3 Ways Minority Workers Can Advance Their Careers

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Jul 1, 2020

Jul 1, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

As anyone with a background in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programming knows, the job market isn’t an even playing field. No, for many racial minorities, as well as women and members of the LGBT community, rising through the ranks is a serious challenge. Indeed, our national history of employment discrimination is alive and well, and it’s easy to see in the number of women and minorities in C-Suite positions, as well as in ongoing pay disparities. This raises the question, what does it take to be successful in a system that wasn’t built to include you?

For workers fighting the tide of discrimination, there are a number of strategies that can help.

From one-on-one mentoring to business development grants, these 3 tools can help increase representation of and success among people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community in the professions, cracking the glass ceiling and opening doors for those who will come after.

Mentorship Matters

There are several core reasons that white men have gotten more promotions, are paid more, and generally experience a wider range of opportunities in the workplace, regardless of their field – but one of the most significant is mentorship. Men from the same segregated fraternities mentored younger students or their friend’s sons, thereby promoting more people like themselves. For minority groups or women in the workplace, though, it can be harder to find mentors who can help boost your career.

There are several major advantages to working with a mentor to advance your career. Particularly if you can find a mentor from a similar background, they can also be a source of empathy and expertise regarding discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace that others may not understand.

Even if you can’t find a mentor who shares your background, there can be significant benefits. That’s because established mentors from any background can introduce you to their wider network, which is often the key to professional growth in the long-term.

Find Your Allies

A mentor plays a critical role in helping you develop professional skills and build your network, but as a minority in the workplace, your mentors are different from your allies – and, more importantly, your allies may not be who they claim to be. In one recent survey, the majority of white employees – slightly over 80% - view themselves as allies to people of color at work, but the majority of Black and Latina women don’t see it that way, which can present a problem in day-to-day interactions.

Real allies in the workplace have the ability to address moments of racial bias in the workplace in ways that may be more effective than when you do so as the wronged party. Other staff members are less likely to feel defensive and more open to listening and asking questions. It shouldn’t be this way, but this is the reality – so figure out who your allies are and ask them to have your back.

Go For A Grant

Because many minorities have been shut out of leadership in the workplace, some choose to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities instead. If you’re in this group, one way to expand your opportunities and grow your business is by pursuing grant opportunities for minority-owned businesses. There are a variety of these and they may serve as a launchpad. Ranging from grant initiatives backed by the Minority Business Development Agency to the targeted First Nations Development Institute Grants for our country’s Native American communities, careful research into demographically-based grants can help you access the funding you need to build your business – and to escape a situation that isn’t working. Grants can be what makes that next step up the career ladder possible.

In research examining which minority professionals succeed and which struggle to get ahead, experts found that the most successful minorities were those who recognized race could be a problem, but that all problems can be solved. Those solutions aren’t always easy, and sometimes they require stepping away from a situation, including jobs that are holding you back, but the bottom line is that there’s always a solution. This approach goes hand-in-hand with being race aware (recognizing race as a potential barrier) but not self-conscious about race (treading lightly around your racial identity and avoiding discussion of it). The same principles apply to other minorities, including women and LGBT workers, facing discrimination.

Join An Organization

There are niche organizations for just about every industry and population group, and these aren’t just social clubs. They can do a lot to help further your career. Joining an appropriate professional organization can help you make career connections across a wide range of different organizations, meet peers and those more experienced in the industry, and engage in networking, skill building, and other exciting opportunities.

Everyone deserves opportunities to build a satisfying career, but it’s much harder for minorities and other historically disadvantaged groups like women to do this. However, by taking advantage of a variety of supports within your workplace and the broader community, it’s possible to pave new pathways forward – into a future of your own design.