I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Museum on my 6th wedding anniversary weekend. Like most of the crowd, I sat in a deep state of awe listening to the reenactment of the “I Have a Dream” speech. Martin Luther paved the way for many, and his dignity and strength lives on as an exemplary leadership example. Nine years after his death in 1977, Dr. King was awarded the highest civilian distinction – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the day of his birth into the American law declaring it a national holiday, and three years later it became observed. Clearly, we’ve made progress since the civil rights movement, but statistics around aspects like equal pay show we still have a way to go. Research conducted by Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway found that anti-black racism in hiring is unchanged since around 1989. The research also showed that on average, “white applicants receive 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans” while “[w]hite applicants receive on average 24% more callbacks than Latinos.”
In a world where more than half of the US workforce are European-American women, minorities, or immigrants (Kavanagh & Kennedy, 1992), we ought to ditch the diversity and inclusion banner if we expect or prefer ethnic minorities to have more skills and qualifications than their white job application counterparts. We ought to ditch the diversity and inclusion banner if we’re hiring to check off a quota. It is believed that around the time the 2020 Census is conducted, more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group. Are we giving them a Dr. King approved future? I came across this infographic in my reflection of career lessons we can learn from the great Dr. King.
Set your sights high.
I’m sure many people scoffed at his dream. Sometimes, it’s like that with our career choices. The people we thought would be supportive don’t always support our bravery to step out into something new. Despite how hard the goal of civil rights seemed, Dr. King, kept pushing. You do the same! Making a career change, getting a VP role or moving to a new state to start a new job is not as hard as you think. Yes, we need to be realistic with our career choices, but over the years, I’ve seen fear, a lack of confidence and a lack of support kill more career dreams than anything else.
Craft an authentic message.
Dr. King almost left out the “I Have a Dream” part of the “I Have A Dream” speech, but he did what he felt was right. Sometimes, you can’t plan everything you’re going to say in an interview, and you don’t want to sound rehearsed anyway. Know the problems that need to be solved in a job, at the company and on an industry level. Also, know the strengths of your career history and let authenticity fill in the rest.
Build a support system.
Getting support in your career maybe working with someone to update your résumé, working with a career coach to gain career clarity or networking with individuals that energize and inspire you. Choose your support with caution. Dr. King’s supporters helped his mission become a reality creating a movement. Your support systems can do the same.
Never think that your professional development is over.
Real leaders know that to lead effectively, they need to experience constant growth, just like Dr. King. His strategic thinking and courage enabled him to conquer new territories. As you grow in your career, always be mindful of your areas for improvement as well as the pace of change in the world around you.
Be patient yet persistent.
This is a hard one especially if you’re suffering from career burnout. It’s like I say to my email community, changing careers or leaving your job isn’t necessarily the answer. Keep working on ways to fix your burnout and move forward when you’ve gained clarity on the best career move. At the time you feel like giving up, a new career prospect maybe around the corner.