Corporations Slight Black MBAs

Statistics show a rise in black entrepreneurship, but the numbers hide the sobering fact that many African American MBAs started their own businesses because employers didn’t promote them fast enough. Pro or con?

Pro: Passed Over and Alienated

When the U.S. Census Bureau reported last year a remarkable jump in African Americans’ entrepreneurial activity, it sounded like good news. Striking out on one’s own is an all-American dream. How exciting to see it come true in such numbers!

On reflection, however, the question arises: What’s really behind all these new businesses? Enterprise is a fine thing, but what could cause a 45% jump in the number of black-owned businesses in just five years? One answer, I regretfully submit, is unfortunate yet undeniable: African Americans too often do not receive the support they need to succeed in the corporate world.

To offer only one example, consider the news that chilled New York City’s enormous advertising industry just as the Census Bureau was reporting the rise in African American entrepreneurship. The city’s Human Rights Commission threatened major firms with sanctions because the industry’s woeful record in hiring and promoting African Americans had scarcely improved in the 30 years since the commission last looked.

Thirty years. That’s an awfully long time to be unable to find good minority candidates.

So let’s admit it: Many African Americans take the entrepreneurial route at least in part because, for them, the corporate ladder is missing some rungs. They may be successful on their own, and they may be happy—but it won’t be because Corporate America tried so hard to keep them.

As president of the National Black MBA Assn., I am privileged to work with corporations trying to improve the diversity of their workforces. I believe, absolutely, that they want to do the right thing. I know solutions are coming, because we’re creating them, for our corporate allies as well as our individual members.

And I’m optimistic. I won’t deny for a moment the problems we still face in making sure African Americans get the opportunities they deserve. But I’ve seen such change, just in my own lifetime, that I never doubt the even greater progress that lies ahead.

Con: A Step Forward, Not a Retreat

By BW.com Staff

Frustration with the MBA’s sluggish return on investment in Corporate America knows no race. Right here in the Debate Room, dozens of readers—presumably from all demographic groups—expressed dismay with the degree’s failure to produce enough upward mobility to merit the two years and $90,000 tuition it requires (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/16/07, "MBA: A Mere Option?").

Perhaps the number of black MBAs who have traded the executive suite for entrepreneurship is disproportionately high. But why cast it in a negative light? Couldn’t it simply mean more of the businesspeople in this ethnic group had enough gumption to say: "I’m tired of sitting in endless meetings and going through seven layers of management to get a simple yes or no. I don’t want to wait two years for a promotion. Let me create my own enterprise and do things my way."

African American entrepreneurship has long had a profound effect on U.S. culture. Ever hear of Berry Gordy or Oprah Winfrey?

And again, entrepreneurship in general doesn’t deserve any disparaging spin. Striking out on one’s own takes more talent than coasting along at a giant corporation. The George Costanza strategy of "walking fast and looking worried" doesn’t cut it when you’re your own boss. An entrepreneur needs to raise startup funds, secure office space, and devise a public relations strategy—without the support structure available to gargantuan corporations. Those who choose the role of general contractor of their own businesses are to be applauded for their hands-on leadership.

And the fact is, entrepreneurship has always served as a ticket to success for up-and-coming ethnic groups. The individuality, bravado, and originality of these pioneers have helped make the U.S. an economic superpower. Sure, American corporate giants have the muscle to do big business around the planet. Thanks to globalization, the Internet, and free trade, entrepreneurs of all extractions can contribute to U.S. strength in the world economy, too.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Smiley

I believe the con argument misses the point entirely. Corporations still aren't hiring or promoting black people almost half a century after the civil rights movement. I agree that going into business for yourself is both more difficult and more rewarding than listening to eight bosses drone on about mission statements, but the numbers imply that black MBA holders have no other choice.

However, I disagree with Ms. Thompson's assertion that major corporations really want to help. She herself states that no progress has been made in the past 30 years, during which time black enrollment in colleges and business schools has grown drastically. The predominately white management of Corporate America still discriminates against the black community, and at this point the only solution I see is to wait for the older generation to die off so that those of us who grew up in the era in which racism was considered wrong can take our seats on the boards.

bootstrapper

Of course, of course. An above-average increase in the amount of black entrepreneurial activity in the U.S must "undeniably" mean "African Americans too often do not receive the support they need to succeed in the corporate world."

What might an "undeniable" explanation look like if the opposite were true--that there were very few black entrepreneurs in the U.S.? Perhaps that American society at large too often is denying black entrepreneurs the support they need to succeed in America's ownership society?

Does everything have to be about race and victimhood? Perhaps the undeniable answer here is: No.

Emo

Why can't people just stop being annoying and stop being racist? That's all anyone really wants. People don't want to hear about bad stuff.

Let's make being un-racist and fair something to talk about.

The Thinker

As unfair as it is, the truth of the matter is that until black people have their own firms and corporations to hire and promote other black people, they will always lag behind white people.

White people will never as a whole (or at least in the foreseeable future) accept black people as equals. And as harsh as it may sound, black people have to (and most already have) accept that fact and moved beyond it.

The only way white people will fully respect black people (and I said respect, not like) is when they have and use their economic power to buy and sell or significantly influence white corporations and institutions.

The bottom line is until you can make white people in America respect you economically--for example, by controlling a significant resource much like the situation in the Mideast--you are not going to matter much to them. You won't have white people's attention, because they can dominate you. It's the old law of the jungle. Until they fear you, they will not respect you.

Gurman

The dumb commentary by "bootstrapper" perfectly illustrates the enemy those of us who seek equality are facing. Enemies of equality like "bootstrapper" detonate their usual "victimhood" IED whenever inconvenient truths are proffered.

