Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


How to not feel like an outsider at work

By Sara Terry Special correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 23, 2001



You look around the workplace, and it's clear that you don't look like most of the other people there - especially not those in charge. Maybe you're black, Asian, Latino, a woman, or disabled.

Skip to next paragraph

How can you succeed in a job where you're an "outsider," someone who's not part of the dominant culture?

In their book, "From the Outside In," management specialists Sandra Slipp and Renee Blank, along with co-author Vincent Ford, outline success strategies for employees outside the cultural mainstream of their workplace. The Monitor recently spoke with Ms. Slipp about major themes raised in the book.

What are main challenges faced by people who are not part of the dominant work culture?

The main challenge is that their talents aren't recognized, often because of stereotypic thinking. An Asian-American may not be seen as a good manager, because Asian-Americans are too quiet and don't know how to supervise people.

For women, it's, 'Well, she's good, but she has children, so she won't want to travel,' or 'She's too emotional.' And study after study has shown that these stereotypes are very deep-seated. Well, for some women it's a priority to stay home with their children, but for some women it isn't. There are cultural tendencies in different groups, but not everyone falls into it.

The other [challenge] is not feeling comfortable. You go into meetings and the men will be chatting with each other, talking about sports or fishing trips. They won't include the others in the conversation. We say, OK, ... but the burden is on you to try to get yourself included.

The first strategy is you have to check your baggage. If you're an outsider, you've probably experienced discrimination and stereotyping, so you expect to run into it. But our point is, it's not always there. You have to get past your previous experiences and expect positive ones.

Could you explain the "victim phenomenon," which you discuss in your book as an obstacle to success?

The victim phenomenon is when you blame others for the fact that you're not getting ahead.

Many people feel that [their] work should speak for itself, and it doesn't. Yes, we assume you're competent and you're able to do your job well. But someone has to know about it besides your immediate boss. You have to learn to blow your own horn, have to have people in the organization who want you to succeed.

If you're a woman, an Asian-American, or a member of any outsider group, you ... may not want to take the initiative to be included in going out to lunch with someone. But you have to ... force yourself, you have to tolerate discomfort, you have to just say, I'm going to take the first step because I want to get ahead.

There was an example of that in your book: An African-American man felt he was excluded by his white male colleagues from their socializing. So he put some golf magazines and a golf trophy out on his desk where they could see them. And these white men began including him. What was he doing?