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On Being The Minority In The Office - On the Job
I recently received a question concerning minorities and prejudice in the workplace. Being a minority in the workplace is not a black and white issue. Minority can be anything from race, religion, gender, age and everything else in between. As one who was often the "only" in my office, I learned that people may be unsure rather than prejudiced. This is not to say that prejudice does not exist, it absolutely does. Sometimes unbeknownst to the offending party.
In June of 2001 the editor of Personal Report For The Administrative Professional, a National Institute Of Business Management publication, asked readers to share their experiences as minorities in offices. I shared my experience and it appeared in the September 2001 issue of the magazine. I share a portion it with Work & Family readers.
Years ago I was the first African American to work in a branch office of a large financial group. I felt no tension, had no problems and became well-liked. However, after I was hired and was to start my new job in two weeks, my future boss called me several times and spoke with me at length each time. I was not concerned, but did mention it to my mom, who said, "Oh, they just want to find out if you sound colored." I laughed it off, but later found out that my new boss wanted to hear how I sounded on the telephone and had someone listen in. I cannot be sure, but it seems that my mother was pretty much on target.
Three years later I was hired for another job upon the recommendation of one the firm's best clients. I was given a lovely farewell gift. I was told that my boss contributed the most. He also asked me if I would consider staying if I received an increase in salary and a title change. I appreciated the offer, but did not remain. I am happy that did not allow one person's misconception to deter me from a learning experience that changed my focus and direction in life.
You have to be able to see issues from two sides (theirs and yours) and have a sense of humor when it comes to people's prejudices, even when it is not funny. If someone asks you a question about your race or religion, answer them the best you can. And when you are seem to get all of the questions about "the old days", don't be offended, perhaps you are seen as the wise sage. And finally, when someone says that they are surprised that you know this or that, always ask, "Why?" A little in-your-face honesty without attitude goes a long way to clearing the air.
It's not easy being "the only one" in any situation but if you can manage to handle it with grace it can be a rewarding experience; and you may be able to teach others about tolerance and something about your race, religion, ethnic group or generation.
I continue to find You Can Make It Happen: A Nine Step Plan for Success a useful guide to help you get past road blocks. This book was written by Stedman Graham (yes, Oprah's Stedman) and is available at Amazon.
Pursuing your dreams requires you to leave your established comfort zone and to push into areas where at first you may feel that you have less control. When you set out on your journey along the Success Process, you have to be willing to grow, to push your talents to the outer limits. That means pushing beyond what is known to you, taking risks, and learning to view failure as merely a step, rather than a defeat. - Stedman Graham
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