Time and again I often find myself in a dialogue where an individual is sharing her experience connecting with black women more senior to her and how unsuccessful she has been in developing a relationship, receiving help, or gaining access to her network.
This myth that black women don’t help other black women has permeated the business culture and has left some to believe that their own race and gender is hindering them from being successful and moving up the corporate ladder. We live in era of #BlackGirlMagic and it’s become the norm to see more than one successful black woman in the places where we work. So why has this myth become a hot button issue among women in our culture?
As the President of ColorComm, Inc., a company focused on advancing the visibility of women of color in communications through ColorComm Network and ColorComm’s Annual Conference, I’ve experienced first hand how black women do help other black women on the way up.
ColorComm, Inc. has been built from the resources of black women, funding from black women, and access to opportunities created by black women.
If you’re having trouble connecting with black women in business, you need to ask yourself 5 things before you ask for help:
1) Have you done your homework?
Just because we share a race and a gender doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to a free pass. Do you know much about the person you are reaching out to—beyond a title and place of employment? Do your homework! Google the person’s name, swing by their LinkedIn page, uncover the people you have in common, learn about their personal interests. Doing your reaearch will go along way in getting the attention of the person you're hoping to build a relationship with. After all, you can’t build a relationship with someone if you don’t know anything about her.
2) Are you Courting?
If we applied dating principles to the networking game, we might be more successful in having black women open doors for other black women. Relationships that involve connecting with women at the senior level often require a bit of courting, chasing, and following up. Are you making an effort to get to know the executive you are reaching out to, or are you the type of person that is sending your resume or asking for a job on the first email attempt? These practices are unwarranted and are too forward. New relationships involve a “getting to know you” phase.
3) Are you Professional?
If we don’t know each other personally, then you need to keep it professional. I often see black women get too comfortable too early on. “Hey girl,” “Yo”, “Quick Question” are not professional introductions when connecting with someone new. Sharing the same race and gender do not give you permission to skip proper greetings and to kick into friend mode. We are not friends. Asking for an introduction or favor too early on is not professional. This type of behavior cannot be blamed on black women not helping each other. In the words of DJ Khaled, "Don’t play yourself!"
4) Is This the Right Time?
Are you reaching out at the right time? Is the executive you are reaching out to going through a company merger? Did your new professional relationship just get married? You might be in a hurry to push your agenda through, but it might not be the right time for the person on the other end to receive your message. Timing and the right approach are key towards getting what you need. You must not think only about yourself, but understand that it might not be the right time for the person on the other end.
5) Do you have something to offer?
Relationships are sustainable because you have something to give and something to receive. A one-way relationship cannot survive. Be honest with yourself, do you have something to offer? Do you have interests in common? Are you a rising star? Do you share a mentor? Are you proficient in a rare skill? You need to be in a position where you’re able to offer your new professional relationship either information or opportunity.
Don’t assume because you are black and a woman that black women won’t help you. Don’t assume because you are black and a woman, black women will help you. You need to do the work to connect with individuals who have more access and opportunities than you. You need to do the work for women to open their network to help you grow.
You need to practice the right approach, keep your emails brief, and be specific in your outreach to capture the attention of a new relationship. When you exercise the proper process and protocol, you fill find that there is a large community of black women helping other black women on the way up.
Lauren Wesley Wilson is a professional communicator, media spokesperson, and acclaimed entrepreneur. Lauren currently serves as President of ColorComm, Inc. She has been recognized by PR Week as Woman to Watch and the Holmes Report 'Innovator 25.'