Many of the people I work with are lawyers, engineers, bankers, and entrepreneurs. All of them are either women or people of color, and the one thing they all have in common is that they stand out in their perspective corporate environments, but not necessarily in a good way.
They are also ready to ascend to the next level in their careers. But they are at that tricky place where they often stand alone within a predominantly white male culture. Angelica Coleman, who was profiled in the San Francisco Chronicle article, Tech’s Diversity Problem Goes Beyond Dismal Numbers, talks about the challenge quite bravely. When Dropbox hired her she said, she was made to feel like an outsider by several Dropbox employees, and was kept from promotion because she didn’t fit her bosses’ vision of leadership.
Like many of us, Angelica tried to fit in. It’s natural. People to want to feel they belong and are liked by their peers and colleagues. But I’m not sure that in these situations, it’s truly the best tactic. Let’s be honest: You’ll never be just like the current majority in corporate environments. Even more importantly, do you really want to be?
So, you have a choice: You can try to squeeze yourself to fit in or you can embrace standing out. You stand out anyway; why not just make the most of it?
If you’re unsure how to make the most of standing out, consider these three points:
Run with your ideas
Because your life experiences and perceptions are different from most people in your work environment, you have different —many times, better — ideas. This makes you innovative. Don’t shy away from or downplay what occurs to you when you look for solutions. Instead, flesh out your ideas and work to develop them. You have the advantage of an unique point of view. Make the most of it.
Take your unique point of view and talents to a new level. Become a specialist, the go-to person in your organization or industry for a specific skill or area of expertise. When you are the stand-out person that has specialized skills, you will be unforgettable, I guarantee it. Having a speciality is the best way to become respected. You might not be universally accepted, but you will gain credibility and influence in your organization.
Your work ethic
If you’ve gotten this far in your career, you are a woman and/or person of color in a corporate organization with the ambition to expand and build your career. You also have an excellent work ethic. Take a moment to notice your colleagues standards. How do their standards compare to yours? Do you see a lot of mediocrity? It can be tempting to slack in order to fit in, but in the long run, it won’t serve you.
These individuals aren’t mediocre because they are lazy; they just haven’t had to work as hard as you. You’ve had to show your value through your work ethic and determination in school, college, at your first job, and every job thereafter. You gained more responsibility because you showed up fully each day, everyday. You had to.
Stand out and show your work ethic. Don’t compromise it to fit in and try to feel more comfortable.
Now you know that your ideas and work ethic help you become a standout. But the key to being a successful standout is to tell people about your ideas, skills, and accomplishments. Make an appointment with your boss and others in your organization to build a relationship based on who you are.
Whether it is fair or not, when you are at a company like Google, Facebook or Dropbox, where just 2 percent of the positions are filled with black people, you have to advocate for yourself.
If like Angelica above, who now works at Zendesk, you show your company who you really are and they don’t appreciate you, take your brilliant self to an organization that does.
Being true to who you are will take you so much farther than trying to be who you think your company wants you to be.