Boss Whispering: How to Get What You Want When You’re an Outsider at Work
Have you ever felt like you don’t quite fit into the culture of your workplace? Do your co-workers fail to invite you to social gatherings outside of the workplace? Have you been passed over for training and advancement opportunities? Making advances in the workplace can be a challenge, especially when you work in a homogeneous environment. Homogeneous work environments exist in organizations that lack diversity in some respect. It may be a place where the workers are mostly male, female, white, black, or some other identifiable sameness element. Homogeneous work environments come about in a very natural way. People are generally inclined to hire, develop and promote people who are like them, or people with whom they have most in common. In many cases, the decision maker will pull success criteria from their own frame of reference which encompasses their personal views on gender, race, religion and other markers. By making inferences based on their personal opinion and by looking at the current organizational landscape, the decision maker often chooses to maintain the status quo by hiring, developing, or promoting the person who fits their pre-ordained mold.
Fortunately, strides have been made over the past several decades to appreciate and create diversity in most workplace environments. A diverse organization is one that employs people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures and is thus able to draw upon a wide range of perspectives in accomplishing its goals. When an organization values diversity, it creates a tolerant atmosphere that fosters innovation and creativity harnessing and nurturing the best and brightest talent. While many companies have hired a more diverse workforce, the lack of developing, mentoring and promoting diverse workers is still a shortfall for many organizations. Has an organization truly made effective and sincere strides toward true diversity if all of their managerial and executive personnel are of the same ethnic group or gender?
If you are working for an organization that is homogenous, and you don’t identify with the main characteristics of the group, you might be facing some real challenges. For example, a woman who works in a mostly male environment may find that she is not developed or mentored as her male co-workers are. She may find she has to work harder to prove herself, or to even be recognized by her superiors. Her work may be more closely scrutinized and she may not be invited to be part of group projects. Indeed, she may feel like an outsider in her workplace. This is not due, in most circumstance, to her co-workers and superiors intentionally excluding her. It’s just human nature that members of a homogenous group tend to congregate and interact more readily with other members of that group. Since an outsider has little hope in changing the cultural makeup of their workplace, they will have to work to navigate the barriers that are keeping them from getting what they want. If you are feeling like an outsider in your workplace you know that doors don’t just open for you, you have to push them open. If a seat isn’t readily offered to you, you may have to take it. When you are an outsider in a homogenous workplace, self-promotion may be your best advancement strategy. If you feel like an outsider at work, and you believe you have significant contributions to make to the organization, step up and promote yourself by following these 5 rules.
Get Face Time
If there is a position you want, training you need, or a promotion you know you are qualified for, you have to step up and make your desires known to the decision makers in your organization. When I say decision maker, I mean you have to meet with whoever in your organization has the ability to make your request happen. Don’t waste your time with people who can do nothing for you. Remember, you are not part of that in-group whose members will automatically be considered for the best positions in the organization. You are not going to receive the phone call that they will surely get when there is an opening in a workgroup or when a new position becomes available. You have to be assertive in making your desires known, and there is no better way to present yourself than through a face to face meeting. Do not send an email or a letter. You need to be able to intuitively discern the decision maker’s reactions to your statements and tailor your presentation as needed. Letters, emails, and memos won’t get the attention that a meeting will get. When you meet with your boss, make sure they have the time to give you their undivided attention. Watch for non-verbal body language that indicates your boss is engaged with the conversation and ready to listen to what you have to say. If you get the feeling your boss is distracted, can then on it, and offer to schedule your meeting at another time if necessary.
As a society, we have raised our daughters to cultivate communal personality traits such as being caring, kind, nurturing, empathetic and communicative. We have taught our sons to possess more agentic traits including being aggressive, decisive, independent and confident. As a result, males are hesitant to display communal traits due to being judged as not being “manly” and women stick with their assigned communal behaviors to avoid being labeled as not feminine or worse, being called a bitch. Exhibiting only gender prescribed behaviors causes an immediate barrier for women since all the traits that would generally be attributable to leadership belong to the male agentic traits category. Successful leaders have found a way to blend all of the male and female traits into one presentation style thus being aggressive and decisive when the situation calls for it, and being able to employ more communal behaviors when necessary. When advocating for themselves, females who want to be perceived as leaders must be able to display agentic personality traits whenever appropriate, while still making use of their communal traits. This means being assertive when you ask for that meeting with your boss, and being decisive about what you want.
Speak to Their Needs Before Listing Your Own
Begin with a conversation about what the organization needs and how you can fulfill that need through the training or the promotion you are asking for. Make your boss feel secure and validated. This may seem strange, but people are much more likely to cooperate with a suggestion when they feel their sense of importance has been validated and their needs are being met. This approach will show your boss you respect them, you’ve done your homework and your request is not entirely self-serving.
Be Clear in Stating What You Want
No one wants their time wasted. Before you go in for the meeting with your boss, you’d better know what it is you want and why you want it. Be sure to explain how your request will meet the aforementioned needs of the organization. Don’t be afraid to put your request in writing with a few words on how granting your request serves the organization. I always advocate for a face to face meeting rather than just sending an email or memo to make your request, but once the face to face meeting is over, it doesn’t hurt to leave the decision maker with a written summary of what was presented.
Help Them Find a Reason to Say Yes
This is where you pull out all the stops in making your pitch. Appeal to the decision maker’s empathy and sense of logic. Find a way to get them to empathize with your situation and understand that granting your request is the most logical decision. Make them feel they have won something for the organization by granting your request.
Outsiders can be successful in homogenous working environments as long as they are willing to persevere. Following these rules will go a long way in getting you what you want. I believe that success is based not so much innate talent, but more on desire, intention and effort. When you are an outsider, you will have to work harder for what you want, but as long as you have the desire and ability, there is no reason for you to fail when you step up and ask.