Defeating enemies of equality will require aggressive measures. Just as Don Imus destroyed himself, so too will the bigoted CEOs ruling America. Minority managers who face prejudice must develop tactics to draw out the venom of their victimizers and expose them.

bootstrapper

My friend Gurman appears to have watched too many war movies. Behind the facade of inflammatory rhetoric and name-calling, I see... nothing. Where is the argument? Where is the evidence? Proffer me something, Gurman.

Do you honestly believe that if the situation were reversed, that if there was a relatively small number of black MBA entrepreneurs, that there would not be some "equality activist" (such as your) bemoaning the fact that America does not have enough black entrepreneurs? Give me a break.

And here's an "IED" for you: Reconcile true equality and affirmative action "equality." There's nothing inherently wrong with either: One is genuine equality and the other is righting a wrong. That's fine; just be honest enough to call a spade a spade.

bootstrapper

By the way, I didn't just "detonate [my] usual victimhood IED," as you suggest. Victimhood is when any type of news, result, or action can somehow effectively be transformed into a case of oppression and discrimination.

Been there

Ms. Thomas' statements resonate with my experience. As an MBA graduate from a top b-school, I have often found entrepreneurship to be the topic of conversation with my MBA colleagues in Corporate America. For my white colleagues, it seems that the entrepreneurial motivation most often appeared to be triggered by the ability to take advantage of some new, incipient opportunity. For my black colleagues, the motivation tended to be frustration with the glass ceiling and a desire to maintain forward career/income progress when the truly low probability of becoming (or remaining) a black senior executive finally hit home.

Certainly, my experience does not represent a statistical poll of the black MBA experience. However, I can certainly say that what Ms. Thomas reports does sound awfully familiar.

Asian MBA

I am an Asian American MBA, and I see this, too. It's a form of preferential treatment for whites. I don't know what I will do yet, but entrepreneurship has crossed my mind a million times.

This may end up to be a good thing.

Maykayfu

Corporate leaders will do all they can to retain and promote the talents within their organization, simply because it's in their best interest to do so. However, they are human, and thus talent appraisal is clouded in subjectivity. Therefore I see this as more of a cultural phenomenon. Corporate America is still predominantly permeated by white culture; this affects the perceived attributes of leadership qualities and hence the upward mobility of individuals within the corporation. How does a thoroughbred Ivy League-educated golf-playing older executive relate to the black culture when all he knows about it is from observing hip-hop and professional athletes?

If corporations are serious about diversity, they should start from the top. Diversity on the board will beget diversity in the rank and file.

Human Global

Reality bites. What was America's remedy to equality for minorities (women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians)? To provide more equal access to opportunities, correct? Well, with that being the case, the controlling fathers use the term minority to include white females. Now look at the percentages of white females in leadership positions in all aspects of industry and government, including higher education. The numbers in the past 30 years are phenomenal for white female progress. It's been much better than the progress of other minority groups (African Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities). So what is the common denominator here? Race. White females are the wives and daughters of what controlling class of individuals? White males. They have not worked any harder than the other groups; they have just been preferred, which is the foundation of racism--the power of preference.

The Color of Respect

The only color that matters in America is green. Until we as African Americans are able to flex our economic and political muscle, we will never be given respect.
--Black Employed MBA Student

Junior

You guys are scaring me. I am a college student and was thinking about going for my MBA in finance or international business. But after reading all these comments, I now think it might not be the right thing for me. What is it with all this racism? I am so tired of hearing about this stuff. Why can't someone be recognized by the work he's doing? Is it a sin to be a minority in the U.S.? This is not the U.S. I heard about when I was back home in Africa.

femi

I'm surprised race is even an issue here. I'm no expert, but has anyone actually considered that there may be other, more-critical factors affecting the stats showing sidelined black MBAs?

Today's Corporate America is more concerned with what an individual can do for a corporation to help it grow and make money than whether one is black or white. I find the use of the terms "black people" and "white people" rather backward, and I believe such should have died off with the last millennium.

BSCI70

I think it's a case of black MBAs building their own ark before the flood hits. If you enjoy being on a wage-slave plantation, the thought of having to bake your own daily bread can be very frightening. However, for those of us who come from the spirit of Madame C.J. Walker and A.G. Gaston, entrepreneurship is a vehicle to the economic freedom one seeks.

I disagree with Ms. Thomas in that she represents a mind set and era in which we were begging for entry into another man's kingdom. The "disproportionate" number of us entering entrepreneurship reflects a mind set and era in which we will build our own kingdom and call our own shots. I don't have time to wait for Mr. Charlie to get right with God and promote "diversity." The issue is power, plain and simple, and black MBAs will never have true power inside a white corporate structure. As prominent as Richard Parsons is, he will never be Ted Turner as long as he is working for Time-Warner.

Also, black MBAs are tired of being pimped by a corporate system that only views them as a "necessary evil" to prevent the EEOC from coming to the door. I encourage black MBAs to begin their exodus from Corporate America and build their own economic infrastructure. Only then will we have the economic self-respect we need to be competitive and prosperous in this global economic climate.

shantanu chatterjee

Look, the basic reason minorities lag behind in their corporate careers in every country is that usually the mentoring happens in the midst of the "he reminds me of me" feeling. It is by the process of informal bonding and mentoring that doors are opened, nuances are learned, and a million things no one teaches you in a b-school are taught.

African Americans should be grateful that at least the U.S. recognizes the issue endemic in corporations all over the world and tries to do something about it. In other parts of the world, it is simply treated as a fact of life and dismissed.

