Once talented and educated women or minorities actually make it to nearly the top of organizations, what are companies doing to make sure...
Once talented and educated women or minorities actually make it to nearly the top of organizations, what are companies doing to make sure they go even further?
That’s the opinion of Cheryl Green, president of The Green Resource Group, a business-consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.
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“If you report to a top executive, he has to be directly involved and give honest feedback,” said Green, who worked in corporate America for 16 years before starting her own business in 2000.
“Managers will encourage women and minorities, especially if they need to say they have a diverse organization — but only up to a certain level. And then it gets serious.”
And that’s where the glass ceiling comes in.
“Finding out you don’t qualify to move ahead usually comes as a big surprise, and that’s because they didn’t tell you a thing,” Green said. “And then it’s your fault if you don’t have that missing quality — when all along they should have been providing you with what you need to move to the highest level.”
But it’s not always a “missing” quality that women and minorities with ability actually lack.
“Racism and sexism still are alive and well, and it’s still the situation where people are more comfortable with people like themselves and rate women and minorities differently,” she said.
As a woman and an African American, Green personally has seen this happen.
“In one of my jobs, I was in line for a major promotion, but during my performance review, my boss told me I couldn’t be vice president because I didn’t have enough education,” Green said. “He suggested that maybe I would be able to advance if I went back to college.”
It was a defining moment for Green, because “my boss knew my credentials: I have a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in psychology and an MBA from a top school with a concentration in marketing, organization behavior and management policy. What would I go back to school for? I also knew that many of the top executives didn’t have those degrees.”
What she understood was this: “He was saying to me that no matter what hoops you jump through, you’re not getting into the club.”
Knowing she couldn’t crack the glass ceiling, Green “became outspoken without worrying about it, because I was only going to get as far as they wanted me to and had nothing to lose. I stayed on for a few years and then moved to a company where I did get the top job. From there, I started my own business.”
Still, as an executive coach called in to help companies develop top management, Green says it’s important not to immediately discount criticism of your ability. A common complaint about female executives is that despite being “bright, valued and talented, they are perceived as having a leadership-skill deficit.”
To find out if there’s any validity to the complaint, she urges top-ranking women to be proactive.
“Don’t immediately assume they’re wrong,” Green said. “Ask around and if you get confirming data, ask for help. But if you find out it’s not true, or feel the cards really are stacked against you, it may be time to move on.”
That’s why, she emphasizes, it’s important for women and minorities “constantly to get a sense of their strengths and weaknesses and find the paths that will lead you to that information. Don’t assume you’re getting it in your performance reviews or from your boss.”
Instead, Green says, “find peers, mentors and people you can use as a sounding board. Find someone who’s been there. They’ll know.”
And she has advice for CEOs and other top executives who sincerely want women and minorities to advance: “Become personally involved,” Green said. “If you want diversity to work, you have to work at it. Give honest feedback. Look at the patterns and ask, is there something going on here?”E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.