|By Carol Amoruso, HAV Editor
October 12, 2006 — The mood was mostly somber in the buff-colored halls of the Embassy Suites Hotel, in the shadow of the World Financial Center and just west of the World Trade Center site. Seven hundred and fifty people, executive job-seekers and the curious, spent an afternoon at The Executive Diversity Career Fair, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, that paper’s career website, Career Journal.com, and a number of Wall Street firms. The participants attended workshops, had their resumes critiqued, and were interviewed by representatives of over 30 corporations and government agencies seeking to fill vacancies in the higher echelons of their organizations. The free event reaches out yearly in a number of cities to women and people of color, a pro-active gesture towards addressing the dearth of minorities in meaningful, power-wielding positions in corporate America.
The candidates lined the corridors of five floors of the hotel, waiting to see recruiters, and while black and grey business suits set the sartorial tone, the participants themselves formed that “mosaic” of diversity that former New York mayor, David Dinkins, so often referred to. A rough judgment would estimate nearly 50% of the participants were women, a majority of them of color, and, while the young clearly predominated, a noteworthy number of attendees were in their middle years.
Four workshops were offered: Strategic Career Management; Becoming a Skills Broker; UBS Financial Advisor Panel Discussion (UBS is a wealth management corporation); and Careers Q and A.
Deb Coen, President and CEO of the consulting group, Career Development Services (Careerdev.org), gave the first presentation; she also led the last. Her talk on parlaying one’s personal and professional talents into career advancement had the attendees filling the small conference room listening attentively, nodding in recognition of many of Ms. Coen’s observations. Her delivery was straightforward and upbeat, coaching a soft but self-assured sell, providing a respite to the more serious expectancy of the afternoon.
Coen did not focus on the issue of minorities moving up the corporate ladder, but did acknowledge the reality of “I have to work harder.” She explained that, often, necessary feedback leading to growth is not forthcoming from immediate highers-up, commenting, “People in power are often afraid to give feedback because they are afraid of being called discriminatory.” But, she stressed the importance of seeking reality-checks on one’s performance from interested and appropriate colleagues or others in positions of power.
Coen enumerated other common sense but sometimes overlooked or dismissed requisites for advancement including finding a mentor—whether formal or informal–and never to stop learning, from others, from formal instruction, even hardship. Her discussion of the image of a successful professional included being multidimensional—having varied interests beyond his/her work—and being willing to put him/herself out of the comfort zone to take risks, as well as being flexible and able to change career plans or go after unplanned opportunities.
In the halls beyond the conference room, the feeling was less relaxed as candidates waited in line, single file, outside the session rooms contracted by the various corporations. Some chatted with their neighbors, but most remained expectantly silent, as if before a test, perusing the copious reading matter being offered by recruiters.
The attendees weigh in
While not all the participants were willing to speak with IMDiversity, those who did offered observations that were both to the point and provocative.
Adele is a journalist who had worked for 10 years at an unnamed wire service. She said, as a woman, she’d reached the glass ceiling at her old job, and was seeking to move on. She’d had experience in product management and, with little hope of finding another writing assignment, wouldn’t mind settling for a position with better potential for advancement in product management or marketing. She commented that the chance to meet recruiters face-to-face presented more opportunity to find the right match than on-line job banks, responding to which made her sometimes feel anonymous.
Ravi is another journalist, from Nepal. His goal is to do well by doing good. He wants to use his writing, organizational and marketing background to help the economic advancement of the third world, perhaps working in micro-credit. Professionally, he needs to move both horizontally and vertically in order to move out of New York and give his children, “a place where they can play like real kids are supposed to.” He felt that being a South Asian, or any person of color, was a handicap in media in the States. “They look at your face,” he said, “and you just know it’s going to be harder.”
Sharon is also looking to make a career change. She recently earned her MBA and attended the fair, her first, as a learning experience. “I need to get to know what they’re looking for,” she observed cautiously.
Paval Guarneros, from Mexico, just received his MBA from Boston College’s Business school. He was decidedly upbeat about the Career Fair, saying he’d attended several, mostly in the Boston area, but that this seemed the most promising. His viewpoint contrasted that of Ravi, as he observed, “Equal opportunity here [in the States] is great,” adding that the business world appreciated the fact that this country was built by immigrants. He said he felt comfortable and encouraged by the fact he’s been surrounded by other foreigners since his arrival a year and a half ago.
Patrice (his middle name, after the martyred Congolese leader, Patrice Lumumba), an African American fresh out of law school, “want[s] to be happy.” He’d struggled for years as a classical musician and is determined to afford a house in which to raise a family. But he has no illusions of the hard way up for people of color. He was skeptical about being hired on the spot, believing those hires were uncommon and only of the most clearly well-suited applicants. Standing outside the Bank of America suite, in big spectacles, a grey three-piece suit and blue shirt, seeking a position in either legal or financial services, he soberly observed, “I need to branch out, and…is this puff? Yeah, it may be puff, but it is an opportunity for the moment.”
His words summed up the guarded optimism of the candidates, but more importantly the pro-active determination amongst fair-goers to achieve their higher ambitions.
Other Executive Diversity Career Fairs will take place in: