Nomalanga: How to Thrive as a Black Person in a Non-inclusive Workplace
Last week, I wrote about what it is like to work in a place where you are singled out because you are different. Over 100 people responded with comments, e-mails and Facebook messages, indicating to me that there was a need for some suggestions as to how “we” can thrive in the workplace.
I am generally not a big proponent of deliberately segregating people, whether the segregation is based on race or other differences. That being said, I do feel that it is naive or ignorant to pretend that we can all function in modern day workplace settings with the same outlook.
I have taken the time to compile some suggestions that can be helpful if a person of color finds themselves in a workplace that does not embrace diversity and inclusion in a sincere way. A lot of companies and institutions say that diversity and inclusion are one of their “big initiatives” but they tend to only give lip service to said initiative and then go on functioning the same way that they have always functioned.The results is then a workplace where people of color are marginalized and treated unfairly.
Here are a few suggestions to thrive as a Black person in a non-inclusive workplace:
- Expect the best but prepare for undesirable incidents: No one wants to work with a black man or woman who walks around looking to be offended or constantly pulling out the “race card”. It is important to be pleasant, competent and generally a good person and employee. When you are able to get along with others and acquire the skill to “pick your battles”, your work-life will be much more pleasant.Even though you may make the effort to get along with everyone, be diligent about documenting every incident that comes to your attention, that may be an issue later on. Confirm everything via letter and e-mail and verify everything via e-mail and letter only.
- Speak up: It is important to be vocal about what you are affected by. When a co-worker or employer says or does something that you feel is not right, it is important to send them a letter or e-mail-remember: document everything. In the letter or e-mail, be professional and cordial and express what has negatively impacted you and express a desire to resolve the issue. There is no limit to how many times you should do this.Sometimes it may seem like you write too many letters or e-mails, but in some work-places, that is what is warranted. Remember though, exercise some discretion and “pick your battles”. Also,bear in mind that if you don’t speak up, you’re more susceptible to a “blow up”. A lot of people who seem to have a rage-filled explosion are usually people who have not learned the skill of vocalizing their concerns in a timely and professional manner.
- Know your rights: Unfortunately, many employers take advantage of employees’ ignorance. If you know what is expected of you as an employee and are meeting said expectations, you should have a pleasant work environment. If you are asked to do something that is beyond the scope of your job, you have the right to refuse and you should not have negative action taken against you.
- Report illegal actions that violate your rights: Workplaces have policies and a channel that employees and employers must follow to resolve problems in the workplace. It is important to report any actions by other employees or your employer in a timely manner. Again, always conduct yourself professionally so that when you are offended, your reaction to the offense does not overshadow the original offense. Finally, if you have reported unfair treatment or a violation of your rights and no action is taken, do not hesitate to contact outside agencies, such as EEOC, to work at a resolution.
- Get mentors: A mentor does not have to have the same job as you. They do have to be a responsible and knowledgeable person, with more experience than you, that you trust to support and guide you through workplace challenges. Having a mentor has been proven to accelerate most people’s careers and is also a great way to build meaningful lifelong relationships.
Even having said all this, I still firmly believe that no one should ever have to depend on a job, entirely, to feed themselves or their loved ones. Even though, as a college instructor, I am charged with the task of delivering instruction that helps to prepare students to become employees, I never end a semester without encouraging dialogue about how the students can use their gifts and talents to generate resources for themselves that are not tied to a job. I do always jokingly remind the students to pursue these ventures in a way that is legal, moral and ethical.
At the end of the day, there is always the option to change jobs if you feel like you’re constantly singled out but there is no guarantee that the next job will not have the same problems. It is better to get in the habit of learning to function in any work place and always knowing that you have taken the necessary precautions rather than reacting to a negative experience unexpectedly.
Nomalanga helps Black Women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and the reigning Mrs Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s blog at successfulblackwoman.com