Are You At A Diversity Disadvantage?

I’ve been speaking at a lot of events around the country recently (I should get some tour T-shirts printed) and inevitably audience members asked questions. Some as part of an official Q&A session, but many more through catching me afterwards or via a LinkedIn message.

Regardless of the situation, there’s a question that kept coming up (in some shape or form):

What can I do to overcome a disadvantage I have in my workplace?

The exact disadvantage varied, but all were linked to being a minority overwhelmed by a majority:

  • There was a woman feeling disadvantaged in a predominantly male environment.
  • An older person feeling disadvantaged in a sector that prizes youth.
  • An introvert feeling disadvantaged in a company full of extroverts.
  • A teetotal Muslim feeling disadvantaged in a team of laddish pub-crawlers.

In a separate conversation, I also had a client ask me how someone with a physical disability might overcome the disadvantage of others’ perceptions about their ability.

Here’s my take on it…

My answer to the question, regardless of the situation, was the same (or at least in the same ballpark):

A big part of overcoming a diversity disadvantage is to do with self-confidence: if you have it, you have a better chance of being listened to. And if you’re listened to, you can start to change others’ perceptions.

To gain that self-confidence, spend time working out your personal brand to understand what and who you bring to the table. Plus (and this is the important bit) set out clearly the benefits you offer precisely because you are different from those around you.

Then with your newly-boosted confidence and your list of benefits, go out and share your brand with others to help them see you in a different light (or see you at all). That might be chatting one-to-one over a coffee, or in a team meeting, or with your boss in your review, or by doing a presentation to a larger audience.

It aint easy

Whilst it’s easy for me to type that, I fully appreciate it’s harder for the person involved to actually implement. (There’s no magic wand I can offer that will fix the problem with zero effort.) But if a situation is bad enough for them to raise the question with me in the first place, I’m guessing they have the impetus to want to do something about it.

It may not change things immediately, but sitting there doing nothing and waiting for the situation to rectify itself isn’t the best option.

There’s a caveat

Of course, in any of these situations, there’s only a certain amount of change that can be affected by the disadvantaged person. The rest is up to the culture of the organisation they’re working in, which is why I offer one other piece of advice:

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you’re in the right place.

There are organisations out there that have done a lot to increase their diversity and inclusion, where disadvantages like those listed are no longer disadvantages…they’re simply the norm. Maybe life would be easier working for them.

What advice would you give people who feel at a diversity disadvantage? I’m sure there’s a lot more to add to my thoughts, so feel free to share yours with a comment below. Thanks!

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2 responses to “Are You At A Diversity Disadvantage?”

  1. Nicola Ralston says:

    Several decades ago I worked in a firm where all the professional staff except me were male. I was lonely and miserable, but I learnt huge amount and emerged a stronger and more confident person. So, leave by all means, but do it on your own terms.

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