Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

Minority workers still fighting job recruiters’ misconceptions - The Clarion-Ledger
“‘The titans of business really don’t care about this issue,’ [executive recruiter Ken Arroyo Roldan] says. ‘They have this ‘I gave at the gate’ mentality. Many executives have been sensitized to death (about minorities) but at the end of the day, are they exposed to others? No. It’s a gated community of white males.’”

EEOC Wants to ‘E-Race’ Discrimination in the Workplace - NPR
Audio story. “Naomi Earp, chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, discusses the current state of discrimination in the workplace and their new anti-discrimination initiative.”

Mixed Messages on Affirmative Action - Inside Higher Ed
Explaining the nuances between the Supreme Court ruling last week rejecting the assignment of kids to schools based on race and the Supreme Court’s previous rulings on affirmative action in colleges and universities. (via Workplace Blog)

Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies - The American Sociological Review (PDF)
Diversity training and diversity evaluation for management was the least effective. Networking and mentorship were moderately effective. Establishing responsibility for diversity was most effective. (via Workplace Prof Blog)

Workplace Segregation in the United States: Race, Ethnicity, and Skill - IDEAS: Economics and Finance Research
“We define segregation based on the extent to which workers are more or less likely to be in workplaces with members of the same group.” “Only a tiny portion (3%) of racial segregation in the workplace is driven by education differences between blacks and whites, but a substantial fraction of ethnic segregation in the workplace (32%) can be attributed to differences in language proficiency.”

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email

Book Review: The Real Pepsi Challenge

The Real Pepsi Challenge:
The Inspirational Story of Breaking the Color Barrier in American Business

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Adina Ba

The following review comes at a timely manner to celebrate the life of an African-American marketing legend, Edward F. Boyd, who died last week at the age of 92. Boyd is most known for his innovation and leadership in establishing niche marketing through his work at Pepsi. Boyd respected the African-American market as a unique community with everchanging needs. His work increased American consumption of Pepsi tenfold, but even more importantly, he fought for race equality every step of the way on a personal, community, and corporate level. Click here to learn more about Boyd’s life.

Walter Mack, one of the earliest presidents of Pepsi, revolutionized corporate America. In the late 1940’s, Mack, a Jewish Harvard graduate from NYC believed “that the world’s problems could be solved through the cooperation of the great powers.” Using creativity in his business techniques, Mack invented the modern day business internship by having a contest for young college graduates who were “most likely to succeed in life.” 330 men and women from 254 colleges in 45 states were part of the contest, specifically including female and black students. Thirteen impressive interns won the contest, including seven females and two African-Americans. This was the beginning of a racial change in corporate America. Each intern was to work for one year, and afterwards, Pepsi would either hire them or assist them to get placed elsewhere.

Around this time, Walter Mack hired the first ever black national sales team which would at its peak have twelve members. The main reason for this “special-markets” group was to expand Pepsi consumption among African-Americans. Although Mack’s sole purpose in this move was to gain untapped profits, his tactics were still leaps ahead of most American corporations, including his rival Coca-Cola.

The author of the book, Stephanie Capparell, molds her investigative research into a cohesive story that sometimes feels as if each character is speaking directly to you. She does not tell the simple story of competition between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Instead, she tells the in-depth history of twelve impressive individuals and how they marketed Pepsi to black communities all over America during segregation and the civil rights era. It was at a time when they were not allowed to stay in hotels in the South and had to have separate train cars, even though they had first-class status.

This is a story of corporations, a story of breaking color barriers, a history that all Americans should be aware of. Before this team was put together, it was the norm for African-Americans in media to be shown only as caricatures like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben. The team’s black manager, Edward F. Boyd and his Special Markets team changed the face of advertising. It would have been easy to get a black sports icon to sponsor Pepsi for their black marketing efforts, but Boyd wanted to appeal to his growing middle-class market by catering to their needs. He launched a “Leaders in Their Fields” advertising campaign and endorsed little-known black leaders in the fields of chemistry, medicine, banking, etc. These ads were popular beyond the magazines and store fronts, and were also requested by black universities and individuals.

The team used politics and the promotion of race equality to increase their sales on an individual and community basis, and the African-American market responded. Without mentors or many resources and with many risks, these twelve black leaders succeeded to deal with their white bosses, co-workers, the segregated South and white Pepsi bottlers on a daily basis. They excelled not only during their time at Pepsi, but went on to many other life accomplishments on a national and international level.

Boyd’s team consisted of William Simms, Paul Davis, William Payne, Richard Hurt, Allen McKellar, Julian Nicholas, Harvey Russell, Winston Wright, Charles Wilson, Jean Emmons, and David Watson.

Later on in Pepsi years, the Special Markets team changed shape because of new leadership. In 1962, Harvey Russell, team director, was promoted to VP in charge of special markets by executive Herbert L Barnet. This was the first VP role appointed to an African-American at a major international company. A touching moment in the book is when Capparell cites that a third of Barnet’s New York Times obituary was dedicated to his decision to elevate Russell to VP, noting the historical importance.

Recommended Reading

by Race in the Workplace special correspondent Erica

Minority Workers Less Likely to Say Promotions Are Based on Merit - (Business & Legal Reports)
61.4% of all employees, 56.6% of Hispanic respondents, and 58.2% of black respondents said they thought their job performance was the main reason for their professional advancement. That doesn’t seem significant to me and speaks to larger issues: it’s as much who you know as what you know and there’s a systemic issue of lack of trust in one’s employer. (via Strategic HR Lawyer)

Paradox of Inclusion - Management Craft
There are two kinds of inclusion. There’s the politically correct kind where you make a show of inviting along a “representative” group to your meeting du jour and you “listen” to what they have to say and then go ahead and do what you were going to do anyway. Then there’s the kind where you actually listen to the voices of the people around you, even (and especially) when you might not agree with them.