Chris

I don't want white people to give me a job or promote me. I want to create industries for my own people so I can let the masses of my people work for a corporation that has the best interest of their culture at heart.

As long as black people continue to try to force white people to do something they don't want to do, we will not be respected as equals, but rather as dependents.

Let's create our own, from the ground up, starting with the vast opportunities available in our motherland of Africa.

I will be going to Ghana for a fact-finding investment tour in October, and when I return I will be planning to make several presentations to the National Black MBAs and get our best minds working to build our homeland--starting in West Africa, then throughout the rest of our mother continent.

J Reeves real name no gimmick

All y'all made some real good comments, but at the end of the day, it boils down to money, power, and respect (think Oprah and Bob Johnson). If you can make money for caucasians, they will listen to you and work with you. The bottom line is that if a black person really wants to make it for himself, he will have to:
1. Get access to capital
2. Network with like-minded individuals.
3. Work his black ass off.

Jo

Just finished reading The Jewish Phenomenon, and it mentioned more than once that Jews had no choice but to set up on their own in order to overcome discrimination.

No time for complaining, I'm afraid. Do for yourself if no one else will.

pharasee

What is an MBA? A useless piece of paper. The only savior for African Americans is their native intelligence, which can be traced to Africa. Please stop looking for adaboy validation from massa and keep those businesses coming.

Traycee

I wish you the best, Chris. Personally, I don't want to work for "the man" for the rest of my life. I want to have my own business so that I can pass it down to my own. I want to help my own. The only way for me to do that is to help myself. I'm obtaining my MBA to help me along in the process. While it's a long, hard, painstaking process, I know the rewards at the end will be well worth it. Who doesn't dream of becoming their own boss? I know I do, and I know for a fact that it won't happen working for someone else. I agree with pharasee on one thing--we have to do for ourselves because no one else will.

DaReelTing

An MBA doesn't have a color; it's a tool designed to increase an individual's knowledge base and managerial competencies. Its real-world application and impact (i.e., corporate benefit, socio-economic empowerment, personal value, etc.) is based on a number of factors including personal perception, focus, direction, opportunity, and persistence. Where has it ever been promised that an MBA guarantees a home-run for anyone? As a good friend once told me: You have to get in the way of opportunity.

A helping hand is always appreciated and a kind word of encouragement is nice, but every man's momentum is self-driven. No one ever arrived anywhere without a goal, destination, plan, and gas in the car.

Jc

To Pro,
I'm thinking: "What's the point of this article?" To tell black people to go into business for themselves? To say that an MBA won't help you rise in the ranks? To complain?

To Con,
More babbling defensiveness of the status quo, using the few black examples available (compared to other races) and telling folks to stop twisting the numbers (so to speak). No need to twist when the numbers show how bad things are anyway.

To All,
If you're black (or any race for that matter) and you didn't know this already, you're an idiot. Go back to work.

Tony Rebound

All the comments are great, but to debate race as an issue is ludicrous. If you as a black MBA have not experienced it, thank Jesus and move on. I am an entrepreneur and have had to go this route to maximize earnings. I got tired of having to choose the workplace over time with my sons. Salaries were not worth the time I put in, and the continual usurping of my most viable ideas and selling them for chicken feed in the workplace needed to stop. There is so much we forgo in the way of intellectual property just for the immediate corporate cash and the accolades of working for these big companies. The companies have their own culture, so to expect black culture to be respected and exalted is a fantasy. The black MBA is a scholar who has a "race" duty, and whether he/she wants to or not, the times are drawing them to lead via entrepreneurship. Salaries are not commensurate with work, and making it takes more financially. Remember, we all have to turn on our work-for-self machines, because our U.S. economy is faltering in certain sectors. Have you been watching the market, gas prices, real estate, etc.?

G

To All,
We must be realists. We do not live in a world where people are simply rewarded and promoted based on the work they do. If that was simply the case, there would be more African American CEOs and senior management. There are more African Americans today in society who hold professional degrees from Ivy League institutions than ever before. Nevertheless, look at the percentage of African Americans who have penetrated senior-management ranks.

The issue has to do with opportunity and who is granted that opportunity. Diversity is an issue today in corporate America. Nevertheless, a Fortune 500's idea of a diverse workforce is 8% of the employee population. So this is what we have to do: Take control of our futures. Please go work for Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, and the like. Use your degree to penetrate. Learn all you can. When the glass ceiling hits, break free.

Go start your own investment firm, private equity fund, or real estate development firm. We are penetrating Corporate America at a faster rate today. It's time for us to take the skills we have learned and build wealth for our communities. We live in a capitalistic society. I am sorry, brother, but you will be waiting for 20 years, complaining and crying about how you didn't get the promotion you deserve. Take life by the horns. Please pick up the Forbes 400. Sixty percent of those individuals built their wealth from scratch. It was not an issue of color, simply motivation and ambition. We are the next generation. I wish you all luck.
G

whooknew

Exactly! I completely agree with G. If you feel boxed in, find a new box. This debate is useless, because you cannot win. I'm tired of these same old excuses. Control your own destiny.

Gurman

I used war metaphors to critique Bootstrapper's formulaic dismissal of anti-black prejudice, because there is a real war right here in America.

A war for and against equality. I am a racial and religious minority and I can tell you about numerous examples of up-front prejudice directed at me.

Prejudice that has cost me tremendous opportunity and huge sums of money. So, for me, it's not merely a "war movie" to combat people like Bootstrapper. For disproportionate numbers of black MBAs to go the entrepreneurial route is solid proof of prejudice.

