It's hard enough to disagree with your boss. What about the boss's boss? Or the company's ultimate boss? That's what happened
when I sat down with Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner (parent of FORTUNE's publisher). I wouldn't ordinarily publicize
a potentially career-killing moment, but the big boss and I were talking about race. And since race is that part of the workplace
that everyone tries to ignore, rare moments like this are worth publicizing.
"When I was coming up my grandmother would say things like 'be a credit to your race,' " says Parsons. "Each and every
one of us somehow carried the entire reputation of African Americans in America on our shoulders when we left the community
and went out into the world."
"[Your] generation," he tells me, "doesn't have that burden." That's where we disagree.
Parsons is not just my boss's boss's boss but one of the most powerful black executives in corporate America. And I'm,
well, notI'm just a black face too early in my career to be most powerful anything yet. But after months of interviews with
young black executives across the country, I found I wasn't alonemy generation doesn't really agree either. Race is not that
easy to shed. More important, it isn't something this young generation wants to shed. Instead they gladly carry the weight.
"I am a black woman; I never can leave that at the door," says Susan Chapman, 34, director of global real estate for Level
3, the telecom networking company. "You have to be true to who you are and be who you are."
I turned my race conversations into a book, which, honestly, is another reason to spread the news about that moment. Black
Power Inc.: The New Voice of Success explores what race means for a generation of black professionals born long after
the hoses of the civil rights movement were turned off. Instead of downplaying race as Parsons's generation did to climb the
ladder, this generation of black executives walks through corporate hallways with clenched fists. They boldly embrace race
and are driven by it, no matter what workplace etiquette suggests.
"Like it or not, race guides everything we do," says Wishart Edwards, 34, an investment banking partner at UBS, the Swiss
bank. "Because at the end of the day you are always going to be a black person trying to get something that no one wants to
What does talk like this mean for the FORTUNE 500? It means that this generation of black executives is not going to be
as patient as the one before. Turnover rates are already 40% higher for black executives than for their counterparts. Replacing
someone who leaves generally costs four times that person's salary when recruitment and training costs are factored in.
More startling, perhaps, is what people of this generation are doing with their alienation. Black men between 25 and 35
years old with some graduate school experience start their own businesses more frequently than any other group in the country,
on a per capita basis. Overall, African Americans are 50% more likely than whites to start a business.
"I embrace being black," says Shawn Baldwin, 36, founder and CEO of Capital Management Group, a securities firm in Chicago.
"It doesn't mean that I am anti-anyone else, but uplifting black people is my No. 1 concern. It is why I had to start
It also means that goals have changed. The groundbreaking generation wanted to be let into corporate America. But for this
generation, which was never denied access, the barriers that remain are not worth fighting over. "Black people have been holding
on to this fairy tale bill of goods for too long," says Sean Hudson, 34, the head of HIV marketing for Pfizer. "Sure, we are
making way more money than our folks ever made. But I don't want to wake up and be 45, overqualified, and underemployed, and
have to think about how I got pimped."
No one does. But if we are to believe that diversity is valued by our most admired companies, then race has to be something
we can talk about. And that is the biggest reason to publicize the moment I disagreed with the boss.
Black Power Inc.: The New Voice of Success
(John Wiley & Sons) will be published in May.