We have all heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” But actually, success lies in our experience and our contacts. African Americans may feel our chances for advancement hit the glass ceiling because we don’t have the mentors to help us rise to the top. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a good network to build a successful career or business. Here are five suggestions for African Americans interested in building such a network locally.
Get involved with minority professional organizations
It certainly is important to reach out to professional organizations within your industry and your professional specialty. However, becoming active members of African American professional organizations, such as the African American Leadership Institute, National Black MBA Association, the Black Professional’s Alliance of Austin, Blacks in Government, and the Austin Black Lawyers Association, is also important. These organizations allow their members the opportunity to meet African Americans in other companies with the same interests and cultural backgrounds. Members often exchange job or business leads and the organizations often provide seminars and workshops about issues important to African Americans in the field.
Volunteer for a cause
Expand community involvement beyond the Junior League, the United Way for Greater Austin, or Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. What about donating time and talents to such organizations as the Austin Area Urban League, the African American Youth Harvest Foundation , the Austin Justice League, the Survive2Thrive Foundation (S2T) or MEASURE. Volunteering gives individuals the opportunity to meet with others who care about the same causes. You never know who you may meet–often someone with the authority or connections to help advance your career. Demonstrating one’s altruistic side makes a very positive impression on people about your character.
Create a support system with other African American colleagues, business owners, and community leaders
Since it may be very difficult to break into the old boys’ network, consider creating a new, minorities’ network. Reach out to other minorities inside your organization to create professional relationships. On an informal basis, meet with other minorities who are at all levels of the organization to discuss such issues as 1) Who is about to get promoted?; 2) What programs are being developed? and 3) How is the company performing financially? But beyond getting information, these networks help to establish allies when decisions such as promotions, raises, or terminations are made at your company. On the community level, in addition to the NAACP, consider joining such organizations as the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, Black Women In Business, 100 Black Men of Austin, Inc., the Black Women in Business, Black Pflugerville, and Austin (TX) Chapter of The Links.
Serve as a role model to other African Americans
As the saying goes, “It is more important to give than receive.” Passing along what you have learned about climbing the career ladder to someone at a lower rung is very important. For entrepreneurs who often face challenges due to lack of financing, marketing, or business development, sharing with fellow African American business owners lessons learned, can be very beneficial. Don’t necessarily wait for someone to ask for your help. Often African Americans are reluctant to ask for assistance from others higher up the organizational chart or who we deem to be more successful than ourselves. Providing advice and making introductions for those we mentor may also benefit us indirectly. First, serving as a mentor shows that we are willing to share our wisdom. In addition, when an individual we mentor progresses in his or her professional life, we have a friend wherever they go.
Join online social media communities
Now more than ever the connections that we make online can help our careers progress and our businesses grow. Facebook groups such as Black Austin, Pflugerville Black Business Builders, Sistas in Austin and LinkedIn Groups such as African American Leaders in Corporate America, Austin,TX and Oracle ABLE-Austin and African American Employee Resource Group for Oracle employees, are just a few social media communities for African Americans in the Austin area.
Michelle Goodwine is a serial entrepreneur who started her first business at the tender age of 8. Currently, she is the Founder and CEO of consulting firms Goodwine Multimedia Marketing, Diversity Advice Consultants, and Maverick HR Consulting. All three firms are headquartered in Austin, Texas, the city she has called home since 2009.