The Cultured Career had been years in the making, just not formally. In order to really understand the full origins of The Cultured Career, it makes sense to take it way back starting with me, the founder. I had a fairly typical upbringing as an only child and daughter to a working single mother. I attended mostly white schools from first grade through twelfth grade due to a program that took inner-city minority students and placed us in school districts with less diversity for better educational opportunities. I graduated high school and then went onto college.
I first started working in the corporate tech space where nothing was ever easy and seldom were things clear and defined. While I didn’t gain my footing in HR immediately following college, I always had an affinity for the employee experience. I actually started in as a Business Analyst and software engineer. I’m sure as you can imagine being a black girl in tech had its challenges. To further complicate matters, I was also a young mother that had to manage the demands of raising a child and balance work. In my work as a Business Analyst I was tasked with working on HRIS (human resources information systems). I didn’t find that work particularly interesting, but it did give me an opportunity to work with senior management and executive leadership within HR. My job was to ask questions; lots and lots of questions and then basically write these massive requirements documents that outlined the rules for the software engineers to use when coding. I will be the first to admit 60% of the questions I asked were for the job, but 40% of the questions were for my own knowledge. I eventually made a complete career transition and began working full time in HR and never looked back.
Here’s the thing: working in HR positioned me in rooms, meetings, and in conversations with CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc. I think most people assume to make it to the C-suite you’ve mastered every element in business and that simply isn’t true. These people are experts but they also built and create leadership benches that compensate for their weaknesses—as they should. They’re incredibly strong leaders and visionaries, but they can be miserable people motivators, and weak managers. Enter the Human Resources Business Partner. I work with these key leaders everyday to understand their business and completely embed myself into it and help them with HR strategies to advance their section of the business. It requires me to have a high level of business and financial acumen, attention to detail, creativity, curiosity, stakeholder engagement and management, as well as a deep understanding of human resources. I work closely with my HR colleagues in recruiting, compensation, talent management, employee relations, legal, D&I, and L&D to make this magic happen.
What does this have to do with The Cultured Career?
I’m glad you asked!
The answer is: A LOT.
Over the years starting back when I was in IT, black women in these spaces were VERY few and far in between. When you did see us, we were in administrative and support positions with a potential career peak in a mid-level operational jobs. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, however, it begged the evergreen question of why were our non-black colleagues and peers advancing quicker and further than us? Was it an issue of role availability? Was it lack of interest on our side? Were we trying and being passed over? At the time, I didn’t know. I for damn didn’t have a tangible solution to a problem I didn’t entirely understand.
Once I moved into HR and straddled the fence that placed me both behind the scenes with the decision makers and on the front line with employees, the fog lifted and my eyes widened.
There are immensely complex issues on both sides, neither with a quick or easy fix.
My dealings with the C-suite, executive leadership, and hiring managers gave me valuable but troubling insight. When it came time for promotion discussions or salary and compensation planning, black women and other women of color were severely marginalized. We were constantly on the outskirts of these important, and at times, career defining conversations. This part of the story isn’t new whatsoever. What I found to be particularly challenging was when I pushed back and advocated on behalf of these women, nothing could ever be soundly justified.
The conversations would go something like this:
Me: “We have five promotion slots at the level with fifteen recommendations. Four of these people I don’t recommend because they haven’t mastered the required competencies set forth, but beyond that they’re fairly new and haven’t had time to develop or truly lead revenue-driving projects.”
Executive Leader: “Yea, I agree. They can be considered in 6-12 months, but these other people are great with the exception of these six.”
(The six include one white male, four black women, and one Middle Eastern woman.)
Me: “Hmm, okay, well, talk to me. Walk me through your thought process here so I follow.”
E.L. “This guy was just hired last month, the manager put him up because he’s a rockstar and leading the charge. These five, I don’t really know much about them, they seem middle of the road as far as I can tell.”
Me: “What feedback have you received?”
E.L.: “The feedback on everyone has been solid, they just aren’t doing ‘enough’ for consideration in this round.”
Me: “I would respectfully disagree. Ashley* hasn’t been the first to train and mentor interns and new hires. She actually developed a framework that is being used in other teams. She also has been working on the most visible project leading client engagement and taking on several stretch assignments at the same time. Not to mention, she filled in Sam* (the rockstar) had a family emergency. Somehow she managed to get up to speed in 4 or 5 days with no help.”
E.L. “Wow, I didn’t know this.”
Me: “No worries, I get it.
Obviously the conversation goes on and on and on as we talk through each promotion case. But the trend is the same, each of these women were doing triple over time and it was in vain! It’s rarely recognized, noticed, appreciated, validated, or rewarded.
The other side of this conversation goes like this:
Michelle*: “Hey, Adrienne, do you have a second? I want to talk about a possible open role on another team.”
Me: “Absolutely, happy to chat with you. I have thirty minutes to talk but we can always schedule a follow up meeting if needed, what’s up?”
Michelle: “There was a resignation in the Senior Financial Analyst position and I would assume they’re going to hire for it soon, do you think I would be a good fit?”
Me. “It hasn’t been formally opened yet, we’re trying to figure out the headcount, but Michelle, I really think you’re too junior for this role. You took a small demotion to support this team in the short term, you’ve managed large teams, massive budgets, you have your MBA, like 500 certifications, and you’re an adjunct professor.”
Michelle (laughing): “I know, I know, but what am I supposed to do? I won’t be considered for the director position. I can’t apply for that.
Me: “Won’t or can’t?”
Michelle: “You know what I mean, sure, I can apply, but it gets political and messy breaking into the director level. Why bother with it? I’m not the one being groomed for it.”
Me: “Listen, I hear everything you’re saying, and your hesitations are valid, but not entirely accurate. There’s checks and balances in place no matter the business is doing. That Financial Analyst role would have been a fit five years ago for you. You’re qualified to run the department, you did it while we were hiring for the leadership bench. You provided stability and productivity, I can only imagine what you would have done if given more time and the chance. Apply for the appropriate position”
Michelle: “I don’t know, maybe, I’ll think about it.”
Michelle was a black woman with a remarkable resume, she was one of the highest performers with the education and credentials to match. She later confided in me that the business had beat the confidence out and replaced it with self-doubt.
I hated work that day.
Both of those stories illustrated how we try to show up and are met with some sort of opposition that makes career progression unclear, uncomfortable, and unnecessarily hard. We also aren’t always at the forefront of conversations when we deserve it.
The context is the same with it comes to salary and the wage gap.
I’m tired of death by a thousand cuts. I’m tired of seeing this and feeling limited. The Cultured Career is my version of a solution. I want black women to show up and claim what we have earned. I want us to retake what is usually callously given away. I want to empower and enable us to feel like we are able to approach this with no fear.
The Cultured Career was birthed out of necessity for change. I am creating content, a community, and creating events that will allow us to lead the charge in driving the change we need to see for the benefit of us and our communities.
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Chief Everything Officer/Only Operating Officer at The Cultured Career and Workfluence; Tech HR Executive; Forbes HR Council Member, Human Resources and Personal Branding Expert, Diversity, Equity + Inclusion Enthusiast. Your personal hype woman—I unabashedly bully you into believing your dopeness, potential, and greatness. Somewhere comfortably located between glitter and gangsta where my black girl magic is shining.