If all MBAs experienced fair and equal treatment, the percentages going into entrepreneurial ventures should be similar across racial lines. Black MBAs have long faced corporate hate. The first black Harvard MBA grads were shunned by white companies and had to launch janitorial companies and other such semi-menial endeavors.

Just look at any military officers' manual, and you'll see huge numbers of black, Latino, and Asian officers. Look at any corporate-management directory and you'll see very little color.

More than a decade ago, the Glass Ceiling Commission, co-chaired by Elizabeth Dole, reported on the grim reality of minority mistreatment by American corporations. President George Bush, I accepted the findings of the Glass Ceiling Report. If Mr. Republican Party can see the truth, why can't you, Bootstrapper?

johnsmith

I understand what you are feeling. As an Oriental American, I sense this ceiling as well. The only way you will make it in this world is by your own bootstraps. You cannot expect others to level the playing field for you.

Absolutely!

I'm a woman of color and totally agree with the glass-ceiling debate. I have been at a company now for four years, and I have done outstanding work. I keep seeing people getting promoted, but they are all white males. I'm so tired of working and making the white males look good, so good that they get the promotions and they don't take me with them. They leave me far behind. Being black and also a woman gives you not only a glass ceiling but also a brick wall.

chris boulanger

I work for a staffing agency that specializes in the placement of minority MBAs and IT pros. Our niche is actually the placement of top professionals (Wharton grads, 10-year Fortune 500 vets, etc.). Even if we focus on this smaller niche of highly qualified, minority professionals, we see a disparity between the offers being given to them and their white counterparts.

I attribute this to two main issues. The first is what a I call tribal thinking among white executives and hiring managers. It's not exactly racism, but if you have a choice between two candidates with the same resumes and experience, you are more likely to hire someone who looks like you, talks like you, and (you assume) shares the same value system. Since most of the folks doing the hiring are white, this means there is a preference for white candidates. I don't really see this as a matter of prejudice against the minority candidate--just a natural preference for the familiar over the foreign. In fact, I'd argue it's human nature.

The second issue is one of self-perception and cultural communication. Every minority professional, MBA or not, has had a conversation with his white co-workers in which they (the coworkers) made a comment or asked a question that offended or befuddled the minority professional (a joke about rice, a comment about a Latino professional's accent, a generalization about black mothers and welfare).

In these conversations, the minority pro is faced with a quandary: If he points out the offense or complains about insensitivity, he is branded as an outcast. Yet staying silent means that the ignorance or insensitivity persists.

Many minority professionals remain silent. But their silence then creates its own alienation: Over time, they become less comfortable socializing with their co-workers and become adept at dodging sticky or troublesome topics. Unfortunately, as your social interactions decline or you become less engaged, the likelihood of promotion declines as well.

As your career develops, your social connections become more important to your chances of promotion (do you go out after work or attend the company golf outing? Are you liked by your peers?).

As minority pros have often spent the preceding years building social barriers (while still doing exceptional work), they are eventually taken out of the running for the next promotion. Depending on your industry and social skills, this can happen really early in your career. Thus, minority pros find themselves cut off from advancement and with few options except entrepreneurship.

This issue is especially important with black professionals, because our people have had less success assimilating into mainstream society. Asians, Latinos, and women are looked at as slightly less alien than we are. They may also have had more interaction with whites growing up.

I think both the issues outlined above will diminish in importance over the next decades and have diminished a lot in the past decade.

The keys are communication and interaction: Minorities are growing into a larger segment of society, and they are also becoming better represented on college campuses and at all levels of business.

As the older generation of white (and minority) professionals moves out, younger generations will place greater emphasis on different qualities than race. Where you went to school and what organization you are a part of will continue to matter. But the next generation of leaders will have to become accustomed to seeing minorities in their classrooms and in the workplace. They will have grown up in a multicultural world. There will still be preference for the familiar over the alien, but race will no longer be the determinate of an alien status.

With that said, minorities have to stay engaged socially. We can't let uncomfortable silences persist or be corporate wallflowers. If you find yourself feeling offended or put upon by whites around you, then speak out as a minority and a professional (the former gives you knowledge of the topic; the latter gives you credibility as a speaker).

If you remain engaged and speak intelligently about what bothers you, there may be a backlash, but you will have remained part of the conversation. Remaining engaged in the less comfortable moments will translate to you being involved in the more positive conversations (Who's up for promotion? What do you need to do to get that raise?).

These are my thoughts based on discussions with minority MBAs, research on our corporate clients, and my own interactions with my white counterparts.

Bert

Jc, best comment so far. My opinion: Experience beats education. Don't think you deserve a grandiose promotion every two years because you have an MBA. Education does not equal security. No one promised you a job when you graduated, so why would you promise one to yourself? Racism exists, because people play on these unfiltered statistics and write them off as discrimination. I want to play in the NBA, buy it's never going to happen, because I'm not 6'8" and I'm not black (or Russian). Compare business to professional sports, and it will give you a clearer picture of the way things work. If you're good, you're good, and if you aren't, get lost.

Notsofast

The answer is not as simple as some people think. Gurman has a point that there is discrimination across every industry. Bootstrapper is right as well. For example, I know a lot of Asian Americans who complain about not reaching upper management, but sometimes you have to take a subjective look at what is going on. Just because you graduated from Harvard, it does not make you a perfect candidate for Goldman, Merrill, etc. I'd rather have an athlete who knows how to juggle sports and academics than a bookworm who has no social skills. I think minorities tend to use their minority status rather than some other fault for their lack of success. How do you quantify something like that in business? If someone has a connection, that person has the upper hand no matter what race, nationality, or religion. Of course, more white people will see upper management, because that is how American culture is as of right now. The next time I hear a black person say that "white people can't dance" or "you talk like a white person," I'll let him or her know that he or she is being a bigot just like the "white-corporate-devils." Same goes for any other race. I've seen some non-white employees get hired and promoted when they shouldn't have been--obviously not as frequently as whites, but the majority of the people in the U.S. are white. Anyway, I'm just asking people to think before they point fingers.

