I’m always a bit scared to tell tales when it comes to my employment purely because it can lead to very bad things, and scary words like ‘redudancy’, but it’s late and I was watching Orange is the New Black and it got me thinking about how I’ve been a diversity hire before. If you don’t know what that is, it’s basically when you’re hired because you are a minority.
You’re never really told that you’re a diversity hire when it happens, you only come to realise it when you enter your workplace and see how awfully caucasian it is. Sometimes I play this game called ‘spot the ethnic’ and honestly in some places it has been a struggle to play this game.
I’m all for companies getting pressured to hire people of colour, don’t get me wrong, but the issue with being in a company that has only hired you because you tick a certain box is the lack of respect. You already have to fight a lot harder to be taken seriously and seen as credible and honestly the fight can be exhausting. You’re surrounded by people with the same abilities as you, but are seen as better purely because they’re white, or worse, a white man. I know, it sounds exagerated but this actually happens and honestly it’s annoying.
I remember first feeling a bit weird when I came to realise why I was hired – it had nothing to do with me being a strong candidiate and everything to do with the colour of my skin. I noticed the workplace I entered was very white, and a lot of people weren’t used to being around people of colour in general, let alone hearing us engage in ‘ethnic banter’. Topics like Brexit and racism are thrown to the side and you overhear a lot of ignorant conversations.
I won’t say I wasn’t greatful for the job, I definitely was, but I wish I knew what I know about navigating a workplace like this. It was all about assimilation and that was the one thing I hadn’t learnt how to do, in all honesty I’m still learning. It involves a lot of holding my tongue, and having to politely smile at racists. The things I would tell people who are in this situation is this:
- Remember that you are valid and you can do well in the role
- Don’t bring up issues like race, it will bite you in the ass
- Sometimes if you don’t understand white banter, instead of asking about the joke, just smile and nod.
- Try to stay in your own lane, especially as women. Women of colour tend to be seen as more aggressive and sassy and it isn’t worth the label.
- In most cases it’s safer to keep your work friends as just work friends, by maintaining a distance you can avoid any awkward conversations outside of the workplace.
- Remember that you can still shine in this role, and that you’re probably going to have to shine 10x brighter than most people.