The Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF) is a group of senior-
level, African American IT executives who meet regularly to share experiences, to
network and to provide sounding boards for one another. The ITSMF formed seven years
ago to mentor up-and-coming African Americans. "We saw a need to assist those folks
[who desired] a career in IT and wanted to reach some of their higher objectives," says
Carl Williams, one off the group's founders. "It was also formed so many of us could
give back to society by volunteering to mentor these young folks."
The ITSMF mentoring program began last fall. Through an application process, the
group chose four midlevel executives and paired them with four senior-level executives.
Edmonson's mentee is Lincoln Financial Group's Clarke, who hopes to bounce ideas off of
Edmonson, talk about the challenges Edmonson has faced during his career and to get
advice as to what professional courses he should take. Another benefit of the mentoring
program is that all the participants are African American. Though most of the people
interviewed for this article didn't think it was necessary to have an African American
mentor, some did appreciate being able to share with members of their own race some of
the business world's challenges, whether it be how they reacted to an off-color joke or
how they dealt with being passed over for a promotion.
For blacks seeking black mentors in their own companies, however, it boils down to
a numbers game. And there aren't many minority executives calling the shots in large
companies. Thus, most blacks accept the fact that, more often than not, their company
mentors will be white. But finding a willing white mentor can be as frustrating as
trying to nab sales help at Home Depot. The harsh truth is that white senior executives
are often more comfortable taking other whites under their wings. "Whites tend to be
more conservative and to mentor their own, unless there's a star, and that star has to
shine pretty bright to become a mentee," says Collins. "Or the white executive has to
Sheila Talton, CEO and president of Unisource Network Services Inc. in Chicago,
thinks white executives tend to have more experience than blacks simply because of
their predominance at the top level, but black executives can identify with other
blacks better. However, she also notes the added difficulty of being a woman in a
predominantly male world. "Guys learn to be buddies with guys. They haven't learned
[how to be buddies] with women. The workplace still raises eyebrows if a guy and a girl
play golf or go out to dinner."