Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Stereotypes And Pathologies In Business

We are supposed to live in a post-racial age.  Ethnic minorities have broken barriers and obtained America's highest elected and appointed offices.  The destruction of prejudicial obstacles to advancement is cause for celebration.  What remains to be destroyed are self-imposed pathologies that still hold people back.

I attended a Commonwealth Club event in June featuring Latinas who had succeeded in business.  The problems they had faced during their climbs to the top in several professions were not outright discriminatory.  I did not get the impression that any of their Caucasian bosses or co-workers had ever mistreated them because of their ethnicity.  The event could have replaced the word "Latina" with black, white, old, young, or whatnot and the lessons would have been the same.  I came away from the event thinking that career events aimed at ethnic demographics may do more to perpetuate stereotypes than teach people to overcome them.

One good takeaway from that CW Club panel was the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.  A mentor is someone who just gives you advice and they're pretty easy to find.  A sponsor is someone who actively promotes your career, partly because they want to look powerful by expanding their influence.  Those are harder to find because they must see your work history.  I've never had a sponsor because the senior people who saw my work history in large organizations tried to steal my work from me or suppress me out of malice.  The few mentors I've had usually gave me the kind of advice that was so simplistic or just plain bad that I would have been better off not taking it.  I now listen to no one but myself because I'm tired of losers steering me in the wrong direction.

I've digressed from the subject of self-imposed stereotypes.  There are large cottage industries that cater to people who need to feel victimized before they can feel good about themselves.  Check out The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Multicultural Counseling Psychology.  I guess this is for folks who think Jung and Freud were biased.  Equal treatment before the law and in the workplace presumes human beings are innately equal in potential ability and moral worth.  Our Declaration of Independence implies that such innate equality is what makes America great.  Constructing a "separate but equal" psychological paradigm defeats every gender and racial equality movement that strengthened America.

Organizations like the National Latina Business Women Association do good work if they can help Latinas move up in the world.  The risk of perpetuating stereotypes lies in organizations outgrowing or outliving their chartered purpose.  Here's a story from my youth.  My parents were long-time members of the Order Sons of Italy in America, which was originally chartered to advocate for the well-being of Italian immigrants at a time when those folks were the headline-grabbing minority in America.  That ethnic sub-group is now fully assimilated but the old-timers in OSIA still won't disband it or merge it with more mainstream Italian-American cultural appreciation societies.  I remember the old OSIA coots from my youth who refused to speak English during bocce ball tournaments and always referred to themselves as "Italians" rather than Americans.  Their pathology was a lifelong affliction and they had only themselves to blame.

No one in OSIA ever encouraged me to seek upward mobility.  They preferred the comfortable ignorance of a shared identity as outcasts on the margins of American society.  They aren't the only group that revels in a marginal status.  I completely abandoned the San Francisco veterans' community because I got sick of its collective bottom-feeding mentality advocating permanent victimhood.  Today's unassimilated ethnic minorities face the same hazard.  Staying too long among people who love being victims will turn even the most ambitious strivers into a new generation of victims.  Don't let it happen to you.