The Erica Rawls Team is “Keeping it Real” with Kristin Harper, Founder & CEO of Driven to Success LLC
On our Facebook Live show, Keeping It Real: Real Estate and Real Issues, we cover a variety of topics desired by our social media audience.
Since our Facebook audience is largely composed of Black women, for our latest live video, we felt we should provide an in depth conversation to discuss what it’s like working as an Black woman in corporate America.
We sat down, virtually of course, with Kristin Harper, entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Driven to Succeed LLC to learn valuable strategies that all women, but black women in particular, can apply to help them as they navigate their future corporate or entrepreneurial business careers.
Kristin previously held positions as Marketing Director for the Hershey Company on the Hershey’s KISSES Brand, and as a global vice president of marketing for Cardinal Health.
Black Women in the Workplace – Do the Same Rules Apply?
As a black woman are we held to the same standards as our counterparts in the workplace?”
“No, not as much grace is extended toward us,” according to Kristin.
Some people may say it’s personal or there’s a vendetta/conspiracy to keep black women down. However, it’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily done on purpose or due to negativity, Kristin explained.
Part of it is human nature: when people are similar to you, you gravitate toward them, extend more grace, and think more positively and optimistic about them, she said.
As such, over the years of working in three different Fortune 500 companies and working her way up and through various departments, Kristin has learned several lessons along the way about how to make the most of your work experience to help you move up and achieve your goals.
Read below for Kristin’s top tips for how to advance your career in corporate America, or watch our show.
1. Build Relationships Based on Who You Are as a Person and Not Your Identity
“You are more human than you are anything else,” Kristin said.
We asked Kristin if she could teach a younger version of herself how to prepare for the challenges she had to overcome along the way in her career journey, what would she change.
Kristin shared a story with us instead.
Kristin worked for a company for nearly eight years and was preparing to leave for another position. Before she left, she had a going away party where she received a card from her peers. Instead of reading comments about the contributions she’s made in her position over the years, the majority of the comments she received focused on her changing hair styles.
As black women, we change our hair often as it can be seen as an artistic expression to us; we cut it, wear it curly or straight, short or long, and even bald.
I know I change my hair every season, and I appreciate when others notice as it’s a way to start a conversation.
However, as Kristin shared with us, the comments she received didn’t sit well with her. After eight years, her peers recalled her different hairstyles instead of her contributions, achievements, or anything related to her job performance over the years, she said.
After leaving that position and moving to a new city, Kristin told us she started wearing more conservative hairstyles because she didn’t want the subject of the conversation to be about her hair.
“It was a personal choice. I didn’t want to spend energy talking about [my] hair,” Kristin said.
She didn’t switch up her hairstyles because she was ashamed to be black or talk about her hair. Kristin explained she simply didn’t want it to be the subject of the hallway conversation.
After attending a life-changing self development workshop, she realized, “I am more human than I am Black, woman, or any label or identity you can attach to me.”
We’ve learned from Kristin’s example that it’s okay to make choices about your physical appearance or how you carry yourself so you put the emphasis on who you are and not on solely how you identify yourself when it comes to a professional working environment.
2. Expand Your Network Beyond African Americans
Diversity is key, even within the black community there is a lot of diversity, we are not a monolithic people, Kristin explained.
When you’re involved with black-based organizations, you are in a safe zone, like family, but they can’t be the only people you associate with, especially if your gal is to advance your career.
The world is more than the 15% black population in the United States — and the world is bigger than the United States.
3. At Every Level You Have To Learn Something New
Over the years as Kristin moved up across various marketing departments at the companies she worked with, she discovered that to move up she had to continue to do and learn more.
When you’re an individual contributor, it’s all about being responsible, but as you climb that corporate ladder it’s all about what leadership role you’re in and the broader organization, Kristin explained.
“When you become a leader of people — and yes, there’s a difference between leader and manager — it’s less about what you deliver individually and more about whether you have the right talent on the team. If not, are you getting the right people and helping those who need to shift make that move with dignity? Do you have a clear strategy, a compelling vision? Are you delivering results? Do you have methods to show accountability?” she said.
These are all examples of things Kristin learned at each level.
4. Be Clear About What You Want — “You Are the Architect for Your Career”
You can’t expect your manager, or anyone, to advocate for you if you’re not clear about what it is you’re great at, based on feedback and your own personal assessment, and where you want to go.
“Set your vision and make it clear with your manager who has to be your number one advocate,” Kristin said.
Many people often think of their manager as their enemy. If people get stuck on having an adversarial relationship with their managers, they’ll never get the results they desire, Kristin explained.
“How Do You Approach Asking About Wages Without Coming Off Angry or Ungrateful?”
For people who don’t feel like they’re being compensated what they’re worth, or who feel they deserve a raise in compensation based on their contributions, many have difficulty figuring out how to properly ask for a wage increase.
According to Kristin, it’s a balance of expressing gratitude. It’s not going in there and saying, “This is what I deserve and you better increase it or I’m out!”
You have to know how the system is designed. Oftentimes, there are salary ranges for your position based on levels: median (middle), mean (average), and a high and low range. Knowing these ranges can help you better determine where you currently fall and provide comparison ranges.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook provides statistics on job salaries, projections and much more. You can also talk with job recruiters in your field to get a feel of the current landscape and inquire about salaries based on skill set, industry knowledge, etc.
Asking for a wage increase is beneficial for two reasons:
- If you want to go to another organization, in order for the organization to attract you they have to come with a better package than what you currently have.
- If you stay with your current organization, you’ll maybe earn 2%-3% more each year, which means loyalty doesn’t always pay.
If you find through research that your salary is not at the end of the scale you think you should be, you can bring the data to your manager to help make your case.
If you apply to other places and receive an offer, you can leverage that in your negotiations.
Be cautious when leveraging another offer to try to gain your wage increase as it may not go in your favor — you should be prepared and willing to walk away!
How to Contact Kristin Harper & Find Her New Book on Career Advice
In July 2020, Kristin Harper will be releasing her new book “The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.”
The book is 52 short, powerful and easily digestible bites of advice based on Kristin’s over 30 years of leadership experience.
She covers topics including leadership, personal branding, leading and influencing others, organizational politics and insights she learned early that helped her climb the corporate ladder.