Jeff Price

I have worked for very large employers and have seen initiatives to promote minorities, which has had a negative effect on the person who was promoted as well as the company as a whole.

I am a firm believer in promoting people based on their accomplishment and abilities. Their ethnic background should not give them a promotional leg up over other people in the organization.

I have been passed over because a person who was labeled a minority was given preference over me, not because of the quality of his or work, not because he had more education, not because he had more accomplishments than me. My director apologized to me for not promoting me. He stated that I was indeed more qualified, but the company was pushing to promote minorities so their numbers would look better.

If you think you should be given a promotion because of your ethnic background or the color of your skin, you are more racist than the people you are trying to malign for something that happened 200 years ago.

PRODUCER

Wow--that Gurman is a real Debbie Downer. Rehearsing the same tired story of how racist America is, how it keeps a brother down, blah, blah, blah. Gurman is good at hurling insults but not offering one solution. Maybe he (she?) needs a better job.

With that said, as someone mentioned, The Jewish Phenomenon is a masterpiece on how a group can control and determine its destiny through entrepreneurship, innovation, good character, and knowledge.

I applaud the increasing numbers of black MBAs opening shop. I challenge anyone who's seen The Pursuit of Happyness to identify any evidence that racism held Chris Gardner back. He said, "If you have a dream, go after it. Period."

Reluctant Entrepreneurs

1. Yes, black MBAs are heading into entrepreneurship at a faster rate than whites--because, over the career cycle of many (dare I say most) black professionals, they are made to feel less than valued and as people only to be tolerated in the corporate game.

2. Fact: Most people do not go to MBA school to become entrepreneurs. People go to MBA school to get a better shot in Corporate America. This is why most MBA schools don't spend much time teaching entrepreneurship.

3. All of the young black entrepreneurs I know who have graduate degrees (bankers, consultants, lawyers) are entrepreneurs by circumstance, not first choice. They are reluctant entrepreneurs, because they were pushed out (this can happen in a variety of interesting and legally unprovable ways).

4. Entrepreneurship is a very, very risky game. Most businesses fail within the first few years.

5. Regardless, black professionals really need to get a grip on the fact that starting their own businesses may still be the safest way to go.

Morehouse Grad

Maykayfu was right about the typical white exec's inability to relate to black culture and thus the black executive. There is undoubtedly a glass ceiling that still exists in Corporate America. Since I didn't take Sucking Up 101 in college, I probably will never be on a board or be considered a senior executive, but I'm OK with this. Many of my Morehouse brothers have gone the entrepreneurship route due to this. I am still playing the corporate game, and it's obvious the higher you go in the hierarchy the whiter it gets. Unfortunately, I don't see this changing anytime soon.

Morehouse Grad

Wow Bert, comparing Corporate America to professional sports--genius. Wow (shaking my head). People who think like this really scare me. Honestly.

DeVry Grad

I've been reading these posts and evaluating if I actually want to obtain my MBA. I am in the IT Industry and work for a Fortune 500 company. I really don't like working in Corporate America, and it’s definitely become sour to me and non-attractive to attempt to even move up the ladder in my current company. I have a BA in business and want that as my focus.

I feel that I am an entrepreneur, and have many business ideas, but will having an MBA put me in debt or will the so called "White Man" keep me down? I really don't care much for Corporate America, but I do feel it’s a great start for some people. However, as an entrepreneur you will still have to play the game, right?

Not everyone can become an entrepreneur or have the spirit to do so. Most people like working for others and want to move up the corporate ladder. Why? I don't understand. You’re moving up the ladder in someone else's company. I say learn all you can while you can, make relationships, and friendships and venture out on your own. I honestly don't have time to be held back by anyone.

I just today asked my senior manager if she had an MBA, and if you obtain one if it would help you move up in the company. Her answers were that she has a master's degree not an MBA, and obtaining it will not move you up in the company. She also mentioned that in her senior-manager circles, they compare their MBAs and compare the institutes they obtained them from. So take it for you want.

Honestly, I could care less about not moving up in Corporate America, because I don't plan on being there long. I'm going to have people working for me, not me working for them.

H

This message is for both Femi and Junior.

First I must say thank you to Femi for shedding some positive light on Corporate America. Junior, I believe just the same way you hear people make discouraging statements about going to college, it goes on. I also plan on getting my MBA, and I will say that as a black person in the U.S., I will let nothing stop me. I want to be successful and have all the luxuries that life offers. You have to play your cards right, because it's a tough competition.

dfabuluz

Wow--you guys are scaring me. I have been considering the pursuit of an MBA for some time now, but I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I work in corporate now, and I know I don't want to be here forever. I don't know if I should invest the average $90,000 in an MBA or in my own business. I hope the glass ceiling theory fades away as our country becomes a melting pot year by year, and all those notions are erased. But until then, we (black people) have to empower ourselves economically.

Brite

To DeVry Grad: Make sure you do not attend a generic MBA program, if you know what I mean. I am also a DeVry grad, and it can be a bit challenging with that background. If you can afford it, invest in a top MBA program.

