Race to the Top: Should I run the African American employee network?

Q. My boss has asked me to run the employee network group for African Americans. (I am the only Black person on the team.) I have only been with the company for a year – why didn’t she ask one of the other non-African Americans? I think I am insulted.

A. To make sure we are all on the same page, let’s take a moment to explain the role of the employee network group. Many organizations have these groups, sometimes referred to as “ERGs” for “employee resource groups,” and they are often run by the Human Resources or the Communications teams. In many organizations, these groups focus on the company’s culture, internal activities, recruitment – it varies. No doubt, a bunch of ERGs have been responsible for planning their company’s activities to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In my previous life in financial services, we had very, very active ERGs and they even made recommendations to senior management regarding needed products and services.

You say you might be insulted. Presumably, it’s because you think your boss has made a simplistic decision (we will call it that). Or maybe you think she is being overly presumptuous regarding your interest in being part of, no less managing the ERG. Or, maybe you don’t feel equipped to take this on given your tenure.

You may not like my answer, but I would treat this request in much the same way I would treat any extra assignment that comes from the boss: I’d do it and think about how the experience can help advance my career. First, even if you are not thrilled about it, your boss has shown some faith in you to do it right. Managers can always find a way to reassign things to other people, so there is a compliment in there….

You mentioned that you have only been with your employer for a year. That means you may not yet have had a lot of time to get to know people in other divisions or the senior leaders. Managing the ERG can help you get to know these groups, which is important. And if you do a fabulous job, the senior managers will know and remember your name, which can pay dividends throughout your career. Also, keep in mind that ERGs are typically formed in response to request from employees, so you also have a chance here to deliver something that many of your colleagues want, which is also in a great position to be in.

Last year, this column covered several topics about how to get ahead at work quickly and on several occasions, it noted that having a “following” is an incredible way to distinguish yourself from other people. When people come to you, defer to you and work for you, when they don’t report to you (i.e., they don’t HAVE to listen to you), it’s a big deal.

One last thought, it is important to know 1) how much time it will take and 2) if or the extent to which the company will provide you with resources. And remember, the more time and money involved, the higher the expectations will be, naturally.

Lilyanne has worked in corporate America for 25 years and has supported eight CEOs. She wants to answer your career questions, so you can get ahead at work. Email them to Lilyanne@racetothetopcareers.com, rttcareers.com or your other connect at the Forward Times.