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The new normal: Black female executives

How Black women executives must go above and beyond

Ashley Montgomery | 7/17/2014, 9 a.m.

Black women are becoming owners of their own businesses, moving up the corporate and governmental ladder more than ever before, according to recent report by a renowned management firm.

Called Journey to the Top: Developing African-American Executives, the report said the U.S. workforce has become more diverse over the last 50 years. The report was authored by Dr. Lawrence James Jr. a partner with RHS International, a management firm composed of psychologists and consultants who work closely with senior executives to accelerate individual, team and business performance.

A series of in-depth interviews were reviewed in the RHS International’s report. They asked a select group of Black executives (in vice president or higher roles within primarily Fortune 200 corporations or non-profit organizations) how they gained their business knowledge, leadership skills and the organizational behaviors needed to advance and succeed as a senior leader. The report goes on to break down the structure of a workplace and how organizational culture is a matter of perspective.

The Miami Times decided to do the same yet gander into our very own backyard and engage in real conversations with Black women executives who have a tried-and-true track record of balancing life and sustaining a successful career.

CHANGING OUR OWN CULTURE

As it is experienced in everyday life, cultural differences are evident even outside of the workplace in Miami as it is often referred to as a “melting pot”. Often times, Blacks who work in a business environment that doesn’t naturally align with their personal identities or cultural values, go through the process of “fitting in”, which requires a daily, conscious effort to sustain a “mask” or “business persona.” The report goes on to say, “The mask works to keep in reserve behaviors that these executives and their majority culture peers believe to be detrimental to their career progression.”

The Miami Times spoke with Rose Hedgemond, president of Avenues of Excellence, CEO of a professional development company and Reetha Boone-Fye, executive director of the Miami-Dade Black Affairs Advisory Board on the matter.

Hedgemond said she thinks it’s the culture Blacks have been subjected to all their lives.

“In the U.S. you have pockets of women who were raised by one parent or grandparents and they were not exposed to the finer things in life until [adulthood],” Hedgemond said. “Very few have the chance to be reared in a way to become successful. You can be brilliant but if no one actually puts you in an environment where you can prosper that it doesn’t help. The way you are raised in your society is going to determine where you end up.”

Ms. Boone-Fye agrees but believes that demographically the country is diversifying itself naturally.

“The choice will be made on its own,” Boone-Fye said.

As the world advances no matter the race, the very best will rise to the top — no matter the color of their skin, Boone-Fye believes.

Workplace diversity is something that has been an ongoing battle for Blacks (especially women) for centuries. Women like Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama have paved the way to not only reach the “glass ceiling” (a political term used to describe the unseen, yet unreachable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the top) but to make it irrelevant and create their own rules.