John Wright
Senior Infectious Disease Sales Specialist, Janssen Therapeutics of Johnson & Johnson
Below are just some of the great pieces of wisdom our panelists provided for the audience:
–Find your advocate(s).
When you begin a new position in a new company, figure out whom you can trust and cultivate relationships with colleagues who have your best interests at heart. Your advocates will go to bat for you and can attest to your character, should it come into question. Also, your advocates may not be who you think they are. Your advocate may not have the same skin color as you or come from the same background; the only thing that matters is that they have a vested interest in making sure you have the tools you need to be successful.
–Prospective mentors have their eye on you.
Having a mentor is an important tool for professional development. A good mentor will assess you where you presently stand and advise you on what steps you will need to take in order to get yourself closer to your career goals. Mentors are not always sought, your mentor may be watching you right now– sizing you up and calculating whether they should invest their time into supporting your development. Always have your best face on!
–Being the spokesperson for your race.
You should not feel compelled to speak for your entire race, only engage if the topic is something you feel passionately about. However, if what is said maligns your race, it is encouraged that you speak up.
–Maintaining “blackness” in your work environment.
One of the most powerful answers to this question came from panelist Sonya Smith. She says not to focus on managing a black image, manage your own image. Basically, figure out who you are and be that! Do not allow social constraints to hold you back from setting forth your best you.
–Natural hair in the workplace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you can be natural in the workplace. It is more important to be neat and clean— hygiene is a must, no pun intended.
The floor was opened up for questions from the audience. The first question was, “What is the importance of self-care and how do you maintain your work-life balance?” The panelists’ overall message was to find whatever keeps you sane and keep doing that, whether that is sports, prayer, meditation or therapy. Also, set boundaries. Your time is your time and in order for you to be a functional and productive employee, your colleagues need to respect your time. The second question was, “How do you deal with clashing personalities in the workplace?” We all know that your co-workers are not your friends (sometimes they can be). What do you do when your relationship goes from cordial to disrespectful? The overwhelming answer was to confront the conflict head-on and have a conversation to clear the air with your co-worker. If this attempt at civility fails, you may want to consult with your human resources department for mediation.
The African Americans in Corporate American discussion panel was positive and insightful. Here are some additional examples of the panel’s insightful advice:
• Practice your skills and make it look so good that people will recognize you.
• Do not let fear drive you.
• Be ready.
• If there is a glass ceiling, do not keep bumping your head, move!
• Be confident when you network
• Amplify your best qualities
• Become a life-long learner
If you’d like to be notified when we have our next panel discussion, or just want to be sure you don’t miss future events, become a member of Black Young Professionals…. or at least join our mailing list!
Thank you again to our wonderful panelists, and please check them out at their websites or LinkedIn pages.
If you’d like further information about the event or the panelists, please contact us! We’d be happy to connect you.