Prior to getting my MBA, it had never dawned on me that racism could slow the progress of my career. It was easy to get a clerical or administrative job, but as I progressed in my education, it became more difficult to get a high-paying corporate job--to the extent that I stopped indicating on my resume that I have an MBA just to get a job. As you would expect, I pursued the entrepreneurship route.

Lamont

As I sit reading commentary after commentary, I see that Maykayfu seems to have hit the problem head-on. It is more of a cultural thing. Most African Americans, if the roles were reversed, are apt to act the very same ways as the whites. We can see this in our everyday lives. We tend to gravitate to those who are like us. Entrepreneurship is a good phenomenon taking place in the black community--I highly encourage it.

Investment Banker

I agree with certain elements of arguments by Gurman, Chris, The Thinker, Human Global, and G.

I am black, and I am well educated with a degree in the sciences, a master's and a PhD in nuclear physics. I have experienced corporate racism, institutional racism from teachers, etc., but I don't feel like a victim. Because, being a victim exonerates the power and control of one's ability to overcome an obstacle.

Jeff Price, I do not want to be promoted because of my color and would not accept the promotion; it undermines both me and those who are better qualified for the role. What you have experienced, Chris, is the discrimination due to company diversity programs, for appearing to be equal-opportunity employers. That is just proof that these schemes are not always genuine. After all, if we lived in an equal society, there would not be a need for such directives in the first place.

Yes, mass slavery happened 200 years ago (as it still does today), but I refuse to seek approval, apologies, or rewards from any descendant (either biologically, or by default of being the same race) of slave masters, traders, etc., because to be quite frank, I don't need the validation.

Economic power is the most important influencer in this capitalist society, and all of these discriminatory occurrences in the institutions within society only serve to promote entrepreneurship and leadership among black people.

We survived slavery, and that is proof of our resilience, strength, and spirit as a people. While senior corporate managers still have the mind-set of bygone years, as G said, we are the new generation.

My time in the corporate world has shown me that I do not want to be served minutiae information and fed crumbs from someone else's table, I simply want to have the power and control over my own destiny, and will not compromise my intellectual and personal freedom for someone else's greater profit.

I, too, have developed a number of businesses that are successful in the USA, Europe, and Asia, and now with that transferable knowledge and capital, I, like Chris, am taking it to my native homeland, Africa.

Oreo

Chris Boulanger has it right. The bottom line is that blacks need to thrust themselves into opportunity's way by social engagement in the workplace or outside of it (i.e., golf, poker, drinks, etc.). They need to be socially engaged with the rest of the work place in order to climb the corporate ladder. In order to relate, you also must divorce yourself from the "black counterculture" during working hours just as successful Asians, Italians, Indians, and Latinos have. It is called assimilation. When jokes or comments about your race or ethnicity are made, you should consider that a compliment, because you are finally starting to be accepted as an equal and not an Affirmative Action case. Instead of fighting them or "going silent into that good night," play with them, fire back at your coworker, and let them see that you see them as equal, not the "massa oppressing the brotha or sista." If it is an actual question or concern about your culture, then answer it. It is the only way that whites or other cultures will be able to get an understanding of the true black culture. Take the opportunity to explain what black culture is by providing them the right answer from a person they trust and not the hip-hop answer the media portrays.

As an African-American graduate of a top-tier Ivy league MBA program, I found no problem whatsoever being hired by a Fortune 500 investment bank. The idea that racism is still prevalent in the Northeast or western part of this country is invalid. Blacks that have remained in the deep south (Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina) have a viable argument. These states have deeply embedded racial issues that only time and migration will correct.

Furthermore, blacks must separate classism from racism. Often times, you will not be hired or promoted because you cannot fit in with the culture or standards of that segment of the culture that you will need to assimilate to if you get the desired promotion. As someone who has always been the "black dot in the room," I have spent years adjusting to the mainstream culture and have more white friends than black. I attribute this detachment from the black counterculture, that came out of the extremists (Malcolm X, not MLK) of the 1960s, as a direct contributor to my success.

Morehouse Grad: For those blacks who attend the HBCs in this day and age and are taught four years of "our culture," do not be surprised if you do not get promoted in "white" or Corporate America. You get paid for your ability to assimilate and make them money. At the end of the day, it is their money and opportunity. At least now, they cannot prevent you from the opportunity just by way of the color of your skin.

As for the actual argument in the article--why do black MBAs start their own businesses?--here is the answer:

Owning a business is one of the easiest ways to establish sustainable wealth for your descendants for generations to come.

I am taking the job at the investment bank simply to gain skill, connections, credibility, and seed capital for the business I will someday run. My desire to be an entrepreneur is not for fear of a glass ceiling; it is for the children I'll have.

DeVry Grad

To Brite: I am definitely looking into a top MBA program. Of course, since I have a family trying to get into Harvard, Wharton or another top MBA program is going to be a challenge. Not the academics, but actually having to move and attend those programs full-time with only one income. There are lots of things I need to think about before I invest $100K on the MBA. Thanks for the insight.

I know lots of people who have the DeVry Keller MBA, but it does not hold any weight from what I understand and have been reading. I am also looking into Emory to see what it can offer me. Ultimately I want to run my own company; I really don't want to work in Corporate America any longer. So maybe the traditional MBA program is not for me. Has anyone check out this program? http://www.actonmba.org/index.php

The racism part of this debate will follow most of us no matter what we plan to do in life. It’s a fact. Even if I run my own business, we still have to find capital and equity to run our businesses. I just don't plan to let it hold me back from what I want to do in life.

