Crushing Constraints as a Marginalized Group — Part II

The external forces working against us

In part I of Crushing Constraints as a Marginalized Group, I spoke to the internal factors preventing many of us from reaching our potential: 1) our relationship with ourselves and 2) our ability to make adaptive changes. You can read part I here.

Navigating the professional ecosystem can be tricky for the underrepresented. Let’s explore some of the external elements that compound what goes on internally. Everything from marginalization, inequity, racial biases, and the like.

“A job is often regarded as an economic transaction, but the brain experiences the workplace first foremost as a social system.”

David Rock,
Managing with the brain

If we define a social system as a patterned network of relationships constituting a coherent whole, David Rock is on point.

The workplace truly is a social system, a complex network of relationships between humans. Each relationship contributes to a company’s ability to innovate, execute work, and meet the expectations of its customers/users.

Marginalization occurs when someone feels their contributions are not valued, or because they as an individual, with a demographic they cannot change, are being devalued. These groups include minorities, individuals who identify as LGBTQ, religious minorities, the disabled, and women to name a few. It’s not new that these communities have been mislabeled, misunderstood, undervalued. These individuals are often exposed to threats in the workplace including biased hiring practices, microaggressions, gaslighting, denial of advancement opportunities, and more.

If you personally identify with one or more groups here, you may have had a range of experiences with marginalization in the workplace. In her book, A Culture of Safety: Building a work environment where people can think, collaborate and innovate, Alla Weinberg effectively highlights the lack of physical safety experienced by minority groups:

People who are not part of the dominant group often feel & experience that their bodily differences will cause them to stand out and be a target for abuse. Abuse can come in the form of microagressions, backlash to pointing out mistakes or mistreatment, threats to job security, discrimination, or harassment.

The absence of safety in the workplace intensifies marginalizing behaviors. Jordan Bryan details three behaviors that occur in the professional environment: unequal personality trait assessment, lack of confidence assumption, and “taking credit”.

  • Unequal personality trait judgment: When certain behaviors are okay for a male colleague but weighted differently against a female colleague. For instance, a male slamming his fist on the table to get a team discussion on track. A woman taking the same action would be seen as abrasive or worse.
  • Lack of confidence assumption: The linkage between how confidence is exhibited and therefore somebody’s competence. An example would be the misconception that a woman who takes a reserved approach may be seen as incompetent, though confidence can look different based on a person’s experience.
  • “Taking Credit”: Perhaps you’ve made a point during a meeting that wasn’t acknowledged, only for another colleague to bring it up, getting all the praise.

When these things go unchecked, it makes for a difficult experience in the workplace.

Diversity in tech is … meh

The state of diversity in tech doesn’t look so great, but that’s no secret. For years we’ve been hearing promises from Silicon Valley that increasing minority participation. Yet, little progress has been made. Here are a few reports to check out if you’re interested in digging:

I could spend all day on the topic. However, I implore you to investigate the stats and dig a bit deeper, especially if you’re in a management or other leadership role. Are you providing your best stewardship to your underrepresented direct reports? Have you checked in with your own biases? Is it possible they’ve gone unchecked? Are you doing everything possible to ensure they are exposed to skill development & growth opportunities? These are just a few prompts to encourage reflection.

There are a lot of things beyond our immediate control. I don’t expect any of you to slam your fists on the desk and make demands to everyone in the c-suite. Seriously, don’t do that!

What we can do is start with a focus on our relationship with ourselves, that ripples out to our 1:1 relationships and further impact the communities we’re a part of. We can raise the issue of safe work environments within our organization. We can find ways to support our underrepresented peers, creating connections, sponsoring them at work. The list goes on.

In part III, I’ll speak to approaches that you can apply to hammer our constraints and progress toward a future free of the barriers we place on ourselves.

Digital product designer at Dialexa, advocate for BIPOC, speaker, and hustler.