Affinity groups allow blacks and other minority IT executives (see "SHPE Shape,"
below) to make connections that help them grow both personally and professionally. One
example comes in the BDPA ( href="http://www.bdpa.org">www.bdpa.org), which was founded by two African
American IT professionals in 1975 to address the low representation of minorities in
the computer industry. Today the group has 45 chapters and over 2,000 members in the
United States and Canada. One of its major goals is filling the IT pipeline with
qualified black executives.
"If you're an African American, you don't have an inside track, a close friend or a
relative to help. You have to hit the ground running. BDPA gives you that opportunity,"
says Clifford Clarke, assistant vice president for annuity operations year 2000 at
Lincoln Financial Group in Fort Wayne, Ind. Clarke gained valuable leadership and
business skills while serving as president of his local BDPA chapter. "[Being a BDPA
leader] allows you to make mistakes without it being a career-terminating move. In a
company, a mistake could cost you your job."
BDPA members also talk glowingly about the networking opportunities available
through the organization. Les Pearson, director of information systems quality
assurance at the Edward Jones investment brokerage company in St. Louis, landed his
present job after attending a recent national conference and having his name dropped to
one of the recruiters there.
A BDPA conference is more than just a place to shake hands, however. At its 1999
annual national conference in Atlanta, which brought together professionals and college
and high school students, seminar topics included, "The Role of the OLAP Server in a
Data Warehousing Solution" and "Black America and the Digital Economy: Deal Us In!" The
conference also hosts an annual high school computer competition and offers technical
and professional development workshops.
Will You Be My Mentor?
R.P. Scherer's Edmonson knows how valuable mentoring
relationships can be. He cites two people who were very influential in helping him
advance at different points in his career. At Scott Paper Co., Darwin John, the CIO,
served as his mentor; and at AlliedSignal Inc., CIO Kathy Britton White played that
role. Edmonson's mentors provided advice and counsel, helped him understand the nuances
of corporate politics and provided him with senior-level contacts outside their