Professionals of color working
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Errol Pierre, author of the new how-to book “The Way Up, Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color,” offers tips to shine at work.

By Errol Pierre

Never has there been a better opportunity for professionals of color to get on the radar of their bosses and strategically position themselves to move up the ranks. The world around us is quietly quitting.

Employees across America have always had to balance their workload with their wellbeing. Now, our new hybrid and remote ways of working are bringing this balancing act into sharper focus. Gone are the days of the boss stopping by your cubicle at 5 o’clock with another folder full of projects. Also gone, or at least fading, are superstar employees raising their hand to take on more work or share fresh ideas, insights and solutions. The benefits of diversity still ring true in the corporate setting, but it is being redefined with more and more remote work. Yet, a silver lining exists. 

Employee engagement has fallen to rates we have not seen in a decade. The precipitous fall in engagement rates is attributed to employees yearning for more clarity in their roles, a lack of opportunity for growth and a feeling that their employer simply does not care about them. While quietly quitting seems a logical reaction to a workplace that is increasingly less in touch, buyer beware — especially if you are an immigrant or a professional of color. 

Acknowledging first that employees of color disproportionately work in industries such as the hospitality, health care and education sectors where working remotely is not even an option. This is especially true for Haitian Americans and Haitian immigrants where they represent 37% of service-based occupations as compared to 23% for all immigrants and 17% for native-born workers. 

“Managers and supervisors are looking for employees who are ready to step up and show value.”

Teachers, nurses aides and daycare workers can’t turn off their Zoom cameras like corporate employees can. Further, if history is any indicator and as new studies show, Black and Haitian American employees from all professions will face additional hurdles during an economic downturn as they are often the first to be fired. 

So What’s the Bright Side?

Faced with lower productivity levels and keeping average employees engaged, organizations are looking for ways to retain or find top talent.   

Consider this. If half the employees across America are quietly quitting, it opens collective opportunities for us, professionals of color.  Now is the time to be more visible with the company and fill the vacuum being left by your peers. Managers and supervisors are looking for employees who are ready to step up and show value. And you will get more value out of these efforts than in the past since your peers will be working from home doing the bare minimum. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  1. Get some Face Time: Your company wants you back in the office. Make it a point to be intentionally visible. Come in when your division head does and stop by in the morning for some small talk. Many employees hired since the pandemic started haven’t met the big boss. So, taking time to introduce yourself will go a long way. If your boss is having staff meetings in-person, attend them. Do your meetings on the same day and listen to the hallway conversations. Schedule coffee meetings with key or influential people in the company whom you work with but have yet to meet. It will help you build a rapport and provide a face to your name.  These integral moments of face time are valuable and will differentiate you.
  1. Leverage Your IDMs: IDMs are Identity Defining Moments. These are moments in your life when your race, ethnicity or gender becomes a reality to you and the world you live in. As a Haitian American, my two quintessential IDMs happened to me in college when I was arrested for fitting a description and when I learned about the complex and torrid history of Haiti’s independence. I now use these experiences to stand out in a sea of people. My experiences make me unique. It makes my view of the world different from that of my co-workers. While you may be inclined to hide your history for fear of embarrassment or judgment, lean in to it, and leverage it in the workplace. 
  1. Be Flexible: If you are accommodating with your calendar and workload, team members and your boss will rely on you more. Employees are calling out sick or are unable to come into the office due to scheduling conflicts. Your boss is looking for someone to depend on, and you want  to be the reliable alternative. It makes you an invaluable resource. 
  1. Stay Engaged: Keep the Zoom camera on and lean into discussions. Usually when one person turns on their camera, the rest of the group will. Stay positive, think creatively of how to get things done, and join the HR-led breakfast meetings and boss-inspired happy hour gatherings. It’s easy to work from home, but you’ll be missing out on powerful opportunities to network. Those company-led initiatives are attempts to keep you engaged, so they will most likely be highly visible and well-attended from the higher-ups. If your colleagues won’t attend, it gives you more time to shine and make a name for yourself. Forge new relationships with people at the company even if they are outside of your department. These connections are a forced multiplier to advancing your career. Brush up on your elevator pitch (who you are and what you do). Go forth and conquer. 

Errol Pierre is the author of The Way Up, Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color.

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