Rutgers talk highlights skills needed to succeed in workplace
From dress codes to end-of-year appraisals, professional work experience can be drastically different for minorities.
"From the Block to the Boardroom," an event sponsored by Rutgers NAACP, Phi Beta Lambda and the Rutgers Future Scholars dReam Team, featured four black professionals as panelists.
The event began with introductions and an open-ended discussion with the students.
Bishar Jenkins, vice president of Rutgers NAACP and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, expressed concerns echoed by others about behavior in the workplace as a minority. He emphasized the pressure on young African-Americans in the workforce, and how taking initiative can be seen as being aggressive.
“You want to be involved in the community, but you don’t want to seem like the competition,” said JoJo Morinvil, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
Jackie Jackson, director of Mobility Solution Services at AT&T, recounted her own college experiences, emphasizing the importance of speaking about passions.
Jackson had a poster of Africa in the room of her residence hall and told friends she had never been there, though she was intent on going. During Spring Break of her second year, she headed to Nigeria.
“When you speak a passion, people remember it, believe it or not,” Jackson said.
In an office, vocalizing goals can lead to others hearing and offering opportunities when they hear about them, Jackson said.
Networking, especially among candidates from marginalized groups, was significant to all the panelists. Even if an applicant has all the qualifications, education and experience for a particular job, they might not get the opportunity for a variety of reasons.
The “old boys network” sometimes results in qualified minorities being denied jobs, said Charmaine Barrett, senior product manager at AT&T and secretary for Community NETwork, African-American Telecommunications group at the company.
White men can be especially guilty of tending to go with candidates they know, or feel they are comfortable with, Barrett said. It can be difficult to navigate around the networking going on, but it is not impossible.
“Nine times out of 10, when a position comes up, they have a list of names in their heads,” said Trent Barrett, global program manager at Johnson & Johnson and Charmaine Barrett’s husband.
Circumstances can arise in the workplace, and it is important to know how to deal with them, said Kim Williams, program coordinator for the Rutgers Future Scholars program.
Williams described a situation in which her boss, a white male, sent out a memo reorganizing the staff while she was on vacation. The reorganization included her demotion, she said.
Williams was no longer reporting to the director. Instead, she was reporting to another white male with two years less experience than she had. Upset, with no one in the office to talk to, she called her mother-in-law who had retired after years at Verizon, planning to leave.
“She fought for years at Verizon,” Williams said.
Her mother-in-law encouraged her to do the same. Instead of leaving the company, Williams complained, saying she was “disparately treated,” focusing on her qualifications rather than her minority status. She not only created a new position for herself, but also built a relationship with her then-boss, who later apologized.
The anecdotes the panelists shared stressed the importance of diversity in the workplace, which proved to be a common interest among them and the students alike.
“My high school was diverse. Rutgers is so diverse, so I’ve just been used to that kind of environment,” said Manasa Chinta, a Rutgers Business School senior. “My workplace, I want it to be diverse as well.”
The panelists also discussed what makes a resume great.
Although college students may not have much experience to fill the resume, talking about experiences require the use of qualities that relate to their prospective field can bolster a resume, Trent Barrett said.
Other than past work experience, the ability to code is extremely helpful, Jackson said. Whether it’s HTML or Java, and whether students have taken a class or not, putting software on a resume is essential. Computer programming, data analytics and cyber-security are all up-and-coming fields that are in demand.
Reading the job description and using the “buzzwords” the employer uses on an application can also be helpful, she said. Resumes are often scanned by software for keywords, then the selected ones are given to hiring managers to read.
Despite the hardships of navigating the workforce as a minority, the panelists made it clear that networking is key to a successful career, even though other groups may have it easier.
“There’s nothing that can limit you and there’s nothing that you can’t do or accomplish,” Jackson said.
Susmita Paruchuri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in mathematics and journalism and media studies. She is the design editor for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @susmitapar for more.