Addressing Career Success Issues of African Americans in the Workplace: An Undergraduate Business Program Intervention

By White, Belinda Johnson | Career Development Quarterly, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Addressing Career Success Issues of African Americans in the Workplace: An Undergraduate Business Program Intervention


White, Belinda Johnson, Career Development Quarterly


Career success as measured by the objective, traditional criteria of the composite of high number of promotions, high annual compensation, and high organizational level in corporate America has eluded the majority of African Americans. This article describes an undergraduate business program career success intervention designed to assist African Americans in overcoming the organizational barriers present in corporate America that prevent their upward mobility, examines its effectiveness, and concludes with implications for research and practice in career development and counseling.

Since the mid-1970s, the percentage of Blacks in professional and managerial jobs has increased. From 1977 to 1982 (Jones, 1986), the percentage of minorities in this occupational group increased from 3.6% of the national total to 5.2%. Although encouraged that the percentages are moving upward, career development professionals are concerned that the percentages are still very low, even miniscule at the executive level (Cokley, Dreher, & Stockdale, 2004). The small increase in the percentage of minorities in professional and managerial jobs has lead career development professionals to study the career needs of minorities to identify developmental strategies specific to their career success issues. Zunker ( 1990) stated that these strategies should assist Blacks in learning to cope with the White society, with emphasis on interrelationships in work environments and the development of sense of identity (p. 423). Waters (1991) assigned this developmental strategy to higher education by stating that the business education of the Black student should recognize the social context in which Black employees must operate and the unspoken role that social behaviors play in their evaluations (p. 233). More recent research (Thomas 8c Gabarro, 1999) has revealed that the making of minority executives is less random, mysterious, and paradoxical than many imagine and that appropriate interventions can positively affect the development and advancement of minorities to the executive suite. The purpose of this article is to share one such career success intervention in the business administration program of a historically Black college.

Course Objectives

In 1994, the Morehouse College Department of Business Administration, in cooperation with the Office of Career Services, incorporated into its core curriculum the Leadership and Professional Development (LPD) course. The goal of the course is to develop traditional business leadership soft skills (e.g., Conrad & Leigh, 1999; Hackman, Kirlin, & Tharp, 2004) and minority-specific, nontraditional career success hard skills (Livers & Caver, 2004; Woods, 2003). The LPD course has two purposes: (a) develop skill sets that include personal leadership (values, ethics, and goal setting), personal management (business decorum skills), and interpersonal leadership (teamwork and civic responsibility) and (b) expose students to the intricacies and nuances of organizational life (corporate culture), with special emphasis on the influence of being African American in corporate America.

Course Design

The LPD course is taught by a team of three instructors (an assistant professor, a career services director, and an adjunct professor) in a seminar format that meets for 2.5 hours 1 day per week of a 13-week semester. Class size is limited to 100 students. Students are required to wear business dress attire and are randomly assigned to 12-member teams. The pedagogical techniques used in the class are lectures, team exercises, guest speakers, role plays, and workshops. Each team is required to complete a community service project. Evaluations of student performance and mastery of the subject matter are conducted through examinations, a team oral presentation on the community service project, and a leadership portfolio assignment. Two books are used in the course: Morehouse College Career Guide: A Leadership and Professional Development Handbook (White 6k McLaurin, 2001), and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey, 1987). …

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