I recently heard a term, alienated lonely. These two words were so deep and troubling and eye opening to me. This loneliness is different from being sad. It is a description of being the only one. You could be the only woman in the conference room and you definitely could be the only woman of color in the conference room. These two are perfect examples of alienated loneliness.
There are times when being the only one really gets to me mentally. The burden and the pressure that I feel because I am now representing the entire race and/or gender. Some may say I’m putting this pressure on myself but it’s true. Have you ever disagreed with someone in a meeting and then you’re labeled angry or your tone is questioned? Skin color, hair texture, body language, curves are all on display and sometimes judged or frowned upon. I think twice about certain styles because I don’t want to be “too” ethnic. Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone and when you meet them in person they are surprised because they assumed you were another race? Let me tell you, I have and the sad thing is I have grown accustomed to it.
Our former first lady stated “when they go low, we go high”. This certainly is true in the workplace. But man sometimes it is a hard pill to swallow. Always wondering if someone is treating me wrong at work because I am a minority or if the person is just rude. It’s tiring. As I maneuver through different scenarios as the only one I begin to wonder do I disappear and try to blend in or do I stand up as the voice of the group? Here I go again dealing with having to work three times harder than everyone else.
Mistakes are taken as being incapable versus a mistake. Only being given one chance to prove yourself and usually with little to no guidance. In the back of your mind always wondering is it the same for everyone. I mean why are strong business women called bitches, heartless, or evil? When their male counterparts with the same behavioral traits are labeled leaders, smart, and strong. Don’t even get me started on unequal pay. Possibly a future blog post.
Eye opening is an understatement after reading the annual Women in the Workplace study completed by LeadIn.org and McKinsey & Company. It was hard to read that women of color are the most underrepresented group of all behind white men, men of color, and white women. Out of the 64,000 employees surveyed in this study, it was found that women receive less support from their managers than men. Specifically less support navigating organizational politics which is important to understand for promotions. African American women receive less support than other women in different races, especially in regards to promoting their accomplishments. In some instances the issue is female leaders holding back other females by informing them to keep their heads down and work hard. While men are told to network and pitch their ideas whenever chances arise.
Another thing I found whiling reading about this topic is that women that are looking for jobs will only apply when they meet all of the qualifications while men apply when they may meet only a few? Have you ever done this? Focus on the one thing you may not have and walk away from an opportunity? To be clear, I am not talking about a field that requires a certain certificate or degree (nursing or doctor). It is usually something minor that puts doubt in our minds coupled with feeling like we have to work three times harder. What a vicious cycle.
Working three times harder brings me to another point, women are more likely than men to be questioned about their judgement in their area of expertise and asked to provide additional evidence. If a female disagrees with someone in a meeting, men instantly go to “it’s her time of the month”. Okay maybe not all men but I am speaking on my personal incidents with a little research mixed in. Saying things like “time of the month” are called microaggressions (new term I learned in my research). Microaggressions are often directed at people with less authority. In this case women. Another common microaggression is assuming that the female in the room is not qualified to be in the room. For example, assuming the woman in the room is there to take notes or get coffee. Another personal example, yes this happened to me. There was also a time when a colleague and I were discussing racial issues and my colleague stated, “I don’t see you as black.”. Was this a compliment, a statement to prove they don’t see color, or something negative? I have to say, I did not ask, I went on with the conversation and pondered about it ever since. Not going down this rabbit hole today.
Experts agree that feelings of comfort and acceptance in the workplace are serious and should not be taken lightly. Most people will work an average of 65,000 hours in their lifetime. This being said, being happy at work is beneficial to your physical and mental health. If you are unhappy in the workplace you will more than likely under perform, misuse time, and not give your best on projects. Here’s some advice on how to overcome the pressures and anxiety of being the only one.
First, figure out if the problem is internal or external. Meaning are you overthinking things and the problem lies within yourself and your confidence. Or are people treating you unfairly. Once you identify this you will be able to take the effective steps to correct the situation. If internal think about why you are insecure about certain situations and work on this.
Second, make sure you are not secluding yourself because of things you have learned in the past. For instance, you may have been told that women should be polite and not assertive. Well ladies, all bets are off in the workplace. You have to be your own advocate and find your voice and your seat at the table. You belong there, otherwise you would not have been hired. Don’t be afraid to pitch your ideas in meetings and remember you are always on an interview especially in front of leadership.
Third, continue to hone your craft. No matter what industry you are in make sure you continue to attend trainings/seminars to learn new methods and skills in your industry. Communication is another skill that you should continue to improve. Are you a good communicator (written and oral). If not, attend some trainings on how to effectively communicate. There are several organizations that offer trainings for industry skills and management skills.
Fourth, reach out for help. Find a mentor or a colleague even if they are at a different organization. They will bring a different perspective and possibly offer up some advice to help you grow professionally. Connections and building relationships are the best way to grow in the business world.
Fifth, don’t be ashamed to leave. If you have done all you can do and you still feel uncomfortable in your work environment it is probably time to leave. How do you know it’s time to leave? If you feel you have to compromise your work ethics or change who you are, it is definitely time to go. Lastly, if making the changes necessary to fit in will ultimately ruin your reputation or not make a lasting difference #goodbye.
As women we don’t have to feel “less than” there are several leading business women that are making it happen everyday. We need to find our voices and stand up for ourselves and other women for that matter. If you are a leader, remember to teach the ones coming up behind you. Each one teach one, it’s who you know not what you know, etc. GIRL POWER, LET’S UNITE!! Share your story by commenting. Have a good one.