update your playbook

the question for today is: how do i make the game work for me? the system is rigged and it’s not in our favor. almost without exception white males and white females will be hired, promoted, groomed, and selected for special projects before or instead of a black female. the reasons are simple: we are drawn to people who look like us. this is a basic tenet of affinity groups. the barrier of dissimilarity is removed. now, this is a double-edged sword for the black female; all of us are lumped together so if one of us acts in way that gives the power elite reason to cringe, then all of us are on the watch list. keep that in mind the next time you want to pop off and do the fool.

you need only enter a room filled with people who do not look like you and your initial reaction is “i must find my match.” networking is a giant game of human concentration. you know, the game you played with a deck of cards when you were 6. all 52 cards are placed face down and when it’s your turn, you flip one, and then another .If the two matched, you earned a second turn. If not, the game passed to your elder sister who always seemed to lose interest when she was losing. but i digress. upon entering the ballroom, you slide to the no-host bar, get a glass of wine and scan the room like mission impossible looking for another black face. and when you spot him or her, you make a beeline in their direction, smile broadly and nearly embrace, as if you know each other’s grandma’s.

at the last conference i met a man who works for the same company as my sister. this his how affinity operates. now imagine this networking is happening in your workplace, daily. you enter a meeting room and none of the faces are familiar. they know each other but you are foreign. how do you find common ground? how do you shift your weight and stand solidly on both stilettos?

the answer is, you don’t. common ground for us, is built over time and through what i’ll call “gateways.” these are people who have the cache and the pull that you or i don’t have. they create a halo effect around us that allows us to pull our chairs away from the wall and up to the table. i’ve experienced this many times. a connection made with a colleague because i sought her out as an expert to learn from. she was receptive and spent hours with me when i first joined the organization. i later interviewed her to write a memorial about a colleague who passed away. we shared an emotional moment as she described the beautiful spirit of the departed. fast forward several months and i am hosting a meeting with a group where half know me and half don’t. i kick it off, they discuss, i make a suggestion and she cosigns, “that is a great approach; that’s exactly what we should do.” her statement of affirmation was my golden ticket. a well respected, tenured white female gave me the nod of approval in a meeting with her peers.

the challenge occurs when we haven’t made those connections or we have networked only with our own and sadly, not only are they not at the table, they aren’t in the room.  this is where our paradigm must shift and we must play the cards we’re dealt. remember, this is a game. the rules are set. they shift depending on who is winning, but rarely shift in favor of the person who is losing. rather than growing despondent or angry about the playing field, we must master the game. become students of how it is played. watch the experts. and then, ask them to show us how they did it. how did you influence Tom to fund your project? and they will happily expound upon their skill at getting funding not only for that effort but for two others.

i tried this and it worked. i brought in the heavy hitter to my first kickoff meeting. he and i, along with a few other key players, outlined the plan. when i stood up to present, he was my champion.  many months later i shared this rule of the game with his peer, another veep, and i watched it play out in a meeting. she got what she needed and he was her ally. she came to me after the meeting and said, “thank you. i tried what you said, and it worked.” i smiled. this is how the game is played. i now have an ally in her. a chit i can call in at the right time. why? because i shared a strategy that helped her win. this is how the game is played.  jot that down and add it to your playbook.

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