Success Tips for Minority Professionals (and Everyone Else For That Matter)

Today, career transitions expert Taunee Besson, also President and Principal Consultant at Dallas-based Career Dimensions, shares wisdom on what minorities can do to drive career success.  These tips aren’t just for the often under-represented, however.  Everyone can benefit from this sage advice.  — Maurice Gilbert

diverse team

In a corporate world still largely controlled by anglo men, women and minorities often feel stymied and unappreciated, even if they work harder than their white male colleagues, because getting ahead demands more than superior performance.  Making one’s way up the corporate ladder also requires alliances with key people who can serve as career mentors and facilitators.  Unfortunately, most women and minorities are not privy to the “old boy” network that many anglo men take for granted.

Yet there are some stellar performers within these disadvantaged groups who achieve tremendous success and approbation through their hard work and understanding of how to nurture important relationships.  The women below, who have graciously offered to share their secrets of success, are among this very special cadre of down-to-earth superwomen.

  • Barbara S. Cambridge, Ph.D., A.C.S.W. is an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.  She is actively involved in her community, especially in the arena of children’s issues.
  • Dr. Catalina Garcia is an anesthesiologist in private practice who also serves on her state’s Board of Medical Examiners.  She is a highly respected volunteer who concentrates her formidable talents on school reform and Hispanic issues.
  • Regina Montoya, formerly a partner with a major law firm and Assistant to President Clinton, is Vice President of Westcott Communications and President of Jay Hawk, Inc.  She also serves on the Board of Directors of Sallie Mae.
  • Grace Young was an executive with Digital before she started Innovations, a cutting-edge diversity training and management consulting firm.  She is very active in her local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and is currently spearheading its efforts to mentor owners of emerging businesses.

While these impressive women have travelled different paths on their road to success, their answers to the question, “If you could choose three keys reasons why you have been successful, what would they be?” were remarkably similar.  Below is a summary of the 10 key principles which comprise their combined philosophies.

  • Create and maintain a strong personal, social and professional resource bank.  From plumbers to professional friends, know who to go to for help and advice.
    Use your family as a continual resource for support, encouragement, new ideas and feedback.  You may think your parents and siblings can’t relate to your situation, but they understand it better than you think.  Take pride in your family’s can-do tradition and use it to your advantage.Meet with close friends and mentors, person-to-person every two or three months.  Share experiences, exchange ideas, be a mutual admiration society for one another.
  • Seek and maintain personal clarity.  Know who you are, what you want and what you have to offer.  Become intimately familiar with your most valuable skills and personality traits.  Frame a belief system that will serve as your lifelong personal and professional touchstone.When you are a woman or a minority, you may be the only one of your sex or color in the room.  If you don’t have the self-confidence to believe you belong there, you won’t have the courage to state and defend your position.

    Sometimes goals, quotas, etc., seem beyond your reach and the fear of failure threatens to overwhelm you.  If you call upon the sure-footed professional within you, you’ll relish this new challenge and interpret it as just another mountain in a string of steep, slippery conquests.

  • Find yourself a mentor.  Be prepared to hunt for one yourself.  Don’t wait to be discovered.Look for someone who has already walked a similar path to yours.  A mentor doesn’t have to be your direct supervisor.  He or she can be a manager from another department.  In fact, it is sometimes helpful to consult with a veteran who knows the ropes and isn’t too close to your situation.  If your organization has very few women or minorities in high positions, find yourself an enlightened anglo male, or look beyond your company.  Just be sure you choose someone who understands your political realities and can help you avoid disastrous, career-damaging mistakes.
  • Make a concerted effort to be visible in your company and your community.  Gaining access to people both similar and different from you will build your visibility and your appreciation for diversity.Join a professional organization related to your career, industry or community.  Become actively involved in a committee or Board of Directors.  Support your local Hispanic, Black or Asian Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Network or Battered Women’s Shelter.  Volunteer to be the department or area coordinator for your company’s United Way Campaign or Adopt-A-School program.  These activities give you recognition and a network of trusted colleagues and provide you with the opportunity to hone high-level leadership skills much faster than a typical for-profit organization.  (By the way, your being active in professional and community organizations is one of the fastest ways for headhunters to find out about you.)
  • Unto whom much is given, much is required.  Fair or not, like it or not, women and minorities who occupy professional and managerial positions are the standard bearers for others of their sex and ethnicity. Their managers, peers, subordinates and clients watch them carefully to form opinions which often reflect upon others following in their footsteps.  Gifted individuals carry the burden of representing their sisters and brothers proudly and serving as their mentors and cheerleaders.Accept this responsibility gladly.  Enrich yourself and your protégés by looking for opportunities to help those younger and less fortunate than you.
  • Develop a long-term strategy.  Decide where you ultimately want to be, then mentally back through the steps to get there.Give yourself a “career checkup” once each year to determine if you are on the right track.  Choose two to four goals for the next 12 months that will increase your skills, give you more visibility and maintain or boost your momentum.

