Evelyn Booker Featured In N&O

Evelyn Booker Featured In N&O

Evelyn Booker, General Sales Manager for FOX 50, was interviewed by Sabrina Jones, a News and Observer staff writer on her career and the obstacles that still exist for women and minorities when trying to reach top management positions in organizations. Her insights help shed a little light on the progress that has been made in this effort, but also show how far there is still to go before true equality exists.

Story from the News and Observer Web Site: January 16, 2000

Cracking the glass

More women, minorities
are making gains to
reach the pane

News and Observer
Staff Writer

Staff Photo by Jim Bounds
Evelyn Booker, a WRAZ executive, says her mother told her she’d have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition.

In 1980, six months into her job as a sales assistant working in a cubicle at TV station WRAL, Evelyn Booker decided she deserved a promotion. She drew up a list of 10 reasons — among them her aggressiveness and tenacity — for why she should be an account executive selling on-air advertising. The list, neatly numbered and typed, won her an interview with the station manager. He asked her how being an African American woman would affect her in the new position. “I consider both of those positives,” she replied, adding that all her clients wanted to know was what she could deliver. She got the job.

A series of promotions later, Booker works out of a corner executive office as the first black woman general sales manager for WRAZ-Fox 50. She manages a sales team of 18. She has mapped out a plan for success: She jots down her goals in her journal, heeds her mother’s advice and prays every morning at 6 o’clock before making the 45-minute commute from Fuquay-Varina to Durham. “I’ve blazed some trails,” said Booker, 48, a polished woman in a slate gray pantsuit. “We need to learn how we can break through that [glass] ceiling. We can’t sell ourselves short. We have to promote ourselves because no one else is.”

There aren’t a great number of African Americans in the television industry, but more could enter the field in the future, along with other minorities and women, two groups that have been largely locked out of the corporate senior ranks, Booker said. Her station’s manager is a black man, and of the station’s six department heads, three are women. In other industries across the nation, more women and people of color are taking high-level positions, and experts say the numbers will grow as the nation becomes more populated with people from a rainbow of cultures.

By 2006, women will make up 47 percent of the nation’s work force, and by 2050, minorities will make up nearly half of the nation’s population. One-third of those will be Hispanic, making them the largest minority group. The rapid shift of demographics will affect not only whom companies hire but whom they promote to executive suites. As the number of women and minorities at businesses increases, they may get better shots at climbing to the top rungs, said Karen Jayson, an employment security research analyst with the state Employment Security Commission. “The labor market is getting tighter and tighter,” Jayson said. “It’s just natural that women and minorities will move into higher positions. The work force is growing slower than it has in the past. It’s almost natural that to fill some of these vacancies, [companies] are going to have to go toward more women and minorities.”

Some companies already have. Women, who comprise 46 percent of the nation’s labor force, make up 11.9 percent of corporate officers, 11.2 percent of board directors and 5.1 percent of the highest titles within companies, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit New York organization that works with businesses to advance women. And according to a survey last year by Korn/Ferry International in Washington, 60 percent of the nation’s corporate boards have black, Latino or Asian directors.

Minorities spend more time in ‘flight school’

The next century may open more career doors for minorities as companies increasingly see the value of having their ranks mirror the diversity of the country and their customers, said David A. Thomas, a professor in Harvard’s Business School and co-author of “Breaking Through: The Making of Minority Executives in Corporate America.” Fewer than 3 percent of executives at Fortune 1000 companies are minorities — of those, about half are black — but in the next decade, that percentage will double, Thomas said. Soon, more minorities may join the likes of Franklin Raines, CEO of Fannie Mae; Solomon Trujillo, CEO of U S West; and Kenneth Chenault, who will become CEO of American Express in 2001.

Although whites are often promoted much quicker from entry-level positions to upper middle management, minorities can navigate their way up the ladder, more slowly but just as effectively, Thomas said. He used the analogy of flying an airplane to describe an employee’s movement within a company. If you’re a person of color, it’s harder to get off the ground, but if you’re determined to overcome the drag, you can soar to great heights. “We discovered that people of color who made it to the executive suite followed a different path than did their white counterparts,” Thomas said. “Those individuals, while they weren’t moving fast, they were developing relationships with mentors and sponsors. They were given challenging assignments to expand their responsibilities. Organizations tend to give whites who perform well in their early career the benefit of the doubt. African Americans, Hispanics and Asians who performed well were often tested longer.”

Putting aside who’s male, who’s female

There are still barriers on the route minorities take to advance their careers, Evelyn Booker said, but hard work can overcome them. When she was growing up in the Columbus County community of Nakina, her mother taught her a lesson that many minorities learn — she would have to work twice as hard for half the recognition. In motivational seminars, she talks about her experiences, and mentors students at her alma mater, N.C. Central University. “I was determined at the time that I was going to give my job 100 percent plus,” Booker said. “You have to go for what you want.”

That’s exactly what Anna Lore did five years ago when she was appointed chief executive officer of WellPath Community Health Plans, an HMO owned by Duke University Health System. After 27 years in nursing and health system administration, she is running a business with 300 employees in its Chapel Hill headquarters. Men and women are almost equally represented in the company’s senior ranks. Of the 11 people on Lore’s senior management team, five are women, and six are men. And of the management team of 36 who are working under the senior staffers, 27 are women.

