11 Strategies to Lead and Succeed as a Minority Woman
Compared to most women, minority women face far greater challenges in their careers, including isolation, discrimination and low self-esteem. However, despite the overwhelming odds, there are strategies that minority women can undertake to not only survive, but also succeed.
1. Know that not everyone will open up to you.
Some people who have what is called “tunnel vision” see what’s directly in front of them and will only be comfortable with the familiar. They may not fancy the idea of mingling with people who seem “different.” These people may not overcome their reservations despite your best efforts, and that’s okay. Nurture your relationships with those who do.
Co-workers may initially judge you on stereotypes and biases regarding your minority group. However, once they know you and start seeing you as a valuable team member, acceptance grows and barriers start dissolving. You may even want to consider taking time to explain some of your background or practices -- open communication and awareness is the key to addressing misconceptions and is critical in understanding your colleagues better. Also, focus on identifying common bonds and shared interests and experiences.
3. Deal with discrimination, but avoid being too easily offended.
Differentiate between inadvertent insults and intentional ones. You may consider letting go of unintentional slights, but for the more serious and deliberate acts of prejudice, first take control of your emotions. Detach yourself from the situation and then proceed to address it in the most effective way possible.
4. Leverage your uniqueness at work.
Turn your diversity into a competitive advantage and play to your strengths. There are some things that minority women thrive at because of their natural traits -- traits that are gender specific, as well as background specific.
5. Display confidence and make yourself heard.
People who step up, exhibit confidence and demonstrate leadership, no matter what their background is, are more noticeable. Never be afraid to disagree or have an opinion, even if it’s an unpopular one. At the same time, be respectful and tolerant. In other words: disagree, but don’t be disagreeable
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for more.
When it’s time to ask for a promotion or raise, don’t feel intimidated because you are different. Substantiate your case with evidence and do not hesitate to put yourself forward. It is those who vocalize which opportunities and projects they want that will be considered first.
7. Bond and network.
Building a network of the right people will help you move up the corporate social ladder. Try to mix and mingle by creating social interaction opportunities outside work hours as well. Participate in company-sponsored affinity and networking groups, and consider starting your own or joining an existing staff network.
8. Develop a sense of humor.
Humor helps reduce hostility, deflect criticism, relieve tension, improve morale and communicate difficult messages. It also lets the air out of the room and gives us a graceful way out of a tense moment.
9. Don’t be the “yes” woman.
Most minorities that have risen to the top have reported that their performance was required to be above and beyond what was normally expected. It’s easy to say yes to all projects just to be seen as the “good employee.” However, It’s important to stand up for the projects that you value and that are in sync with your leaderships brand while refusing those that are not.
10. Stay visible by promoting yourself.
Do not sit passively waiting to be noticed, or for opportunities to drop in your lap. Raise your visibility and showcase your knowledge in every way you can. Once you learn how to own your successes and flaunt your accomplishments, you will become in demand, and your background will become irrelevant.
11. Get a sponsor.
During times of company reorganizations, mergers, and massive layoffs, minorities are often twice as likely to be impacted negatively. So, it is important to align yourself with the right people within your organization and your industry if you want to succeed. Identify sponsors who can promote you within your organization.
If you work hard and are determined, eventually people will start seeing you above and beyond any ethnic barriers. Don’t make your minority status your focus -- if you do, chances are other people will, too. Hold your head high at all times and know that it will always be your work that will speak for you as well as your will to succeed. It’s the latter that will set you apart regardless of whether you are in a minority or not.
(By Hira Ali. Ali is the chief executive officer of Advancing Your Potential and Revitalize and Rise and the founder of The Career Exceler For Trailblazing Women. She is an executive career coach, leadership trainer, motivational speaker, writer, podcaster and NLP practitioner.)