For many women and people of color, the scariest thing about the workplace jungle is the small number – or absence – of people who look like them. While some believe we have conquered all challenges to full integration at the workplace, the cold fact is that white men still dominate most work settings. This is particularly true as you move up the corporate ladder, or as some would say, the money rungs.
As a person of color or woman in the workplace, it is not uncommon to find yourself “the only one” in a meeting, at a social function, in the department, on the board, and on and on. This becomes truer as you move up in the organization.
Whether being “the only one” is a matter of race, gender, style, sexual orientation, or point of view – being “the only one” has a unique set of challenges and opportunities. There is a strong pull toward conformity in most organizations. At its most destructive stages, conformity becomes cloning. Everybody looks alike, talks alike, dresses alike, drives the same kinds of cars, and lives in the same neighborhoods. Not your best image of 21st Century diversity. Even those organizations (and individuals) who say they value differences, usually don’t value all differences, and certainly not all the time.
So what’s a free-spirited, individual thinking person to do? First, know when you are on someone else’s payroll, and expect to be successful, you cannot be, do, and say exactly what you want to all the time and under every circumstance. Second, know who you are and what you truly value – what really matters to you. Do not confuse what you like with what you value. Third, prioritize the things (perhaps unwritten rules) to which you can conform, and then show the organization you do those things expertly. If you are uncomfortable with every aspect of conforming to an organization’s rules or standards, you cannot be successful in that organization.
The more you are comfortable with who you are, the less threatened you are about the differences of others. Equally important, when you are comfortable with yourself, it is easier for others to be comfortable with you.
A few tips:
- Know yourself better than anyone else knows you.
- Like yourself. Love yourself.
- Respect yourself and respect others.
- Deliver bottom-line results for the organization.
- Do not take things personally. White men struggle with conformity too.
As my grandmother used to say, when you’re “the only one” and in the spotlight, Shine!
Please leave your comments and questions below.