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Costly Omissions in Minority Career Development

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Such errors as overpricing, overprotection, tokenism, and showcasing are only one side of the coin. On the other are a number of serious management omissions that slow the employee's growth and hold down his level of performance. Let's look at several important ones.

Inadequate and Inaccurate Responses

In many places, it is pointed out that young people need clear, substantive day-to-day reactions to their effective accomplishments and to those that need to be changed, and that they should be encouraged to experiment and test reality so that they begin to learn about themselves and how to function effectively in business. A minority employee entering the business world for the first time at any age needs these same kinds of information.

Unfortunately, because of cultural differences (or more likely because of fear of cultural differences), there is a certain uneasiness in the relationship between a minority employee and his manager. As a result, managers have been more delinquent than usual in performing this essential responsibility. If they are confronted with this charge, their rationalizations are fantastic. "Well, I have to give him a little time to adjust" is a frequent comment. But how will the man adjust if he doesn't realize that what he is doing or failing to do is not useful? Another says, "I don't want to hurt his feelings." Would anyone truly prefer to substitute a lifetime hurt for a few painful moments?

Even worse than no reaction is a truly inaccurate feedback. Joe L., on his first accounting job, is making the usual mistakes of the new employee and is failing to submit all his reports on time. Does his manager tell him so? No. He slaps him on the back and tells him, "You're doing fine, Joe." How will Joe grow in these circumstances? How will the manager explain to Joe why he hasn't gotten a better job in a few years?

How often have you heard it said, "Yes, I know that work isn't being done right. We have a Puerto Rican [or Mexican-American or whatever ethnic background] in the job, and you know, we just can't fire him"? There is racism of the rankest sort.

The limiting effects of such treatment on the individual's growth and personal career management are so obvious they need no further elaboration.


Delegation of trivia or work fragments is a serious managerial failure. Even managers who are normally good delegators sometimes fail with the minority employee. He is asked to do certain tasks but is not given a complete assignment to achieve. He may be given just enough information to carry out instructions but not enough to allow him to make any choices. And so his judgment, which is one of the essential ingredients in professional and management positions, is not developed. The supposedly successful employee operating under these conditions must be a robot. What is the effect on his career advancement? If he stays, he's limited; if he leaves, he starts over and probably must undergo an unlearning process. Sometimes the reason for under-delegation is the over-protectiveness of the manager. Sometimes it is lack of trust or of full communication. Whatever the reason, the result is the same.

Under confidence

A manager's lack of confidence may show itself in a number of ways. Under-delegation is one. Another is his behavior in delegating work to a minority employee. He may assign the man a week-long project. Then he might come back in a day or so to ask whether work on it has started yet and if so what has been done. He may even go so far as to ask an associate of the employee's to look in on him to see whether he needs help. This kind of checking is bound to irritate the employee or make him nervous, depending on his feelings of security or self-confidence.

Attitudinal expressions of distrust may be more difficult to describe, but they're just as obvious to the employee. The manager's attitude is the sum and import of all the things he says or fails to say, the way he says them, his response and reaction to questions, his facial expression, gestures, and all the other verbal and nonverbal cues that convey the message, "I don't think you can do this or will do it or want to do it." Its effect on the employee's estimation of his own value can be devastating. He may refuse to do anything without the direct approval of his boss. He may spend an inordinate amount of time asking his associates how this or that is done to make sure he does it right. Or if he has strong confidence in his own abilities, he may turn rebellious, bent on belligerent win-lose confrontations. Or he may simply make a job change.

Arm's-Length Management

A good part of a happy business experience consists in the relationships, both working and social, that are built in the course of day-by-day work. These relationships find expression in frequent discussions among the parties who enjoy them. Not all the informal talk will be directly focused on work, although much of it is. And it serves to condition people in the organization for changes that are about to occur. For example, during an informal lunch, a manager tells others at the table about some of the ideas expressed by a new boss. He comments on his feelings about these ideas. Other members of the group may chime in and give theirs. Afterward, those who took part in the discussion are not surprised when some of the ideas come to fruition. They may find that their manager has quite unconsciously altered his views on the basis of their comments. All of this permits the total group to be prepared, to begin to incorporate some of these ideas in their actual work at a very early stage.

Think of minority employees in this framework. Some are drawn into the closely knit circle of relationships. Probably more are not, or at least they go through a somewhat longer transition period than usual during which they are not included. They do receive letters and reports that are sent to all. They do attend basic meetings to which others at their level are invited. The manager cannot be faulted for failure to include them in any of the regular, formal channels of communication. But in the informal bull sessions, the gossip, the exchanges that give color and life and advance notice of change, they are overlooked. As a result, there is an inevitable disadvantage, temporary though it may be, to their work performance, and to this extent their career launching is impeded.
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Madison Currin - Greenville, NC
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