Building on the Strength of Likenesses and Differences

When our Chamber decided more than a year ago to form our own young professionals group, Chamber 2040, we really hadn’t researched the psychology of the under 40 workforce.  Our motivation was succession planning.  We knew YPs were good at Facebook and social media and could teach us how to promote ourselves better.  We knew YPs were outspoken and would tell us where we could improve.  We knew YPs had high professional goals and were motivated to achieve in the business world.  And we were pretty sure most YPs had no idea what a chamber of commerce was or did.  We were right, I’d say on all counts.

What we hadn’t factored into our plans was what I’ll call the YP “dynamic.”  For example, some of our 2040s didn’t want to be labeled as “young professionals’ at all!  2040 worked for them, but to call them “young” meant something akin to a businessperson on training wheels.  They are professionals in their own right, and want to be taken seriously by what we have no moniker for – the over 40, well-established businessperson (I’ll call them OPs) who often serves as mentor to that group.

And yet as much as they want to mix and mingle with that “OP” group, and learn from them, they are anxious to form their own professional networks within their peer group.  We were told point blank, “we don’t need another mixer to socialize at” but instead, they were interested in serious professional development, getting in the know on important issues facing the community, and being able to work with other groups to give back.

Wow. Lesson learned.

More Than Just YPs

We also face a similar dynamic in how to meet the needs of our women and minority members, without causing segregation and segmentation.  Tough one.  For our women members we do offer a Women’s Business Council (WE – for women of excellence), because we have found that working women like to have a place where they are free to express themselves on issues that are specific to their gender – a supportive environment that goes beyond the challenges of the workplace; a place where we can let our feminine sides rule for a while, and still get the job done.

For the multitude of minorities that is Brevard, we have struggled.  How do we appeal as a business organization to cultures which have not grown up with chambers of commerce?  Or who believe a business organization is pseudo government and therefore something to be avoided at all costs?  How do we as business people learn how these other cultures do business and allow that knowledge to break down the barriers to commerce?

Common Ground

After several brainstorming meetings, we’re finding that a Thai or an African American or a Chinese or Island business owner is still a business owner.  All are facing the same challenges in this economic recovery, and trying to reach out for new business opportunities.  And we are all having varying degrees of success.  We offend and we don’t mean to.  But we can’t let our lack of knowledge hold us back from trying.

Realizing that knowledge is power to overcome, the Melbourne Regional Chamber’s multicultural committee has found its direction.  Each month, we will offer up an armchair journey to another culture, told to us by those of that culture, on how we can make business connections.  We recently focused on China, with the experience of Robert Swaim, author of The Strategic Drucker, and an American professor who taught MBA students in China.  Our next event will be a melting pot networking event focusing on many cultures.

But it might be my colleague Dr. Robert M. Spooney, Executive Director of the African American Chamber of Commerce in Central Florida (Orlando), who summed it up best.  Their membership is open to anyone and anyone wanting to learn to be successful in all business environments, not just their own.  Their mission is helping improve the economic outlook of Central Florida with resources that can better shape our business environment through improved corporate sensitivity and business responsibility.”

So we learn again that yes, people are different – their culture and religions ask to be respected – but that we are, when it comes down to it, simply business men and women wanting to succeed, to provide for our families and better our communities in the process.