For every meeting I walk into, there is a high likelihood that I will be the only one in the room.
If it is a busy day or I am engrossed in something, it will take a while for me to notice. A quick mental calculation, as I scan the room. Are there any people of colour? Are there any women? Are there any black people? If there are all three, I am probably in the wrong room. All jokes aside these characteristics are not synonymous. To add insult to injury my parents gave me a traditional culture name, which often means people who have never met me do not know if I’ll be male or female and you can forget pronunciation altogether. However, this is a slightly more personal challenge.
So I am in the room, what next? Will my opinion be valid? How will my delivery be perceived? Am I crossing a line? Will they actually hear me? Project your voice! Command authority but avoid being too authoritative because it sends the wrong message. Breathe.
Next is musical chairs, one of my least favourite activities as a minority is choosing a chair in a meeting. Sitting too early carries the risk of being isolated. No one wants to sit next to the odd one out. Should I sit at the front? The back? All the books I’ve read about navigating the workplace note the importance of being present.
I do not have all the answers to the complexities associated with being a minority within a professional environment. I am still fairly early on in my career and I have been fortunate in my experiences to date. I have not dealt with many micro-aggression around my race or gender however the subtleties are there. The best piece of advice I’ve been given was, to embrace the differences as much as reasonably possible. You are the odd one out, by default you stand out but people will remember the young black woman with the funny name, particularly if she has something to say.