I’m very proud to be, and often outspoken about being, a Person of Color. But it’s not always easy or convenient to be one, particularly at work. In any sort of professional environment, you want to fit in, and that can mean not calling attention to the things that make you different, especially when it’s something as outwardly noticeable and sensitive as your race or ethnicity.
Having been part of interesting, and not entirely comfortable, conversations about race and representation at work, it’s hard to strike that balance of voicing your opinions without wanting to disappear into a hole in the floor.
Here are some tips on how to navigate the workplace and also how to advocate for yourself as a POC.
Accept that you’re going to have to have the tough conversations
At work, you might be in a position where you have to call attention to yourself as a POC, whether it’s advocating for something or explaining why your opinion as a POC is important. And while it is completely okay and understandable to not be comfortable having these conversations, if it affects your job or your mental health, it’s helpful to just brace for the inevitable and accept that you’re going to have to stand up and fight for what you believe in, even if it makes you or your coworkers a little uncomfortable.
Have someone at work you can rely on
You are not an island. It is good to have people you can rely on, especially to be a sounding board. Whether it’s a friend who just gets it, or a more senior mentor, who has real power to implement change, having someone to talk to makes work a lot less stressful. Plus, if you’re ever in a situation in which you feel discriminated against, whether it’s a big offense or a microaggression, it’s nice to have someone who just believes you and also encourages you to take action if necessary, like talking to HR.
Join diversity initiatives
Whether it’s a mentorship program or a community outreach program, it’s important to support organizations that create opportunities for POC. After all, you might make a great connection with someone within your company or become a resource for a young person of color.
Do not feel obligated to educate other people
Even if you’re the only POC in your office, you shouldn’t feel as if you speak for an entire group or are obligated to educate someone else. It’s not fair to you to feel like a token minority voice, and there are plenty of resources out there for someone who truly wants to do their research.
Self-care, self-care, self-care
Self-care is so important. Being a POC in the workplace can be exhausting, and it’s important to take a break before you get jaded or burn out. No one is more important to you than you, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel like you need to just chill and take some time for yourself.