How to Overcome Discrimination and Get the Promotion You Want

Harvard Business Review

October 27, 2008

by Marshall Goldsmith

As promised, when I know other experts who can answer a question better than I can, I will defer to their advice. My friend, professional coach Stephanie Chick, has great passion for — and great experience in — helping African American women become even better leaders. Here is her response:

As a black woman who has worked in corporate America, I understand your perspective. Hopefully, I can offer you some honest and useful insights from my experience. Ascending the corporate ladder is definitely tough. It takes relentless drive and determination. Now here’s the tough love…life isn’t fair. As a black woman you may face even greater challenges. Be sure that you’re willing to pay the price for what you want.

There are many factors that affect career advancement. Here are a few things to consider as you navigate your way to the top:

Don’t assume that the reason that you’re not getting ahead is because of race. Schedule a meeting with your manager to get the facts about what’s getting in the way. Make sure that your personal goals are aligned with current organizational priorities.

Look beyond black and white…focus on GREEN. No matter how committed a company is to building a diverse workforce, the #1 business priority will always be making money. Help your company drive business growth and profitability. This will give you a clear competitive edge.

Focus on building strong relationships with key influencers. Seek out the right sponsors in your organization that will open doors for you. It’s naive to think that anyone gets ahead without support. Be humble and ask for help from those in power.

Be persistent. I remember when I had to push really hard for a promotion. I had excelled in a challenging new role and I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t being rewarded. Every month I would schedule a meeting with my manager to review my results and push for the promotion. Six months later I finally received the promotion along with a substantial pay increase.

One day I mustered up the courage to ask my boss why I had to fight so hard when it was obvious that I had excelled in my position. He said, “I’m an equal opportunity jerk. If you’re not willing to fight for what you want, you don’t deserve it.” No matter what obstacles you face, keep fighting for what you want.

When you hit roadblocks, just keep your eye on the road. Focus on building your own personal brand and creating demand for your unique gifts and abilities.

Thank you Stephanie!