Volume 8: Race in the Industry

The Question:

For these next two volumes in our Diverse Realities series, I decided to get some input from a couple of diverse personnel members from within the industry.  These members of the industry agreed to have their unedited answers published on the basis of anonymity. I had the personnel identify how long they have worked in the industry and asked the potentially complicated question:

“What role, if any, has race played in your corrugated career?”

Here are their unedited answers:

Integrated Plant Manager, West. African-American, 15 years in Corrugated:

Race has played a huge part in my career. It has worked to my advantage and it’s been a constant hurdle to be jumped. I have spent most of my career in a management role of some type. As an African American the rules are a little different when it comes to being in management. You always have the feeling that you will get asked the “extra” question about any decision you make whereas your Caucasian won’t be asked the same. You feel that you either have to be almost over qualified for a job or have many more years of experience.

When you do get promoted you are expected to be “eternally grateful” for the opportunity you’ve been given as opposed to feeling like you earned it and deserve to be there. If you happen to be Black and assertive then you are “coached” to “tone it down”, “you’re being too aggressive”, “you are making people uneasy”, not bad advice per se but all things being equal, counterparts that are Caucasian don’t tend to get that same feedback if they react similarly, they are called “go getters” even if it’s excessive, their behavior often gets dismissed as “rough around the edges”.

While I do believe that all things being equal, the better candidate will get the job in most cases, there is an element of an “old boys club” prevalent in the corrugated industry specifically. If you are not part of this club then you better be really, really good at what you do to get considered for a job/promotion. Those who don’t belong to this club due to genetic makeup understand this and either deal with it or sit on the sidelines and never get in the game. The frustration comes in when those that belong to the club deny its very existence, and the very mention of forcing this club to change or be more inclusive is met with terms like “reverse discrimination”. That’s the equivalent of a first place runner in a race that’s so far ahead of the second place runner, getting mad that the second place runner closed half the distance between them. Look around our industry especially and honestly tell me that there’s not a diversity problem at the management levels?

I don’t believe that race should be an issue in the workplace but it is and until we can have an honest dialogue about it, race will continue to be an issue in the workplace.

 

Integrated General Manager, Southeast. African-American 25 years in Corrugated:

I am an African American General Manger and I have 25 years of experience in the Corrugated Industry. When I think about race in this industry I believe its greatest impact on career is related to “Access and Opportunity”. “Access” to people who can make a difference in your career; and “Opportunities” to gain important skill sets.

Families of entrepreneurs formed the foundation of most of our large and small organizations. People who know each other are the decision makers. Positions of importance are filled from a ratio of talent, networking, relationships, and coat tails. Not having access to the movers and shakers of the organizations will leave candidates in well paying jobs versus skill building careers which reward critical thinking.

A natural barrier to senior management is access to learn from a mentor and “demonstrate” critical skills. “Experience”; few minorities in this industry who are not working for minority packaging companies get the opportunity to build customer relationships and develop complete business acumen.

Most minorities in our industry are in manufacturing jobs; but the opening of the path from manufacturing level jobs to senior and executive level positions is very narrow. In my case [Name Redacted by Oberg and Associates] reach out and pulled me through the opening based on an organizational goal of developing minority managers.

In a nut shell, this is a great industry; which too few minorities know about. It would be even better if the talented had access to the matriarchs within the organization.

 

Major Integrated Corporate Manufacturing Staff. African-American, 35 years in Corrugated:

As an African American with 35 years in the Corrugated Industry, my perspective is that race has always been given the leading role and has played it well. Regardless of one’s education and experience, nepotism has even lost out to it in some cases. As it’s often referred to a Brown Box business, the corrugated industry is dominated by race from those who are owning and managing it and from the upper balcony.

Having experienced race and its decision making first-hand in a face-to-face audition this year alone; race was unfavorable towards me as far as being selected for a role in which I had audition for. Regardless of my experience history and qualifications no other available roles where offered nor discussed, even after specifically asking. This particular audition was just one of the four face-to-face auditions where race held the deciding say. This was evident by the selected number of race that participated in a screening panel during my audition.

This may sound somewhat shocking especially giving consideration to the magnificent costume race has been given to wear in the presence of the job market today. Well not really, what’s shocking is that race still hasn’t learned its lines of common courtesy nor respect of any one particular nationality within the corrugated industry regardless of how well it’s dressed up.

Giving no acknowledgement to the experience and knowledge of the highest level sitting out in the front row.

2014 and I’m asking myself whatever happen to politely being told; I’m sorry Sir, Madam; but you’re a bit over qualified for the role in which we’re holding open auditions for.

In my opinion race is still the same within the corrugated industry as it were when I entered 35 years ago. Now as a necessity; there’s a super imposed mandate for a higher education, knowledge of all aspects of the industry humanly possible. Both often used as a legitimate deterrent against so many possible hopefuls. Transparent enough to see that race is very reserved against stepping out of its own role otherwise. Therefore, I say notice race as it performs because it’s most likely to have the determining say due to its similarity in characteristics of partiality having been cast center stage in the role for such long showing.

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