We announced last week the introduction of a new column – Working in Corporate America: An African’s Perspective, created to shed some light on the widespread misconceptions on the corporate work environment in the United States. This column features real-life experiences from several Africans, while also making comparisons to working in Corporate Africa where applicable.
Our first column feature is Elizabeth O., who has been working as an IT Security consultant in the United States for over 12 years. She’s worked in several industries spanning the Oil & Gas, Manufacturing, Consulting and Financial Services. She has a positive outlook about working in corporate America as she thinks once you’ve crossed the main hurdle of landing your first job in the United States, progressing through the ranks may not be too challenging with God, a desire to continually improve your skill-sets and great communication skills.
Read Elizabeth’s responses to our Questionnaire designed to solicit and obtain general perceptions and real life experiences on working in Corporate America:
On general views about working in Corporate America:
“I think Corporate America gives you exactly what you invest in it. If you put in your best and you’re lucky to be working with a great company that rewards excellence, you’ll be amazed at the appreciation and respect you’ll get from your team members. But, if you’re sloppy at work and do not have the desire to push yourself to the limit, you may just get sidetracked and the work environment may be a very unhappy one for that individual. I have worked with six different companies and I have only had a bad boss and hostile environment once. Every other company has been a great experience and the only reasons I have moved around so much is because of relocation to another city, salary increase and job flexibility. Overall, I only have positive impressions about working in Corporate America.”
On advantages/benefits of working in Corporate America:
“The key advantages I have seen and enjoyed about working in Corporate America are:
1. Training: My biggest benefit of working in Corporate America is the vast amount of trainings I am exposed to. I have the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) certification which requires I acquire 40 training hours per year. Although, several training options are available online to achieve this goal, my company still sends me for several expensive trainings worth approximately $5,000 each to make sure I get the required skillsets to do my job. When I worked in Africa, no one cared about my training needs and I had to hustle to get by with my certification requirements. This is definitely a big plus for me.
2. Career Progression without becoming subservient to your boss: In Africa, I felt like you had to kiss your boss’s ass in order to get promoted in most organizations. Some may even want to sexually assault you as a lady in order to have you promoted. Over here in Corporate America, I see a direct correlation between achieving my career objectives set at the beginning of the year to the progress in my career. I am not saying it’s still a perfect environment in the U.S. but I think most companies are fair and I personally appreciate that because I had some bitter experiences in this regard while working in Africa.
3. First-name basis of addressing your superiors: I also like the fact that I can address everyone in the company by first name regardless of whether it’s the CEO or the janitor. It makes me feel more comfortable with them. The two companies I worked for back home didn’t have this structure in place and I had to add a salutation in front of their names which was okay back then, but now that I can look back in hind sight, I will say I prefer how the structure is in the US.”
On the Drawbacks of working in Corporate America:
“Personally, I think my African accent was an initial drawback which I experienced at the start of my career in Corporate America. As a security analyst, I had to deal with lots of people and sometimes they wouldn’t understand me because of my accent, I think. But over the years, I have found a comfortable zone with my communication skills and though, I still don’t speak like an American, I don’t get a lot of – “please, repeat yourself…” or “We didn’t get that…” types of responses again.”
On the Key Success Factors of making it in Corporate America:
“This is really a judgment call, but for me I think you need to know your stuff, that is know your onions by the book. Whatever field you are in, you need to have a great understanding of your job and be a solution provider to the company. You also need to have the certifications, training’s and knowledge to back up your work experience.
But,most importantly, you must have great communication skills. I believe having excellent communication skills is a major success factor. If you can speak clearly and confidently, but have an average skillset, management will have confidence in you to be able to deliver and will entrust more projects in your care, which if done well may lead you to your next promotion.”
On people of color being given a fair chance in the corporate environment, when compared to others:
“I guess you are trying to ask if racism still exists in the corporate world over here in America and what my experiences are.
I cannot categorically say people of color are not given a fair chance, I think they do, but they may need to prove themselves 10 times more than their counterparts, and in that light, it may seem like blacks and Hispanics may still not be as opportune as the white. For example, most companies have very few people of color at the executive level so when you look at the ratio, it still makes you think why there is so much disparity. But, like I said earlier, I think I have been given a fair chance and cannot really judge in this regard.“
On what she would like to change about life in Corporate America, if any:
“I like the fact that you brought up this question and I don’t have to think far before I answer this, which is the 6-weeks paid maternity leave given to a young mother.
I will always find this unbelievable that any country can think a mother that had to go through C-section would be fit and able to go back to work after 6 weeks maternity leave. I think it’s something that has to be changed because it is killing.
I experienced this and life for me was unbearable during the first few weeks of returning back to work after my maternity leave. I hope someday, the United States law will deem it fit to increase the paid maternity leave to at least 3 months for future mothers.”
On the pros and cons of working in Corporate American when compared to Corporate Africa:
“I believe the benefits of working in Corporate America which I talked about earlier on addresses the pros. In terms of training, career progression, first-name basis communication with my superiors etc. definitely makes me rank working in Corporate America higher than Corporate Africa in my opinion.
However, the pros of working in Corporate Africa includes getting more bonuses, benefits (e.g. home, generator allowances etc.) less taxes and having a longer maternity leave.”
On how easy or difficult it is to secure employment in corporate America as an African:
“I would not lie to you – getting into Corporate America as an African that has just relocated to the United States may be tough because some recruiters would not even want to talk to you once they check out your resume and do not see an American experience on it.
I had a few challenges getting my first job. Some of the recruiters would not even give me a chance because I did not have an American experience on my resume at that time but the good thing was that I wasn’t discouraged, I took related trainings while I was waiting for my first job and while doing that, I got more interviews, which finally led to me securing a job with one of them. However, this is not everyone’s story. Some have it easy while some have it not so easy.”
On general tips or advice to Africans living in the Diaspora and seeking employment in the corporate world:
“Be patient! While waiting for your dream job or first job in Corporate America, don’t just sit at home being gloomy and depressed. Pick up a training or certification course. There are so many free courses offered by Universities on Coursera that may be related to your field. Pick up one of them and improve your knowledge thereby.
Also, if you can afford it, enroll in a Master’s program, if you don’t already have one, as the career fairs and networking from school often serve as an avenue for getting a smoother entry into the corporate world in the US. And most importantly, leverage on the power of networking with friends and through social media.
Additionally, always stay positive. As long as you know your stuff, you have the requisite knowledge, can communicate effectively and have an advanced degree or certification, you’ll get into Corporate America, if that’s what you really want. But, there’s a big GOD factor in getting into Corporate America like with everything in life. You need to pray, fast and really trust in God to grant you your heart’s desires.”
Thank you for reading! Please, leave a comment if you’ll like to contribute to Elizabeth’s narration of her Corporate America work experience journey!
If you’ll like to share your Corporate America Work Experience on Golden Icons, please, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org” to receive a copy of the Questionnaire.