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Diversity News

In the New Office, the Minority Can Rule

By JoAnn Greco

As the overall makeup of America's population changes -- the US Census Bureau estimates that nearly 1 in 3 Americans currently claims minority heritage -- so does the face of corporate America. That's due in part to the increased presence of ethnic groups in the workplace, and it's got a new breed of labor force observers predicting changes that will benefit workers who are part of a minority group.

"Organizations that are relevant and vibrant are leveraging the knowledge, skills, experiences and insights that diverse employees contribute to the business environment," says Barbara L. Thomas, past president and CEO of the 6,000-member National Black MBA Association based in Chicago.

But not every company is as "sure [about] why they want to employ more diverse execs," cautions Julie Jansen, an executive coach based in Stamford, Connecticut. "So if an ethnic employee can identify why their specific diverse characteristics are a plus, they should do so."

Find Your Competitive Edge

Kenneth Roldan, CEO of Wesley, Brown & Bartle, a New York City-based executive recruiting firm that specializes in placing minorities, agrees. "Many minorities overlook the fact that they bring an array of strengths that can help the company grow, boost profits, and expand its market share," he writes in Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge.

Among the tips he and co-author Gary Stern offer:

  • Discover Your Identity: Instead of worrying about "fitting in," revel in the richness you can bring to the conference table. Nowadays having a global perspective or being bilingual is of immense value.
     
  • Become a Minority Specialist: Stay tuned to the specific concerns, issues and trends of interest to your social circle "Ask your minority friends what motivates them to choose a financial services or insurance company, buy an automobile, choose a vacation," suggests Roldan. "Don't cut off your own access."
     
  • Don't Overlook the Big Picture: Success is still all about skills, points out Roldan. "Use your know-how to reach [all] audiences," he says.

Leverage Your Connections

When job hunting, experts recommend that people of color consider more than a company's diversity policies and staffing demographics. They should also look at whether the company is missing opportunities. "Regardless of the business or industry, ethnic markets are growing by leaps and bounds," says Jansen. "Minorities should show potential employers how they can put their cultural knowledge to use attracting and retaining clients, customers, employees and vendors."

Once inside, don't stop working to encourage diversity, recommends Jansen. "Ethnic employees should get actively involved in initiating and promoting other diverse groups and individuals within their company." she says. "One client of mine, for example, went to work for an insurance company in asset management -- and she is starting a Hispanic affinity networking group there."

Minorities who reach the top have an "enormous responsibility," journalist Gwen Ifill wrote in The New York Times. "It's more than simply being a role model. I know that I have to be a voice for them as well."

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