Back when I worked a corporate job, I assumed getting promotions was a straightforward process: you did your job well and you were rewarded with a promotion.
Yeah, I’m laughing at my naïveté, too.
While there’s more to rising in the ranks than just being good at your job, for some people it’s still a straightforward process, a climb up the clichéd corporate ladder. For others, though, particularly Black people and people of color, nothing about advancing in the corporate world is straightforward. And expecting it to be so is a sure path to frustration and burnout.
That’s one of the big lessons I learned from Dr. Errol L. Pierre, author of the new book The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color, with Jim Jermanok. Pierre is a business executive in the healthcare industry and he knows what he’s talking about. As a Black man, he’s lived the struggle that Black people and people of color experience in the corporate workplace. In The Way Up, he shares many of the challenges of not only his career but of being Black in America.
Pierre uses his experiences and those of almost a dozen other executives of color to show readers how to achieve their career goals. There’s no ladder for them to climb, no smooth road to take. Instead, Pierre explains, they’ll be climbing a mountain, watching out for roots, climbing over boulders, and taking winding trails—often moving laterally in order to find a path to the top.
Pierre advises being clear-eyed about the world you find yourself in and encourages finding a path that will take you where you want to go while staying true to who you are:
Aim to accept the world as it is, flaws and all. … While you can make change in the world through protests, volunteering, mentoring, and other acts of kindness, it’s important to remember that it is not your job to save the planet. … Choose your battles wisely. Invest in people where you will get the greatest return. … I do think we can change the world in our own little ways, but real sweeping change is beyond one person. (p. 41–42)
Readers are encouraged to start by defining their passions and their goals in life. Where do you want to go? What are you so passionate about that no one can talk you out of it? When you know you’ll need to work harder than some of your colleagues, you want to choose a goal that energizes you and matters to you. You need to be able to hold on to those things if you lose your way on the journey to the top.
Readers are next encouraged to define themselves: what experiences, good and bad, have made you who you are? Because the other thing you need to hold on to during any struggle is your sense of self. When others are putting you down, you need to be able to pick yourself up. And you do that best when you’re clear on who you are and how events have shaped you.
From there, you’ll find many lessons in how to advance you careers, such as how every day is an opportunity to make an impression, how to find and work with a mentor, how to identify champions (and why they’re not mentors), and how to survive a bad boss.
And when you do make it? Pierre encourages readers to help others. An enthusiastic mentor himself, he encourages readers to mentor others. He also encourages readers to use their position to make positive changes in company policy and culture.
Question: How can you improve your writing skills?
Answer: Subscribe to Right Touch Editing’s newsletter!
In each chapter, Pierre shares his experiences and others’ to demonstrate how no path is the same, yet all are set with obstacles to overcome. He backs up his claims with research and shares resources and practical tips. Chapters are short and well organized, and the advice is broken down into manageable chunks—perfect for the busy professional with little time to read.
The biggest takeaway for me was one I wish I’d had early in my career: Hold on to who you are, and let it push you forward. Embrace who you are, making it a benefit rather than twisting yourself into a predefined shape that doesn’t suit you. Believe in yourself.
Pierre’s done that, and he’s become a successful senior executive as a result. He’s encouraged his mentees to do the same, and they’ve also had success.
Now readers of The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color can put that advice to work for themselves.