If you’ve been on a corporate America sabbatical, stepping into a corporate office will make you notice that office cubicles are now more like community tables than isolated boxes. You’ll also notice that not much has actually changed. That is, of course, if you are a white man in corporate America. If you are a white man, or a white person, in corporate america then you are in an environment that is set up to understand and cater to your needs. Not much has changed on that front.
The rest of us, POC, may have a harder time fitting into workspaces that are not serving our communities. This is the case now more than ever.
Three years ago, I quit working for a tech Giant in Silicon Valley because I didn’t feel the environment I was contributing to, was contributing to me. When I quit and moved to LA, I found myself in the city that operated off employing freelancers. While it was a constant grind and the first time that I challenged my natural ability to hustle, and I took myself to extremes in my talent and skill sets, it gave me a lot more opportunity to be my own boss. Beyond that, I was able to line up who I wanted to work for with what I believed in. I contributed to visions I believed in and worked for people who I felt were genuine and focused on like-minded goals. Consequently, because my goal was to better our communities, I worked with a lot of people of color.
Imagine my surprise when I realized the rest of the world is still operating as if they are okay with it being a white man’s world. And while I love my work as an editor for a branding company that oversees content for 100 websites, I am exhausted at the fact that I am the only POC on my team and one of the few POC in the whole company. When we are in meetings, the majority of the people attending are White men, then Asian men, then White women, followed by Asian women. I’ve counted, multiple times. Usually, I am the only Latina, and my coworker is the only Black woman. Seeing so many white faces in a space that can further our lives makes me feel lonely, offended, and unsupported. There are hardships that come with being a minority in a corporate setting, but there are ways to cope with them as well.
Being the only POC can feel unsafe and out of place. Often times, we subconsciously try to assimilate to the environment but in an attempt to blend, we diminish and quiet our own stories. Instead, be proud of who you are, your roots, your culture and your traditions. Use it as a way to educate others and to build bridges with those you thought wouldn’t understand you. When it’s all said and done they may still not understand you but even if they don’t understand you, they can learn to embrace.
Bring Up Your Concerns
Don’t be afraid to talk to your superiors about the things you have noticed. Chances are you are going to make them feel uncomfortable. Recently, I told my boss the only thing that concerned me about my job was the lack of diversity. He shamelessly said “I think there is equal distribution of diversity” and despite my nerves asking me to not stir the pot, I said “your perception of lack of diversity will always be different than mine and I think, in this conversation, my concerns, regarding people of color and women of color should be heard, not challenged by someone who is not a person of color.” It is in those interactions that you realize who is there to hear you, and who is there to protect themselves by trying to silence you. When my boss failed to listen to how it made ME feel to see lack of diversity, I was extremely disappointed. What he did was tell me I did not matter. Further, he made me rethink my intentions. Was I doing too much? Was I whining, or complaining, ungrateful or dramatic? Despite the discouragement, I knew I couldn’t expect much more from a man who is living a different experience. Nor could I be defined by his opinions.
Not Everyone Is An Enemy
Your guard will go all the way up. You will be unsure of who you can trust, who you can relate to and who can understand you. Initially, you will feel very alone and while no one in the corporate capacity that isn’t of color can truly understand you, there are other things you can have in common. It may sound superficial, especially when outside the office (and sometimes inside the office) some of us are discriminated against, judged, and blocked from opportunities, but being able to have casual conversations with others will help ease any anxiety and it will help you understand that there are parts of you that are in common with others.
Come Up With Solutions
When I brought my concern about the lack of diversity in my office up to my boss, I did not receive the reaction I was expecting. As a matter of fact, I received a lot less of a reaction and a lot more of a brush off. “Talk to Tamara” he suggested. Which I felt was insulting because he was making no effort in trying to understand how I (a core member of his team) was feeling about no diversity. However, he was right. While he may be too uncomfortable to have the conversation with me, my HR team needs to be involved with my concerns. This is what they are getting paid for. Approach your HR representative with an honest evaluation of how it is to be a minority in such white spaces. Talk to them about how you feel your culture is not only underrepresented but also devalued and how this affects your confidence at work and the credibility of any feedback (good or bad) you are receiving. Talk to them about setting up a mentoring program, or counseling or diversity training. Show up not only with your concerns but with a plan and an optimistic attitude to change the workforce.
Develop A Support System
Be honest with yourself about how you feel and don’t be shy about expressing that to your friends and family. You are allowed to feel uncomfortable or even disappointed being the only POC in your workplace. Despite the paycheck, the hours, and the benefits, you are allowed to demand diversity in the workplace. This is about corporate America telling you that a POC is as equally qualified as a white person because when diversity is lacking, they are essentially telling us there aren’t many of us qualified. Keep in mind that the world white men are living in has not changed for the white man. They are not faced with racism, or deportation, or armed cops. We are. So they will never understand the hesitation, the nervousness, the discomfort and the skepticism we face when we don’t see familiar faces.
If you’re in an environment that does not represent or employe POC, you have a responsibility to try to change that. Even sparking a dialogue can set off the chain of events the company may need.
All else fails, there are pretty cool two week notices templates…