When Rigo Delgado came of age, no one in his family had an MBA and could show him the way to a career as a business professional. As a second-generation American, "it was difficult for me to get a perspective on long-term career goals," he says.
Seeking direction for a career, "I was working on a hunch, rather than being on a secure path," says Delgado, a business consultant who earned his MBA from the University of California at Berkeley.
Hard Work Isn't Enough
And he found that it takes more than hard work. "If you're a minority, the complication starts with education and networking," says Delgado, who is the professional development officer for the Houston chapter of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA).
What are the specific challenges of career advancement for Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans who earn their MBAs? It all starts with networking -- whom you know and what you can do for one another. Networking for MBAs of color has a lot in common with professional networking for anyone, but there are a few twists.
Options for Diverse Professionals
Many businesspeople of color believe it makes sense to join organizations -- whether a professional association, a company-based employee network or another kind of body -- that is explicitly devoted to serving members of a specific racial or ethnic group. Some of these groups have substantial online presences that make it easy and inexpensive to network nationally.
Other diverse professionals emphasize broader connections and even public service. "In grad school, if you get on city boards or commissions, you get to work with individuals who are positioned in very good companies or industries," says Paul Revilla, a vice president with building contractor Sheamar Inc. in San Antonio, and chapter program officer for NSHMBA.
Planning for Your Professional Development
When it comes to professional development, it pays to consider your upward mobility even before you sign on with an employer. "As an applicant, you're not necessarily concerned about programs based on race," says Eric Lyons, president of the Houston chapter of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA). "You want to know about professional-development programs across the board."
In most companies, "at all levels of the organization, there's not enough diversity," says Lyons, a vice president of business development at staffing firm Lee Hecht Harrison.
"You start with the board of directors and the CEOs and CFOs, and you see whether the company is committed, whether your group is represented there," says Revilla.
Connect with Professionals of All Backgrounds
Some believe it's difficult to advance professionally without guidance from professionals with whom you share racial or ethnic identity. "It's difficult to talk to someone who hasn't been through the situations you have," says Delgado. "So it's imperative to get involved with NSHMBA or the NBMBAA."
Still, businesspeople of any race or background are unlikely to reach the top unless they build bridges and learn from associates from all walks of life. Domestic markets are increasingly multicultural, and global markets are critical to the future of more and more employers. So MBAs of color are finding that the value of their backgrounds continues to appreciate in the increasingly diverse America of the 21st century.