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An African American female manager is promoted to head a business unit at a large corporation. Over the past three years, she has proven herself to be an excellent candidate, possessing all the technical qualifications necessary for the post. But her employees resent the appointment. They feel that the job should have gone to a white male, long rumored to be next in line for the position.
The employees begin to sabotage her efforts. A small faction of managers in her unit spread rumors that her appointment was a classic case of reverse discrimination. Department productivity and morale take a plunge.
Not surprising, the manager is called in by her superiors and told she has three months to reverse the situation. It doesn’t happen. The company vice president then informs her that “things aren’t working out” and offers her a lateral move — a position with less prestige and responsibility. Instead of accepting a job she views as a demotion, the manager resigns.
This woman was faced with what, for some, would be insurmountable odds. She suffered unfair treatment and discrimination. But could she have prevented her failure? It’s easy to place blame elsewhere, but how different would things have been if she had been more accountable for her own success?
WHOSE FAULT IS IT, ANYWAY?
It is no secret that racism and sexism exist in the workplace. Despite the fact that many organizations are now addressing diversity, company initiatives are not strong enough salves for the wounds caused by decades of social inequality in the workplace. But you can’t expect your company to do everything. You have to hold yourself accountable for your future.
“Personal accountability is the willingness to claim 100% ownership for the results produced as a consequence of your involvement, both individually and collectively, with others in your workplace,” says William A. Guillory, CEO and founder of Innovation International Inc., a management consulting firm in Salt Lake City. “The lack of empowerment for African Americans is partly discrimination, but the other part is preparing ourselves,” he adds. “Ask yourself, ‘If discrimination disappears tomorrow, am I still prepared?'”
Although the manager was capable of handling the position from a technical standpoint, she had limited skills and experience in managing people — as do most women and minorities who are moving up the corporate ladder.
The company said it would “treat her equally” — and that’s where the problem began, Guillory explains. Under the rules of diversity management, people shouldn’t be treated alike, but as individuals. The manager was not equipped to handle her
Spot the Signs
MAKE YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
new role without proper skills and support. The company should have recognized the manager’s unique circumstances and put the proper systems in place, and she should have asked about the support she would receive during her transition. (“How will things be set up to ensure the highest probability of my success?”)
Her objective should have been to produce the result required, even though her subordinates didn’t want her to. One way to do this would have been to go to her superiors