As an employee working in the minority, you may experience twice the challenges compared to others, including isolation, discrimination, and low self-esteem. However, despite some overwhelming odds, there are strategies that employees in the minority can undertake that can help them support in surviving and thriving.
Some colleagues owing to deeply entrenched biases, may not fancy the idea of mingling with people who seem “different.” These people may not overcome their reservations despite your best efforts, and that’s okay. However, as for the rest, once they know you and start seeing you as a valuable team member, acceptance grows, and barriers start dissolving. You may even want to consider taking time to explain some of your background or practices — open communication and awareness are the keys to addressing misconceptions and are critical to understanding your colleagues better. Also, focus on identifying common bonds and shared interests and experiences.
Choose your battles wisely.
Differentiate between inadvertent insults and intentional ones. Let go of unintentional slights to preserve mental health and focus on more productive endeavours. However, if the behaviour is repetitive, impacts your mental health, involves someone you work with closely, and affects how you will be perceived, then ignoring or avoiding the abuser – though seemingly safe – will be more harmful. First, take control of your emotions for such serious and deliberate acts of prejudice. Detach yourself from the situation and then address it in the most effective way possible.
Leverage your uniqueness at work and make yourself heard.
Turn your diversity into a competitive advantage and play to your unique strengths. These include diverse perspectives, innovative ideas, bi-cultural competence, and cultural capital. People who step up, exhibit confidence and demonstrate leadership, no matter their background, are more noticeable. Never be afraid to disagree or have an opinion, even if it’s an unpopular one. At the same time, be respectful and tolerant. In other words: disagree, but don’t be disagreeable.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more.
When it’s time to ask for a promotion or raise, don’t feel intimidated because you are different. Substantiate your case with evidence, and do not hesitate to put yourself forward. Those who vocalise which opportunities and projects they want will be considered first. However, it’s easy to say yes to all projects just to be seen as a “good employee.” Therefore, prioritising assignments that you value and are in sync with your leadership brand while refusing those that are not is crucial.
Bond and network.
Building a network of the right people will help you move up the corporate social ladder. Try to mix and mingle by pushing for inclusive social interaction opportunities outside work hours. Participate in company-sponsored affinity and networking groups, and consider starting your own or joining an existing staff network.
Stay visible by self-advocating for yourself.
Refrain from passively waiting to be noticed or for opportunities to drop in your lap. Raise your visibility and showcase your knowledge in every way you can. Once you learn how to own your successes and flaunt your accomplishments, you will become in demand, and your background will become irrelevant.
Get a sponsor.
During times of company reorganisations, mergers, and massive layoffs, minorities are often twice as likely to be impacted negatively. So, aligning yourself with the right people within your organisation and your industry is essential if you want to succeed. Identify sponsors who can promote you within your organisation.
Don’t make your minority status your focus —let no one tell you what you can and cannot do based on this; if you do, other people will, too. No matter how many challenges come your way, the power to rise above all obstacles and crush all stereotypes lies within you. Hold your head high at all times, and know that it will always be your work that will speak for you and your will to succeed that will make all the difference.
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