K Justin

I find it hard to believe that everyone who has posted comments (including me) has seen the data on a representative sample. How can anybody make any conclusions about anything without having seen the data and regression analyses? One, you can't extrapolate to Corporate America from NYC's advertising industry. It's not a representative sample and doesn't even come close to being a significant (as far as sample size). Two, you can't generalize white people just like you can't generalize black people. Three, you can't say that race is the sole reason black people weren't getting hired/promoted, without seeing the data. How did each person perform? Who transferred to a different firm, industry, or function? What was the growth of blacks who applied for positions in the advertising industry? It just might be that race is the sole reason, but no one can conclude that without analyzing the data. Unless we know the actual cause of the result, we can't solve the problem.

Having just graduated from a top b-school, I had a lot of black classmates who are going the entrepreneurial route, because they want to be their own boss (common, non-racial reason), want to flex their creativity, which they couldn't do in a corporation, or believe in an idea that will make them incredibly wealthy. None of them talked about a glass ceiling in "Corporate America." Yes, all of us know that there is racism out there, but if you think black entrepreneurs will face less racism in building their businesses, you're sadly mistaken. There are some racist people out there (including black folks)--and? You should succeed anyway. Don't let other people control how high and how far you go in life, Playing the victim does not help you achieve your goals.

By crying racism without having the proof to back it up just weakens the general charge. It's a charge that is thrown around way too much by us. Not only does it make our culture look weak by complaining when the situation may not warrant it, it also sometimes serves as an excuse for underperformance, laziness, and lack of focus.

Yes, racism is out there, but we seem to be the only group that can't overcome it. Jews, Asians, and Indians face discrimination, but they're progressing better than us. Why? It's because their focus is internal (doing what they need to do) as opposed to external (focusing on what others should do). We're not going to achieve true economic power until we shift the focus onto ourselves and off of everyone else. So many of us have learned the poem "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley. We've even recited it multiple times. But how many of us have actually applied those words to our lives? "...It matters not how strait the gate/how charged with punishments the scroll/I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."

Let's Take Control

Honestly, what is the point of this article? It is beginning to seem like we are a bunch of complainers. There is a quote in that movie The Departed that I somewhat agree with. Jack Nicholson said "What the n**gers fail to realize is that you can't keep asking, you have to take." Why don't we just stand up, stop acting like a bunch of complainers and whiners, and take control of our destiny?

Wait, I bet the next response is going to give a reason why we can't--excuses, excuses, excuses.

femiallen

The workplace is a club, and often blacks aren't allowed in, or don't want to join. Social norms in the workplace are frequently much different from those prevalent in the black community. Does diversity mean allowing other groups to meld into the majority, or embracing and attempting to understand the ways these groups are different? I wish it were the latter, but my experience is the former. People are still asking why blacks all hang at lunch. Huh? It's the 21st century, and the majority still haven't learned that they all hang together, too? They haven't learned that diversity means that all employees step out of their comfort zone, not just the minority group? I'm not shocked by the findings in this article. Can diversity really be accomplished in the workplace without 100% assimilation? Maybe not.

Living It

I will not attempt to speak for the entire African American community, because I believe I lack all the relative facts to speak fairly and accurately. I can, however, speak confidently about my own experiences. My reality is this:

- Out of my entire management team, including my two bosses over me and my peers, I am the only one with a four-year degree and an MBA. Everyone else has either a two-year degree or nothing.

- Two people in my group (neither of whom has a degree) are being groomed for promotion. One is a white man, the other a white woman.

- I work for a Fortune 10 company.

These are the facts of my situation. Feel free to argue your point any way you'd like. But understand this is what I must deal with while you're going back and forth about the "opportunities" available to us. I was always told growing up that blacks must be better to be considered equal. Well, I don't know if it's true for all blacks, but it's certainly true for me.

ak

This has been a rather interesting debate. I remember watching a program sponsored by the BBC, "Shoot the Messenger," which was about how a successful black teacher turned cynical of his black folk, because when he tried to help them, they turned on him. His response after going through near mental dysfunction was that they should wake up and get over the discrimination and move on.

I've lived in Africa, Europe and the U.S., and the story is the same. However, I will always take ownership of blame before passing to someone else. When the whites are trying to preserve their race, why does the black man try and destroy his? That to me has been the bane of the black man's lack of relative progress over decades. Personally, I have enjoyed a successful career (with no MBA yet). When the job is performed well, who cares whether you're white, black, or green? Performance always speaks for itself. As Oreo rightly put, culture differences will always be something people consider. But if you can make yourself adaptable for wider reception, why not? People have tried to use religion as an excuse for not being considered for particular roles, but if it is perceived to be a stumbling block, would you blame them? We must remember perceptions, not fact, determine how people respond to different situations and if perceptions are left to run amok, we have but ourselves to blame.

There is a saying that he who refuses to learn from history is doomed to repeat it. We need to learn from our experiences, failures, and successes and move strategically. Why sit and complain? That does not achieve anything. Typically, it causes us to become equally racist, and we all know two wrongs don't make a right.

Now there are many people with MBAs. Some Ivy League, some not. So what? Is it not what you do with it that counts? Surely if you pay top dollar for MBA education, you cannot blame anyone for thinking it's more valuable than cheaper options. After all, there is a saying, you get what you pay for. These are things you have to consider as trade-offs before enrolling. I watched a program about how the Egyptians built pyramids. There were comments made by big-time construction engineers who simply marveled at how they accomplished such feats without our so-called technology. I think much of the problem is that a lot of our education is teaching us to get a job instead of creating jobs. This is the argument many without MBAs have with those that have. The perception is like "With all your education, you still can't outplay me." I don't think your education defines you. It can serve as an advantage, yes, but the end really lies in how you can apply the tools you have. I'd rate a guy higher who can make diamonds out of sand any day than an MBA who has feasibility reports of whether or not it is possible.