    If you decide your career has derailed or you want to move to a different track, change your strategy, amend your plans and put yourself back in the running.  Remember, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.”

  • Never leave your destiny in the hands of someone else.  Be proactive about showing people your potential.If you have more talent than your current job requires, volunteer for some new projects that will increase your skills and introduce you to new people and situations.  Corporate task forces, company-wide events and United Way campaigns are just a few of the vehicles you can use to broaden your horizons.

    Rather than develop tunnel vision by concentrating all your attention on your particular job and department, research other opportunities within your organization that would make better use of your time and talents.  Internal networking appointments or a discussion with your manager or savvy HR professional may reveal some possibilities you never knew existed.

    Keep your external network viable and growing.  With rampant downsizings, hostile takeovers and myriad mergers continuing to shrink the number of employees at many companies, you must be prepared to implement your plan B at a moment’s notice.  Asking for a little help from your outside friends and colleagues will make your transition/job search must more productive and a great deal easier.

  • Remain flexible and open to new possibilities and opportunities.  Sometimes opportunity knocks at inopportune moments, offering a tantalizing glimpse of an exciting new direction.  If you set rigid goals, bury yourself in your current assignment or close your mind to the activity swirling around you, glorious good fortune may pass you by.
  • Seek wisdom; learning is perpetual.  In the words of Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Every day we have the opportunity to feast on an incredible amount of new and fascinating information.  Going to bed hungry just doesn’t make any sense.

Dr. Catalina Garcia said, “Many of us come from families who recently immigrated because of a heartfelt conviction that America is the land of opportunity.  We must continue to believe this vision, just as we must always believe in ourselves.  We can do anything we choose, if we believe we can.”


Taunee Besson headshotTaunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979, which works with individual and corporate clients in career change; job search; executive, small business and life coaching; college major selection and talent management.

“One of the smartest minds in the career field,” according to Tony Lee (VP of CareerCast Operations at Adicio and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal’s Online Vertical Network), Besson began writing for the Dallas Times Herald in the early 80s. Having read several of her columns, Lee asked her to contribute regular articles to the Journal’s National Business Employment Weekly (NBEW) as well. Since then, she has been a triple award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com  and Senior Columnist for CareerCast.com, as well as WorkingWoman.com and Oxygen.com. At Lee’s request, Besson authored five editions  of NBEW’s Premier Guide to Resumes and three of its Premier Guide to Cover Letters. She has also written articles and/or been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money and Yahoo among others.

Taunee has worked on community nonprofit boards and committees for over 30 years including Girls Inc., Women’s Center of Dallas, Girl Scouts and Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Volunteers of America and Mortarboard, among others. She was a member of the Leadership Dallas in 1987 and Leadership America in 2003.

In 1994, the Dallas Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development chose her as its “Professional of the Year”. Her NBEW columns were selected for the “Ten Best Article Award” in 1990, 1994 and 1997.  
In 1999, Alpha Gamma Delta, a 200,000 member fraternal organization, named her as one of three “Distinguished Citizens” at its biannual international convention.

Published by Conselium Executive Search, the global leader in compliance search.  

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