Flirting To The Top?: What Strategies Really Help Black Men Advance On The Job?

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While the recession seems to improve economic conditions for most of American society, Black men still face record levels of homicide and unemployment. Further, Black men obtaining the lowest levels of education doesn’t serve to change the situation. Consider a day in the life of Isaac who deals with all of these issues while thinking of the best ways to get ahead.

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Isaac’s head was spinning. Between dealing with his nephew in the juvenile center and the news crush of no indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, he saw no end in sight.  Isaac, a Black man in his late 20s, was once off to a good start. He cruised through his community college classes to earn his Associate’s, but just couldn’t find the money to complete his Bachelor’s.

Somehow his sister’s kid became his responsibility when her boyfriend was shot on the West Side over a snowball fight of all things. Isaac was trying to find his way clear, but this American dream didn’t just slip through his fingers, it never presented itself.  How in the world did Obama do it?

Trying to block out the latest sensationalized updates about another Black man getting killed, Isaac pulls up to the job.  He was a decent assistant manager at the appliance store, but needed that four-year degree to get into the management training program. The salesgirls were giggling about the latest episode of Empire and some Nicki Minaj video.

Isaac just shook his head and looked at his watch. It was only 8:50 a.m.  But nothing ever changes. He walks into his manager’s office.

“The district manager will be here this afternoon,” Jason, his manager tells him. “Shelia likes a clean store; make sure your sections are spotless. Oh, and over lunch I can go over the numbers so you sound intelligent. Here’s the last report.”

Isaac’s head was still spinning.  This is way too serious – district numbers, prime time drama. Didn’t anyone care that another Black man was gunned down? He didn’t want to end up like that.

Isaac punched in and started thinking about the afternoon. He needed to get ahead; he needed the extra chips but without a degree he felt stuck. He looked at the book his manager gave him. He then remembered the dry cleaning and the barber. Isaac decided to be extra clean for the afternoon.

Despite Jason’s offer to update information, Isaac instead disappeared at lunch to pick up a freshly pressed shirt and get a haircut. By the time Isaac returned to the store, Shelia had pulled in right behind him. Isaac was ready and strolled over to her car.

With a toothy grin, he waves as she turns off the ignition.

“Welcome to the store Shelia, we have been waiting for you…” He opens the door for her and offers to carry her briefcase.

Shelia smiles at the attention. “Good to see you, ah…”

Isaac interjects, “It’s Isaac…”

“Isaac, yes… ah you look different.”

Isaac still flashes those pearly whites, “Not so different, guess just happy to see you.”

Shelia is skeptical of the comment but goes with it. Isaac and Shelia walk to the store; he opens the door for her and admires her from behind. Jason, the manager, meets them at the front and extends his hand.  With the report in one hand Jason glances up at the clock to notice Isaac took an extended lunch.

Shelia continues, “ I appreciate the curb side welcome, I should get this at all the stores…” She smiles and cuts her eyes at Isaac. “So Isaac, are you going to join us for the meeting?”

Isaac’s workplace strategies reflect the results of a recent study on Black mens’ strategies to advance on the job. About 30% of Black men in the workplace will resort to flirtation to get ahead instead of turning to other black men for support or mentoring.

In a world of disproportionate incarceration and murder of Black men, society does embrace even taboo Black sexuality, which can be seen as opening a window of opportunity. Seems Isaac would take advantage of the improving economy, but unemployment rates for the Black community have been at recession levels for the last 50 years with about 11.6% unemployment.

A majority of men still see “having more education” and “working twice as hard” as strategies to advance at work. Though only 30% of Black men engage in flirtation as a workplace strategy, Black men turn to flirtation before they turn to each other to get ahead, despite the risk of a sexual harassment charge.

Based on the findings, the following strategies would be helpful to assist Black men advance on the job.

For Black men:

  1. Remember, flirtation can lead to a sexual harassment charge and termination. Consider other healthy workplace strategies which advance cohesion such as reciprocity: helping others who help you; likeability: being a concerned colleague without the sexual innuendo; and reliability: Follow through on deliverables accurately and on time.
  2. Connect with colleagues, men or women, though merit. Providing insightful reports or excellent customer service makes you indispensible. Have happy customers or clients write testimonials to show solid job performance.
  3. Seek out professional mentorship. Pick someone who genuinely has your best interest at heart, regardless of race or gender.  But also remember, mentorship should also bring something positive to the mentor.

For other colleagues regardless of race or gender:

  1. The social experiences of black men can be overwhelming. Murder rates, incarceration rates and lower education levels still make America a tough place for Black men. Don’t assume that the Black man on staff wants to be another statistic.
  2. Try coaching. Everyone needs a helping hand. Point out successful strategies and opportunities at work that were based on merit. If there is an opportunity to coach someone through a questionable decision, do so without judgment.
  3. Ask their opinion. Many Black men just stay quiet and don’t offer their valuable opinions. Their insight is a lost resource and isolates them. Ask their opinion and actually consider how it might help the staff.


Leah P. Hollis, EdD is a workplace diversity expert and assistant professor at Morgan State University. She conducts workshops and speaks nationally on topics of diversity, workplace bullying and team building. To learn more about Leah Hollis, check out her book Bully in the Ivory Tower on Also visit her consulting group, Patricia Berkly LLC at or email:[email protected]