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Advice for Success in Business from SWBC’s Black Leaders

Tyreo Harrison has built his career on proving something—to himself. As a former professional athlete turned Executive Vice President, he has always worked hard to ensure he is perceived—on and off the field—as above average. “This mission was especially important to me as a young Black man growing up in the south,” says Harrison. “As a young Black athlete, it seemed more was expected of me on the field, but those same high expectations didn’t necessarily transcend to the classroom, and even in my youth, I knew that wasn’t okay.”

Be Intentional with How You Stand Out

The disparity between the number of Black and white leaders in the corporate world is no secret. According to SHRM, black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but only 8% of employees in professional roles, and a staggeringly small 3.2% of executive and senior leadership roles. Statistics like these can be sobering and shed light on something that is out-of-sight-out-of-mind for many people, but when your work-life reality is being the only person of color in the room, it’s not all that surprising.

“As a Black leader in a predominately white workplace, you will stand out,” says Cordell Dixon, Training Design and Development Specialist for SWBC. Dixon provides sound advice for Black professionals that find themselves feeling uncomfortable or insecure. “Make the reasons you stand out for things that are intentional and under your control. Trust your ability to make decisions so you’re known for being confident. Look for opportunities to be kind and share your expertise so that empathy and generosity are associated with your name. Know your worth so that others believe in your value,” says Dixon.

Bryant Chandler, Director of Learning Technology for SWBC, adds, if you’re a POC (person of color), get comfortable with being uncomfortable. “Statistics tell us the higher up the corporate ladder you climb, the fewer persons of color you will see. Be ready for that. Get comfortable sharing your opinion, conversing socially and professionally, and most importantly, get comfortable being the only POC in the room.”

“The sooner you are comfortable navigating those situations the better. The goal here is not to dissimulate or be insincere, but rather to feel confident and comfortable being your true authentic self regardless of your surroundings,” says Chandler.

As a professional Black and Hispanic woman, I’ll add, that for women of color, it’s especially important to build up your level of confidence and comfort in taking up space in these situations. Whether you’re given a seat at the table, or you have to build your own table, if you’re at that table, be a presence!

Inspire Others Along the Way

For Harrison, the awareness and intention paid off. “As I faced the end of a brief professional football career, I realized I was faced with a similar challenge from high school and college. I now had to go out and prove that my value to a company was much greater than simply being a former professional athlete capable of striking up an interesting conversation with clients and prospects. I felt driven to prove that my potential as a business executive far surpassed my athletic abilities.”

However, eventually, the mission changed from proving a point to making a difference. “I’m blessed to have an opportunity to share a message with others like me that feel they have so much to prove to themselves and to the world,” says Harrison.

“My advice to those talented souls formulating a plan for success is very simple. Take on each challenge with the intent of proving something to yourself and not others. Prove to yourself that you’ll put in the extra hours, leverage everything you’ve learned, keep an open mind, and learn from every endeavor. Prove to yourself that you will not let fear of failure stop you from taking on challenges and that you’ll fight to become better at your craft every single day. If you do this, you will succeed, but more importantly, you will inspire others along the way,” says Harrison

Do you have similar experiences, or would you like to ask these talented, successful, and bright leaders questions about their journeys? Connect with them on LinkedIn by clicking on their names (Tyreo Harrison, Bryant Chandler, Cordell Dixon), and let’s keep the conversation going!

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Victoria Penn

Victoria Penn is the AVP of Marketing for SWBC. She manages a team of marketers that develop traditional and digital marketing strategies. She also leads the Content Marketing Strategy for SWBC.

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