Why your difference is your superpower
Being in a minority in a workplace can be challenging. According to research conducted by Catalyst, 58% of employees of an ethnic minority background in America find the workplace difficult because they are on guard again discrimination.
Thanks to the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, the negative every day experiences of women and ethnic minorities in places of work and during normal life have been well documented and are now firmly in the public consciousness. We hear about it on the news, discuss it on social media and these topics may even be brought up in conversation with colleagues.
There is no question that racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination are a part of life for many minorities – not just women and ethnic minorities but anyone who has an attribute that is considered different from the ‘norm’.
Remember that diversity is strength
We hear about the problems of discrimination so often, we may forget a simple truth. Diversity is a good thing. What is different about you makes you interesting. It is a cliché, but if everyone was the same the world – including our workplaces – would be incredibly dull and unproductive. That’s not an opinion – research by McKinsey has shown that the greater the diversity, the more successful the business.
It can be scary to be the only person in the room that looks like you – it means you stand out. But we can also use those situations to our advantage by being ourselves and making great contributions. That doesn’t mean that we ignore discrimination if it occurs – but try to remember our value and what we have to offer.
Both men and women can find themselves in the minority in some professions. In web development, according to a survey by FRG Consulting, women make up just 11% of developers. Meanwhile, industries like PR and healthcare and retail are increasingly dominated by women – although gender balance in managerial positions is not always balanced.
People with disabilities and ethnic minorities are not represented proportionally across many sectors including finance, law and management consulting.
These are systemic issues that must be addressed. However, when we find ourselves in a position where we are a minority we can approach the situation with confidence.
While research has indicated that 50% of confidence is attributed to genetics, there are many ways we can boost our confidence and improve how we feel when interacting with others. Practicing public speaking and taking opportunities to network – even if we initially feel uncomfortable – are fantastic habits to boost our self esteem and get comfortable in spaces where we may initially feel we don’t belong. When we have a positive experience, we feel more confident. Why is that? Because confidence is a state of mind. Like other skills we have – it can be improved.
Use your power
As a leader in a position of power, you have an important responsibility to set the tone of your workplace. Ensuring there is an atmosphere of tolerance, openness and inclusion is the responsibility of every employee. However, we know that the actions of management have a profound impact on work culture. For that reason, to make sure your workplace thrives finding ways to ensure everyone can thrive is key.
That may involve questioning ways of working of practices that may make people feel excluded. But there are lots of ways we can make positive changes to. Many start with a simple principle – asking questions.