Stories from Career Advice

I’m a Woman of Color, and I’m Starting a New Job During Quarantine—What Should I Know?

Minda Harts

Minda HartsJuly 27, 2020

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When you’re stuck in a tough spot at work—you’re *this close* to burnout, you’re wondering whether your job is the right fit, your office culture could use a serious upgrade—who do you turn to? Your mentor, who has years of experience you can rely on? Your mom, who always keeps your best interests in mind? Or your BFF, who is dependable for a killer pep talk? Put all three perspectives in a blender, and you’ve got Good@Work, Well+Good’s career advice column. See All

Question:

“I’m starting a new job during quarantine, which means the position is virtual for now. As a woman of color, what should I expect? How can I immediately ensure the job is a space safe for me and also best set myself up for success?

Answer:

First, congratulations on your new role! I hope you’re excited about the opportunity to start fresh, and that you’ve taken the time to celebrate your win (even if from the comfort of your home). I, for one, am celebrating your success, because when one woman wins, another one wins, too—and I don’t feel we, as women, celebrate our own wins or those of others enough. Now, to answer your question, there are three key components I want you to know:

1. Recognize that you were hired for a reason

Give yourself permission to clear your mind of any hints of imposter syndrome or worries about satisfying the job requirements. You were hired because you are capable, and your new job, during quarantine or not, will allow you to create a new narrative and redefine success on your terms.

Aside from seeing the actual responsibilities of the role, which you can absolutely handle, it is worth noting that indoctrinating yourself, as a woman of color, into a new office culture is different. While many more functions are digital in light of the pandemic can make navigating a new job during quarantine tricky, also understand that many workplaces have committed to ensuring the company is a safe space for all employees, which is good news. So, work to build new relationships with colleagues and strategize how to secure your seat at the table by planning virtual chats and hangouts. Just take the initiative by putting yourself out there and asking to connect.

More than 70 percent of women of color feel as though their managers are not invested in their success. You have a unique opportunity to help guide thoughtful and strategic one-on-ones with your manager.

In researching my book, The Memo, I learned that more than 70 percent of women of color feel as though their managers are not invested in their success. You have a unique opportunity to help guide thoughtful and strategic one-on-ones with your manager—start by asking questions when you need answers. Establishing a solid line of communication early on with your manager will only contribute to your success in this role, because success is not a solo sport.

2. Set boundaries and get comfortable with speaking up

While I don’t know what your experience was like in previous roles, as a woman of color myself, I imagine you have experienced microaggressions and been victim to the biases of others during your tenure. I wish I could tell you that you won’t experience that ever again, but the reality is that not every employee or manager leads with empathy and compassion. That said, I urge you to bring your authentic self to work and to focus on your unique brilliance, because someone at your new company clearly has an eye for talent. Lean into being the right person for the job, and be ready to shine bright.

With that said, if you are the sole woman of color at your company, or find that you’re one among only a few, know that experience can be exhausting. To protect yourself, set healthy boundaries from day one with your manager and colleagues. If you find that biases or microaggressions greet you early on, use those examples as teachable moments, and if you don’t feel comfortable doing so explicitly or publicly, communicate them to your manager or HR representative. Whatever you do, though, don’t sweep them under the rug. Each person is their own best advocate, and for women of color, that can require speaking up. Whenever you are in doubt, lean into the facts and offer solutions. As Lauryn Hill said, “respect is just a minimum.” And you, friend, deserve that much and more.

3. Believe in your success by working toward it

Your first 90 days in the role are crucial to your career success, because it’s when your employer will assess your added value to the company and also when you’ll assess the company’s value to you. So to help ensure you make the most of this time, do yourself a favor and add The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, Updated and Expanded, by Michael D. Watkins, to your career tool kit.

And finally, visualize the success you want to have in this role and at the company. Certain aspects of work—like onboarding and team meetings, to name just two—might look different in a virtual environment, yet now is not the time to shrink. New business decisions are made each day, and it’s up to you to make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle. That means, if you can, turn your camera on during virtual meetings and chime in if the opportunity to add value to the conversations presents itself. The narrative you may want to tell yourself is, “I am new to the company, and I shouldn’t say anything,” but you would be wise to learn to leverage your voice to create a competitive advantage for yourself.

Audre Lorde wrote, “beware of feeling like you’re not good enough to deserve it.” You’ve worked too hard to lean out now. So don’t forget about your goals and how the right career decisions will add to your life—I, for one, do not doubt that you will continue to make great decisions.

Minda Harts is the author of the best-selling book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. She is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Wagner. She hosts a podcast and LinkedIn Live Show called Secure The Seat. Minda lives in New York and has a French bulldog named Boston. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her newsletter here.

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