Where Delivery Is a Mainstay, a Rebellion Over Pay - New York Times
Deliverymen in NYC, mostly Chinese immigrants, are protesting their working conditions, long hours, and meager pay. Unions are organizing, workers are getting locked out, and lawsuits are being filed.

Is It a Mistake to Be a Stay-at-Home Mother? - The Monster Blog
“[T]he more pressing question is not whether mothers should work (more than 70 percent of mothers with school-age children do), but how we can structure our society in a way to allow us to meet our caregiving needs. We, as men and women, bear some responsibility in that mandate, both to instill change within our organizations and within our own lives.” I’d like to see a discussion actually address this statement and go beyond “I stayed at home and it worked out for us” which further perpetuates the concept that you have to make a choice (and a sacrifice). Flex time, anyone?

LinkedIn and the Art of Avoiding an Asshole Boss - How to Change the World
How to get references on a potential boss. Guy Kawasaki suggests finding him/her on LinkedIn, seeing who they’re connected to, then asking these potential references a few questions. I appreciate the idea that you need to check out a potential employer as much as they’re checking you out. The comments on Guy’s post are mostly useless, but there are a few good constructive criticisms.

Churners and Churning - Generations@Work
Kids these days, the “Millennials,” are increasingly open to more global job opportunities. Which is good because that’s where the jobs are. The conflict is that younger folks are also a lot more likely to change jobs more frequently while employers and the government are looking to improve retention, which may be unrealistic given the nature of the current job market.

Wisdom and a Helping Hand - Amy Joyce at
On the importance of being a good mentor. The very large company I used to work for had very well-developed mentorship programs serving a variety of populations within the company. I participated in the “new minority employees” program and the “new technical employees” program. Mentors were very carefully screened and a lot of attention was paid to the matching process. These programs were crucial in my development there, and in my ultimate decision to leave, which I consider a testament to a good mentor/mentee relationship in that the best decision for me as a person was to not stay with the company, and my mentors were supportive of that.

How to ask for mentoring - Brazen Careerist
On the flip side of the mentoring relationship. Penelope Trunk emphasizes that it’s all in the approach. Ask good questions of your potential mentor. More importantly, don’t be afraid to ask in the first place.

Georgetown Gets Grant for Workplace Flexibility - Workplace Prof Blog
“Workplace Flexibility 2010 believes that social change occurs best through a combination of voluntary action and government action. The American workplace is a complex, constantly changing, and rich human environment. We believe the best policy approach to workplace flexibility therefore combines thoughtful and creative government regulation, robust voluntary and individualized efforts by employers and employees, and governmental support of innovative employer and employee efforts.” Outstanding!

Fear Of Firing - BusinessWeek
“How the threat of litigation is making companies skittish about axing problem workers.” There are several issues: Whether the employee really is an underperformer, whether or not they really are being discriminated against, and whether the company retaliates when they get wind of the discrimination allegation. Even the largest companies with the most rigorous policies and review processes get caught up in seemingly frivolous lawsuits.

Recommended Reading is a weekly feature where we link to some of our favorite workplace-related blog posts and articles. If you would like to suggest a link to Erica, please email

The HR department protects the company, not you

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Penelope Trunk is a career columnist at the Boston Globe and Yahoo Finance. Her syndicated column has run in more than 200 publications. Earlier, she was a software executive, and then she founded two companies. She has been through an IPO, an acquisition and a bankruptcy. Before that she played professional beach volleyball. Her forthcoming book is Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success (Warner, May 2007). Be sure to check out her excellent blog, Brazen Careerist.

One of the most compelling statements you make in your book is that the human resources department exists to protect the company, not the employees. Can you explain what you mean by that, and how people should adapt their behavior to match this reality?

Laws about discrimination seem to be there to protect employees, but in fact, they are laid out very clearly to guide companies so they will not be sued. Human resource departments exist, in a large part, to ensure that companies comply with the law. The people in the HR department work for the company. They are there to make sure the company is protected. In an instance where someone comes to HR and says they have experienced discrimination at work, HR does not represent the person who has suffered from discrimination. HR represents the company.

When you report a problem to human resources, you become a problem employee, the company immediately starts trying to defend itself from you, and the company has legal support and you don’t. It’s a losing battle, which is why most whistleblowers lose their job. Legally. Retaliation for whistle blowing is rampant and it’s very, very hard to prove in courts, especially since the HR departments are trained on how to retaliate within the constraints of the law.

If you’re at a company where there is a lot of discrimination, you should probably not bother trying to reform the place. Why jeopardize your career to make a terrible company good? Don’t bother helping them. Just leave. But if you at a company with a little bit of discrimination, you might consider staying. Because where have you ever been in this world where there is no discrimination? It’s a very tall order.

We all know that we have to pick our battles when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. The advice you gave about sexual harassment was incredibly practical and smart. In my opinion, it also has some relevance for people who may be experiencing racial discrimination. Can you explain how women can actually turn sexual harassment into a career booster?

A man who harasses a women (it’s almost always the men doing the harassing) actually gives up some of his power to that woman. For one thing, harassment is illegal, and even if you don’t report it, you can remind the guy that he is doing something that could cause him trouble. Do this not as a threat, but to subtly shift the power toward yourself. You are now doing him a favor by keeping quiet. He owes you a favor back.

So often the best way to change corporate America is from within: gain a foothold and then wield your power. To get power, you have to stay in the workforce, not the court system, and make yourself highly valued. Unfortunately, this means learning how to navigate a discriminatory system. But when you know the system, you then are clear about the root of its problems, and you know how to initiate change. Continue Reading »