The divide between men and women in the corporate world is closing, Lore said. She said that on her way up through the ranks, she never bumped into the proverbial “glass ceiling.” Her industry is newer than others, and many women hold senior positions within managed-care companies. She counts men among her mentors and chooses to attend business functions that are not exclusively female. Even in her personal life, she embraces a nontraditional image of women. She drives a Chevrolet Silverado 4×4 pickup truck to work, and flies a Cessna 210 plane on weekends. “We move our business forward when we put aside who’s the woman and who’s the man,” Lore said. “The work force is changing. Sometimes, when I hire someone, I will have only men who are applicants if I need someone who has 10 years of experience and a master’s degree. Women are now filling all those pipelines. We will, as senior managers, be seeing applications from both men and women.”

Dr. Katherine Giscombe, director of research and advisory services for Catalyst, also is optimistic about the future of female executives, particularly in the wake of the recent appointments of Carly Fiorina and Andrea Jung as the CEOs of Hewlett-Packard and Avon Products, respectively. But in spite of the wins, she still sees the losses. Fewer women hold line positions, jobs that would allow them to work their way up to running factories, heading sales staffs and monitoring accounting.

Pay disparity still exists between men and women, and many minority women in senior posts say they don’t have mentors. “Having a mentor is indispensable to being successful,” Giscombe said. “In the increasing diversity of the labor pool over the next 50 years, fewer and fewer entrants will be white men. More will be women, more will be people of color. In the past, companies may have had this one-size-fits-all approach to diversity programs. … Companies need to know women of color are not a monolithic group. Not only is there diversity among women, but there is diversity among women of color.”

With inequity comes ‘demotivation’

The more successful companies of the future will approach diversity with the same care they apply to the quality of their products, said Harvard’s Thomas. Many larger companies already monitor minority representation on their staffs, but the challenge lies ahead for smaller companies, particularly in technology. Many of the teams that built new high-tech firms are mostly white and, when hiring executives, rely on personal networks that may not reflect cultural diversity. For example, an estimated 40 percent of the lowest level of programmers in the software industry are nonwhite, mostly Asian, but many complain that they’re not getting opportunities to advance to management, Thomas said. The national growth of minorities could influence companies to alter their hiring tactics, Thomas said. “I think it will put pressure on the system to have that happen,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, you create a system with obvious inequity. Whenever inequity exists in the company, people become demotivated. People don’t want to stay. … Some [companies] will find that they can’t attract the same talent because they will have poor reputations.”

Leading all colors to Big Blue

From his Raleigh office, Bill Lawrence travels to cities such as Boston, Denver and Albuquerque, N.M., to recruit graduating minority college students for positions at IBM. As manager of the 11-year-old companywide Project View program, Lawrence attends career fairs, visits college campuses and talks to industry groups to encourage black, Native American, Asian, Hispanic and female students to apply for jobs.

The program is part of IBM’s effort to put together a work force that looks like the population of the marketplace, Lawrence said. Students are invited to spend a day and a half in hotels around the country to meet IBM managers who could hire them and give them chances to advance within the company, Lawrence said. “Our goal is to hire as many talented people that we can have,” Lawrence said. “We’re a worldwide company. We have a global customer set. A diversity of individuals provides a diversity of ideas.” Hopefully, more companies will adopt the same philosophy, particularly toward Latino Americans, said Fernando Rodriguez, a 46-year-old laboratory director at the Chapel Hill Fertility Center. He named a small number of high-ranking Latino professionals, such as Dr. Nolo Martinez, director of Hispanic/Latino affairs for Gov. Jim Hunt, but said it may be some time before a large number can break into executive levels. “Every time that a new wave of immigrants comes in a new place, I think they have to start from the bottom,” said Rodriguez, who supervises technicians and nurses in fertility research. “The professionals who come hired by big companies, they’re probably not going to start at the bottom.

It’s not the same for people who work on farms or in factories. It’s a big difference between those two sectors of the population.” Last year, Rodriguez founded the NC Society of Hispanic Professionals, a group that has grown to 40 educators, engineers, professors and other professionals who focus on improving education for Hispanic children. Education and skill-building are critical to preparing Latino men and women for better jobs, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez, who was born in El Paso, Texas, grew up in Mexico and moved back to Texas when he was 18 without knowing any English and without a formal education. He enrolled in high school, eventually earned a bachelor’s degree and in 1988 got a Ph.D. from New Mexico State University.

Years later, in 1992, he received an invitation to move to Chapel Hill from the medical director of the fertility center. Rodriguez said he now visits classes of children learning to speak English to tell them of his experiences and how they will be able to succeed in the workplace. “I’ve been prepared for opportunities,” Rodriguez said. “I just try to play the chess game, five moves ahead. I tell [children] their reality was my reality 30 years ago. I’m sure they can do it. This country is full of opportunities. “English is a problem. I struggled with the language, and I was able to educate myself. I still keep my Spanish fluent. I’m not afraid to say I’m a Mexican American or a Latino.”

News and Observer staff writer Sabrina Jones can be reached at (919)829-4898 or sjones@nando.com

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