For minorities nationwide, tech cutbacks and corporate belt-tightening have adversely affected hiring practices. And with colleges now sending a new and diverse Generation Z workforce to the streets to find work, what can future and current Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) professionals do to find the right vocation and advance up the ladder once they’re hired?
Errol Pierre has turned his successful business experiences and role as an adjunct college professor into a new book called The Way Up, Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color. The book was written to help aspiring minority professionals and those in the current workplace with tips and tools to build workplace self-confidence and emotional intelligence.
Pierre talked to Blac Finance about his lessons learned and what he hopes readers will gain from the book.
Blac Finance: Errol, why the focus on the technology industry?
Pierre: With all the layoffs coming now in the tech world, what tends to happen is “first in and first out,” and that causes minorities to be laid off disproportionately. There’s a real issue of implicit bias in tech. Think about the algorithms for getting a tech job. It’s growing the bias and causing companies to look for certain degrees at certain colleges, which already have a shortage of people of color. You also have to look at your transferable skills, your work, and how it translates to tech if you want to work there. This generation of people of color disproportionately uses Twitter, Cashapp and video games. We have to do a better job of providing those insights in their resumes.
Blac Finance: There’s been a movement away from paying for college. Are the college experience and the degree still as important today as it was?
Pierre: I think college is still very important because getting a college degree today is like getting a high school diploma in the past. I also wouldn’t spend tons of money on one of those virtual colleges. If you’re going to go to college, it should be based on a degree you know will make money in the workplace, preferably in the STEM or STEAM fields. If you’re in those, that’s where you should get a degree. And if you’re at the right college, you can leverage your school’s alumni to get a job.
Blac Finance: You attribute much of your success to your work ethic. How did that get you to this point in your career?
Pierre: One of my first jobs was stacking boxes and putting bottles on the shelf in a beauty supply warehouse. One day I was delivering boxes, and one of the customers said they wanted a product without detergent. I was nerdy enough read the bottles and knew what was in them. I told the boss I had some of this in my truck and I’d go get it for them. My boss was so surprised that the warehouse guy showed so much initiative and knew the bottle contents they moved me to the front desk. Another time there, I dealt with a very upset client because of a bad hair color job and I had to solve the issue quickly and on the fly. I told her we would fix it for free and paid the hairdresser her commission out of my pocket. Weeks later, that customer came up to me and asked if this was all I did for work and I explained to her I was still in college. I found out later she was the CEO of one of the largest insurance companies in New York and asked for my resume and gave me a job. What I learned there was that we should work hard and understand all aspects of our jobs, no matter the position and that most of the good jobs you get are through networking.
Blac Finance: What are the biggest mistakes many career-minded people make?
Pierre: For one thing, you have to build your connections with the right people. You also need mentors.
Black Finance: You talk a lot about mentors. How important is it for job seekers and new professionals to have one in their lives?
Pierre: I had blue-collar parents who knew nothing about corporations. I had no idea how to negotiate a contract, for instance. If you’re just getting into the workforce for the first time, you really need mentors that can help you navigate corporate rules and show you the career path to take. I had one of those. And now, I’m the mentor myself. I have a mentee I met at a high school who had issues with the law and when he graduated, I drove him to college. He had all this bad input coming in from Tic Toc and Instagram about get-rich-quick schemes and the need to form an LLC. He was being bombarded with stuff. I don’t know what would have happened to him if I wasn’t around. Who else would tell him that’s a gimmick? There are just not enough mentors today for these young black men and those mentors don’t have to be black. I think having a mentor that doesn’t look like you is important. Mine was a red-haired guy named Jeff.