The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 57% of the U.S. population will consist of racially ethnic minorities by 2060. With this in mind, it is becoming increasingly crucial that workplaces provide adequate support for employees from different backgrounds.
Taking advantage of the varied perspectives of a diverse employee pool should be a priority for businesses and organizations. But many business leaders still need to establish effective best practices for recruiting and retaining historically underrepresented groups.
People of color are 37% more likely to feel the need to compromise their identities to conform to a company’s work culture.
Additionally, while there is literature on how to create and sustain inclusive workplaces for business leaders, there is no procedural manual for being a person of color in a predominantly white workplace. Many people of color experience loneliness, a feeling that’s arguably most prevalent in the STEM field, which is dominated by white professionals.
Overall, people of color are 37% more likely to feel the need to compromise their identities to conform to a company’s work culture. These feelings can impact one’s loyalty to their company, which can lead to disengagement and increase the likelihood of an employee leaving.
Key Challenges Often Faced by Minority Workers
Historically underrepresented groups often experience impostor syndrome, or the feeling that they’re undeserving of their accolades and achievements, even when they possess the requisite qualities and talents. These people view themselves as insufficiently qualified or intelligent, and worry they’ll eventually be outed as an impostor.
Impostor syndrome, which typically manifests as self-doubt, anxiety, and/or depression, affects 7 in 10 Americans and takes an especially heavy toll on people of color. When minority workers don’t see other people of color within an organization or in leadership roles, they may start to believe they’re undeserving of their current position and any advancement opportunities.
Companies and hiring managers must be cognizant of impostor syndrome’s disproportionate impact on people of color. This understanding should motivate them to diversify their workforce so that people of color have the opportunity to see and form relationships with people who look like them.
Burnout and Fatigue
Inequities in workloads across race are also common. Many people of color are tasked with an impossible workload and handed responsibilities that their white counterparts are unable or unwilling to complete. Minority workers must also deal with the added pressure of needing to continuously prove themselves or work twice as hard due to racist stereotypes about their work ethic.
Studies show that people of color, especially women of color, often take on the responsibility of nonpromotable work, like organizing work or office parties. While participation in these events may build camaraderie among staff, it provides little tangible value to the company, distracts from one’s primary responsibilities, and may even reduce a worker’s visibility for promotions and raises.
Tips for Students of Color Entering the Workforce
Research Companies’ Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
Finding a company that fits your needs, values, and experiences can be challenging. Members of historically underrepresented groups face the added hurdle of finding a company that respects and values their identity and presence in the workplace.
A company’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion should go beyond recruiting and hiring people of color, and should be deeply embedded in an organization’s culture.
It’s important to remember that the interview process is a two-way street: As companies investigate how well you fit with their work culture, you should closely examine how employees of color are respected, included, and rewarded.
Questions to Ask During a Job Interview
- What does it mean for your company to be committed to diversity and inclusion? How has your company demonstrated this in the past year?
- Ensuring everyone has an equal say in decisions is important to me. What do you believe is an effective strategy to ensure everyone’s voices are heard? What strategies does the company implement to ensure all voices at the table are heard and respected?
- In what ways do you feel it is appropriate to incorporate topics related to diversity and inclusion in staff training and professional development opportunities?
Before applying for a position, find out whether the company maintains a diversity or equity policy. Having a policy that clearly articulates commitment to equity and inclusion emphasizes a company’s dedication to supporting people of color. Many companies also highlight the specific organizational changes they’re implementing to ensure employees of color feel valued and respected.
Companies with employee resource groups (ERGs) similarly recognize how pivotal it is for workers of color to have a safe space where they can connect and build relationships with other people of color in the workplace. DiversityInc includes a list of the top companies for ERGs. Amazon also maintains 12 ERGs.
Build a Support Network of Mentors and Sponsors
The popular saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” rings true in many situations. According to a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are filled via networking. Developing a strategic network is critical — you need a network that consists of well-connected people who can vouch for you, your accomplishments, and your performance.
Being a person of color in the workplace can be incredibly lonely, and it can feel even more isolating in midlevel and executive roles. This is why it’s critical to cultivate a community of people who can help you navigate the workplace as a person of color and grow in your career.
Being a person of color in the workplace can be incredibly lonely, and it can feel even more isolating in midlevel and executive roles.
But first, make sure you understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor can be anyone in any position who serves as a guide and/or confidante. They may talk through issues and concerns with you as you navigate your professional life. Mentors can be found within and outside your workplace, with many considering professors, advisors, and supervisors their mentors.
Alternatively, a sponsor is someone who possesses positional and organizational power they can use to your advantage. Sponsors typically occupy higher-level leadership roles and can help you secure a salary increase or promotion. It’s important for any professional — especially people of color — to have both a mentor and a sponsor.
As you pursue a career, focus on establishing meaningful relationships with other professionals at all levels. Make sure your coworkers know about your accomplishments and your value to the organization. This is how you can rest assured that people in your organization are aware of your reputation for success.
Engaging in self-care and establishing boundaries can be difficult as a new professional, particularly as a person of color. Many new workers at an organization experience performance anxiety or pressure to overperform, which can lead to burnout.
This is especially true for minority students entering the workforce. The added stresses caused by systemic racism, combined with the feeling that you must contort yourself or hide your identity to fit into a workplace, make it easier to feel overwhelmed and burnt out.
Before you accept any job offer, investigate that company’s policies on paid time off, sick time, and family and medical leave.
Try to avoid succumbing to the culture of overworking. Before you accept any job offer, investigate that company’s policies on paid time off, sick time, and family and medical leave. You should also see what kinds of mental health support the company offers employees.
Once you have an offer in hand, feel free to negotiate nonmonetary perks with your employer, such as discounts at fitness centers. Some companies offer incentives that encourage employees to utilize health and wellness benefits and services.
For more self-care tips, check out these 14 organizations and resources aimed at supporting minority workers’ mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can also try out Liberate Meditation, a meditation app designed with communities of color in mind.
Make a Brag Book
People of color face many inequities and challenges related to promotions and career advancement. Studies show that their work and accomplishments are often less respected and less valued than those of white workers. People of color often feel silenced in the workplace and may have limited opportunities to assert themselves and share their accomplishments.
As a minority student about to enter the workforce, you are your best advocate. Once you get a job, keep a detailed list of all your organizational accomplishments, and take notes describing how these accomplishments positively impacted your company or organization.
Keep a detailed list of all your organizational accomplishments, and take notes describing how these accomplishments positively impacted your company.
This account of your achievements can help you leverage your contributions when you request a pay raise or promotion. Also, regularly ensure that your resume is up to date so you don’t forget to add important milestones.
Companies need to acknowledge how bias impacts promotions and advancement opportunities, and should encourage all employees to regularly share feedback — both openly and anonymously — for improving these processes.
Additionally, companies should understand the value of publicly praising workers of color. Doing this indicates that employers value the contributions of minority employees and are deeply invested in their success.