Staying in the Game
UCLA’s African American Leadership Institute works to better prepare Black executives for corporate culture.
By Phaedra Brotherton
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 because 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.”
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). The participants, which typically breaks down to a 50-50 gender split, come from all over the United States. Last year, the AALI program was held at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in efforts to expand its reach.
Through lectures, interactive discussions, simulations, video presentations and group exercises, the executives leave with tools to manage diverse teams, resolve work-related conflicts, as well as strategies for developing career-enhancing relationships.
In addition to faculty from Anderson, leading scholars in African American workplace and career issues from around the country make up the program’s faculty.
Although there is a small group of Black scholars concentrating on organizational and career issues for minorities, they are not located at one business school, says Porter, who also teaches two courses in the program. Porter says when they put the program together, they went searching for the leading faculty to teach in the program, scholars such as Dr. Ella E. Bell of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, whose specialty is in organizational change and managing race, gender and culture in organizational life, and Dr. Geraldine R. Henderson, of the business school at Howard University, an expert in multicultural marketing, branding and social networks, to name a few (see sidebar).
Steele points out that one of the missions of the Anderson School’s Office of Executive Education is to “put forth the best of faculty research.” AALI differs from similar diversity and leadership programs because it’s taught by business school faculty as opposed to organizational behavior or diversity consultants, Steele adds.
Dr. Erika H. James, associate professor of business administration, at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, has been with the program since it started in 1998.
James, who teaches a course on general organizational behavior and an elective course on crisis management at Darden, says she was asked to create a course dealing with trust in the workplace for the AALI.
“We talk about the different types of trust,” she says, from trust in one’s own ability to trusting colleagues. James says the class discusses “how those different types of trust play out and how lack of trust affects the ability to get work done and form relationships.”
In putting the course together, James says she reflected on her own experiences with trust when she worked in corporate America, as a management development consultant with American Express. She recalls when a White male — who eventually became one of her mentors — offered her help, but James says she was “less open and skeptical.”
“It took a number of years before our relationship became mutually beneficial,” James says. “I didn’t have to be that way.”
In addition to the core faculty group, the program brings in guest speakers — current and former corporate executives — to talk about their work experiences. Guest speakers have included Ted Childs, vice president of global work-force diversity for IBM, and Ann Fudge, former president of Kraft’s Maxwell House and Post divisions.
George Hasley, an engineering manager for Raytheon Systems, says the program targeted to Black managers was helpful.
“Management 101 type courses do not, in general, address racial barriers or impediments to career success,” says Hasley, who attended the program in 2001. “Nor do they provide examples both in the form of instructors and students or documented real-life stories of individuals who succeeded in spite of these impediments — and how they did it.”
Hasley says the most helpful sessions for him were “View from the Top — Lessons for Successful Career Building” and “Being True to Yourself.”
“I felt the instructor, Dr. Robin Johnson, was excellent,” Hasley says. “She stressed the importance of bringing as much of yourself as possible to the workplace since we spend so much of our daily lives there. People often possess talents or skills/strengths that they’re not using to optimal advantage. The resulting benefits can be greater fulfillment, job satisfaction and further career advancement.”
Paulette Carpenter, vice president of community relations for CBS Television in New York City attended the program in March. She’s been with Westinghouse Broadcasting, now CBS Corp., for 24 years.
Carpenter found out about the program through a friend who attended a program AALI had customized for the National Association of Minorities in Communications. She then went online to learn more about the program and later applied.
Carpenter says she found the session on balancing work and family as well as the session on power the most relevant to her own situation.
“As an African American woman — well, African Americans in general — have a tendency to feel like we are responsible for the masses,” Carpenter says. “It was interesting in that session to be able to identify how you are always presenting yourself to your corporate office, then your community and on and on,” she says.
African Americans often find themselves representing a group of people and sometimes don’t seem to have an individual identity, Carpenter adds. “The session helped to identify that this (perception) is common. It was great to get perspective and to share.”
Being taught by faculty that understood the experience of Black executives and felt passionate about these issues added a special dimension to the program, Carpenter says. “They come as a unified front. They are like the elders that you bring you into the tribe, so to speak.”
The power of networking
AALI offers its participants another big benefit — networking.
“We encourage networking among the participants to help them build and establish their own networks,” Porter says. “We talk about networking in a number of different places … It comes up in discussions about power, trust, mentoring and career management.” Because there is such a small group of faculty working on these issues, says Porter, “it’s easy for us to build on each other’s work. So it is an integrated program.”
Responses and feedback from the program participants have been overwhelmingly positive, say program officials. But like other executive development programs, AALI has had to adjust to economic realities. Steele says companies are being more selective in choosing executive education programs for their employees.
Companies also want more control over what’s being taught, she says. For that reason, UCLA has adopted a consortia model for its leadership programs, in which sponsoring companies also use their resources to promote the program and give input into the curriculum. Anderson has found that spreading the cost over various companies makes it more cost-effective for the companies and for UCLA.
In addition to the AALI, Anderson also offers specific executive education programs for Latinos, women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender executives.
Putting on race and gender specific programs has been a growing area for AALI, Steele says. Although some companies question the need for specific leadership programs based on race, Steele says the companies who sign on to the program are committed to diversity and recognize the value of investing in their minority executives.
It has not been a hard sell, Steele adds. In fact, she says, many times when companies find out that such a program exists, they want to learn all about it.
“The baby boomers are the first big group of Black Americans who have made it to the management ranks,” she says. “Often companies aren’t sure what to do with them.”
Indeed, many participants in the program have found the program to be the boost they needed to handle being one of a small number or the only Black executive in their company.
“Seeing other people who are in an experience similar to your own helps to deal with isolation,” Porter says. “They learn to better understand their organizations and the signals the organization is sending them.”
Ronald E. Harrison, senior vice president for global diversity and community affairs for PepsiCo, and a member of the Executive Leadership Council, an organization for African American corporate executives, has collaborated with AALI to provide three customized programs for PepsiCo employees.
“I feel business schools need to sharpen their focus on better preparing all students in learning ‘how to effectively work with, lead and follow people of many different cultures,’ ” says Harrison, who has spent more than 30 years in corporate management, adding that business schools also need to help people of color to deal with and master all of the issues required to be successful within corporate cultures.
For more information on the Anderson School’s executive education programs, visit
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