When it’s Not You, it’s Them.

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I believe that we can’t use bias and discrimination as an excuse to limit our success.  If I believed that my sex or the color of my skin would be an impediment in my career, I would not have the degree of success I’ve experienced.  While I never forget that I’m black, it’s not something that stays top of my mind in my day-to-day interactions.

Often I work with people who aren’t sure if their lack of progress in an organization is due to some form of bias or if they aren’t trying hard enough. Let’s be honest, as a women or person of color in the corporate world, you do have to worker harder than your white male colleagues.  To paraphrase one of my favorite quotes, “You’ll know that there’s true equality when an equal number of incompetent women as men are in leadership positions.”

If you are experiencing bias, how do you know when to keep pushing forward or to call it quits and find a better environment?  Here a some signs to help you navigate this issue.

They aren’t investing in you

If they won’t invest in the development of their people by giving them stretch assignments or the opportunity to apply for a promotion, it’s time to think about making a change.  I was working with a client that wanted to apply for a promotion at her law firm. However, as she talked to the partners in her practice group and other more senior attorneys, she realized that all they wanted was a billing machine.

There was no path to partnership, no autonomy, and no hope that she would learn how to run her own matters.  At first she was bummed, because she thought it was about them not wanting her. I asked her to look at the other associates in her firm and how they are treated.  She came back and told me they are all unhappy.

Her firm treated associates like commodities.  They are easily replaceable.  If you work within an organization that doesn’t value it’s people, they won’t value you regardless of your sex or color of your skin. Get out and find a better firm.

You don’t like them

I had another client that worked in banking.  She was doing well, but felt that her career was simply simmering.  It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t living up to the potential she saw for herself.  As a women of color, she didn’t fit in with the group that coalesced around the manager of her department.  She wasn’t invited to lunch and didn’t get the same business opportunities as the others.

While bias was working against her, she came to realize that in general she didn’t trust the people she worked with, and that held her back from trying to connect.  They were constantly jockeying for position and favoritism.  In fact favoritism, not productivity, is how people advanced in that environment.  It might be too strong to call them assholes, but she didn’t fit in because she didn’t really like them. More importantly, she wasn’t like them – she had higher standards.

You stay because you don’t think you have a choice

When you stay only because you think you don’t have a choice, you lack two things – clarity of your value and clarity about your ideal work environment.  As a women or man of color in a corporate environment, you aren’t lucky if you reached a level of senior management.  You’ve excelled by being better than most of your colleagues.  That’s the truth about bias.

If you’re not experiencing success and find yourself hitting a wall of bias, then decide if it’s is the best culture for you.  Don’t stay by default.  I was reading an article, Lessons From a New Mom in Tech, 3 Months Post-Launch, by Clara Shih, CEO of Hearsay Social, who was talking about being a new mom in tech.  She said, “Having a baby is stressful enough. To the extent that you can, try to be in a place where you feel supported. If you don’t feel comfortable asking (for support), then you might not be at the right place.”

So often we limit our success by settling for a place that isn’t worthy of what we bring to the table.  Always choose yourself first.

When you are thinking about your ideal job, think about the type of culture you need to thrive. Then interview companies based on your needs –  not on the hope that they will want you.  The prospect of bias and prejudice often leads us to take what we can get rather than what we truly want. Remember, it isn’t luck that has gotten you to this point in your career.  The best way to realize continued success is to build your career on your terms.

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint

Jennifer McClanahan-Flint is an Executive Career Strategist. Through her Leverage to Lead Programs she works with ambitious women and people of color to help them navigate compensation, bias, and their career progression so they can continue to rise. Jennifer works across industries to help women and people of color obtain the autonomy and financial security they need to thrive in their careers. To learn more about Jennifer visit her at www.leverage2lead.com and feel free connect with her on Twitter at @jennifermcflint.


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  • darthlaurie

    Thanks for this article. I’m struggling with this right now. One tip: women is plural and woman is singular. ;)

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