Staying in the Game: UCLA'S African American Leadership Institute Works to Better Prepare Black Executives for Corporate Culture

Article excerpt

How race and corporate culture plays out in the lives of Black executives and consequently their opportunities for advancement within their companies is a concern that many Black executives hesitate to discuss.

In 1998, researchers at Korn/Ferry International, the nation's leading executive search firm, and Columbia Business School, found that 40 percent of minority executives felt they had been denied promotions due to race or cultural background. In addition, the study of 280 of the country's top minority executives, found that minority executives felt they had to keep this to themselves--37 percent of executives surveyed said that they suppressed thoughts about their corporate culture for fear of losing their jobs or future career opportunities. More than half were planning to leave their current positions.

Ten years before Korn/Ferry conducted their research, Dr. William Ouchi, a business professor at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), found similar results in his research--companies were losing mid- to high-level minority managers bemuse the higher they moved up the ladder, the more isolated they felt. This isolation often led to them leaving the company.

Ouchi, the former vice dean of the office of executive education at Anderson, had experience with an effective leadership program for Asian Americans that addressed career and leadership issues. He conferred with Dr. David M. Porter Jr., an assistant professor at Anderson whose research focuses on race and gender issues in the workplace. They then collaborated with two outside experts in the area of race and career issues, and in 1997, the African American Leadership Institute (AALI) was launched at UCLA.

Porter, co-founder of AALI, described as a leadership development program for high-potential minority executives, says the timing for the program was right.

"There was enough research and knowledge showing that the career experiences of African Americans are different from their White counterparts," says Porter, who also serves as faculty director of the institute. "We felt we could develop a program around that knowledge."

`HIGH POTENTIALS'

The participants, who attend the program for $4,950, are mid- to high-level managers considered "high potentials" by their sponsoring companies.

Markell Steele, a career counselor and program director for AALI, says they market the program through their relationships with companies and through trade shows for managers, human resource and diversity professionals. Business also comes through referrals from past participants. A growing area for the institute is customizing programs for specific companies or organizations.

For example, the National Association of Minorities in Cable--a professional organization--has contracted with AALI to develop a specialized program for its members.

"In some cases, companies will identify people to attend the program; other times managers approach the company for funds" to attend, Steele says.

The executives represent a wide range of companies from Fortune 500 companies, such as IBM and Raytheon, to government agencies and higher education institutions, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Harvard University.

Besides being the only program of its kind at a university, AALI is unique in that it provides the opportunity and environment for Black managers to interact with other Black professionals.

"For the first time ever in their career, they are in a room with 30 other Black managers," says Steele. They are able to get that "reality check" about challenges they are facing, what they might or might not be reading into situations. They can find out how others handled situations and are able to discuss the challenges they face as Black managers in a "safe" place, she says.

The five-day executive development program is held once a year, offering courses such as "Your Role in Affirmative Action and Effective Problem Resolution" and "Conversations About Power: Acquisition, Maintenance and Usage" (see sidebar). …