Now I am not saying injustice does not exist. I witnessed where some people got killed because the white "superior" who had less technical training insisted on a particular action. So I know what's at stake, but I've also been around long enough to know that debate over the issue is of little use.

What we need to see is innovation that cannot be denied. If as, Living it said, it means we have to be better to be considered equal, let's rise to the challenge. Every time that has happened, it was only better for the latter to the demise of the former. If you understand that some things operate in cycles, you'll be able to position yourself strategically for the shift.

On the racism and social profiling issue, it is everywhere and not only white and black. I listened to a radio talk show host who said he'd have to change his accent if he worked up north, because of the perception that people from the South are dull, regardless of color. I could equally become racist if it were to consider employing a white person or black person for different reasons. When I observed employment trends in a particular industry, they preferred blacks or foreigners, because the white locals were lazy or did not appear to have stamina or were always calling in sick or would just quit when they got stressed, knowing there was Social Security or dole available to tie them through periods of no work, things the foreigners were not beneficiaries of and so were more motivated.

The creation of value is the critical thing.

PLM

Many times lack of experience, perceived incompetence, or poor ability is confused with racial prejudice. Résumés, interviews, background, and school attended are all a reflection of behavior/performance of an individual whether white or black.

My experience has shown it is better to hire compatible workers than to bring on problematic new cultural/behavioral issues. Diversity is overrated.

NEXTSTEPS

1. Shame on those who believe that racism no longer exists in Corporate America; they are either dumb or really dumb. Let PLM know that the diversity initiatives, when properly implemented, bring to a company a culture of respect and fairness--positive motivation/values widely accepted across all racial groups.

2. Shame on those who believe that because Corporate America is racist, they should quit fighting. Just quitting is really helping the cause of the racists. One fortune 500 CEO was "proud" to point out that the high turnover of minorities (blacks) at his firm was due to the fact that B minorities just did not like the city (city with 3% to 5% B minorities) or really never had the passion for the type of business. So, in case you have to quit for better opportunity, let the world know about what is going on at the firm in specific terms. That will save us from hearing the type of stupid reasoning mentioned above. It will also help those suing the companies for EEOC, or those staying behind, or those joining, or those dealing as partners, consultants, customers, suppliers, etc.

3. Shame on you if you recognize the glass ceiling issue and do not do anything about it other than just venting. I am a mid-level black manager (MBA as well plus other things) in a Fortune 300 company with outstanding performance records. I informally mentor blacks and ensure that in my area of influence, they get hired and promoted. If all blacks could start lending a hand to one another, things will improve--maybe not for you but at least for people around you. I find it disturbing that some blacks in my company on their journey to corporate assimilation are promoting the discriminatory majority agenda. These fellow black senior managers are denying other blacks some well-deserved promotions. The same blacks very often have a very poor hiring rate of black talent. When they do hire blacks, they pay them less than anyone else. So, Chris Boulanger, what is the issue (it can't be cultural this time)?

My experience with diversity has shown that its most outspoken critics are the incompetent members of the Good Old Boy circle. They will publish everywhere possible the names of the very few incompetent black bosses they have to work with while forgetting that these blacks were not promoted according to diversity principles but for their support of the anti-diversity agenda. They also show some signs of amnesia when they fail to realize that the number of white incompetent managers in Corporate America by a mega ratio outnumbers the number of the so-called incompetent "diversity" managers.

marty v. dreher

I think it's time we as blacks start focusing on the "system" (capitalistic) in which we live, as opposed to who's not doing what for us. The facts are clear; we are not self-sufficient as a people. This is no longer a black and white society; it's a money society. Everything else is directly connected to money, politics, religion, crime, education, etc. We are responsible for ourselves collectively, not individually.

Q

I agree with Marty v. Dreher.

Look at Billionairexchange.com. Life is not a game; however, there are only winners and losers.

F'ING LAWS

The new way to move up the corporate ladder is to discriminate. The company will want to protect its image and reputation, hence it will protect the person who made the discriminatory actions. Since it will protect the person that made the unlawful comment or actions, that person will then become part of the big boys league. The secret to success is to break rules to hire the big wigs, so you can protect you and the company. It's a horrible system. Please do not report the situation; instead record and keep evidence or immediately blast what the person said to you on record. Take it to HR, and then ask them to accommodate you to look for another job. You will walk out with something at least and find somewhere better. Lawyers and the system must keep the discrimination going to protect their law firms from running out of businesses. EEOC included.

There is no justice, just lawlessness. Stop America from entering other countries and telling their government to practice a liberal society.

taekwondo forms palgwe

Like somebody else says, what a great blog this is. Typically I don't make an effort with a comment, though for your effort and hard work you will get one.

Focus on you

Aspiring non-white MBAs: Ignore this article, and do not let it or anything stop you from success. The secret to success is perseverence. If someone is racist, that's their issue, not yours. Move upward in the world with focus on your ability and those who support you. Do not focus on potential downfalls or what may happen if someone doesn't treat you right..there will always be that potential Just move on and persevere..

white woman working in finance

I am a white woman working in one of the best firms on wall street. If I happen to bump into a black person on the elevator, I am usally shocked to see them there. I can count on my right hand the number of black employees that work at our 4,000 employee global firm. We have a long long way to go in defeating racism and over coming the skewed factors of our society that keep the wealthy rich and the poor starving. If you are thinking about an MBA - go for it. An education is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. However, do not let the MBA and/or student loans stand in the way of pursuing your career.

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