• Linda R. Taliaferro

Getting Ahead in a White-Dominated Field

Recently on Being Brown at Work Live, I had the privilege to interview Glenn McIntosh, the senior VP for student affairs and chief diversity officer of Oakland University. I was so excited to get to speak to him because he and I both have experience working in predominantly white spaces: the corporate world in my case, and higher education in his case. Glenn is certainly the right guy to ask about navigating white workspaces. He's been a pioneer in advancing success for underrepresented minorities.

You can catch the full conversation on the podcast for the whole story, but here are some nuggets of wisdom he shared during our conversation that will help you navigate white-dominated spaces in your career.

Don’t try to blend in.

When Glenn attended college, he realized that he was markedly different from a lot of his peers. He was black at a primarily white institution, and he knew that blending in and fitting in was never going to be an option for him. So instead of trying to fit the mold, he made the choice to step out and create something new.

Being visible is nerve-wracking, but his advice was to consider the long-term goal. Moving up in the world requires standing out, so don't shy away from being bold.

Don't let people write you off.

In addition to his impressive academic credentials, Glenn is a bodybuilder and an all-around tall guy, so when he was in college a lot of people assumed he was just there for the sports. In reality, the sports he participated in were a secondary pursuit. His focus was on his academics, but people wrote him off anyway.

Know that people might make assumptions about you in your workplace, but remember your bigger-picture goal. What you look like isn't the thing that defines where you're going.

SWOT method

Glenn's a businessman, and one thing he learned in studying business is how to do a SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This process is great for evaluating business opportunities, but it's equally powerful when you're reflecting on your own growth.

If you find yourself in a workplace that requires you to level up, or in a place that is challenging you, perform a SWOT analysis on your own goals and behavior.

What are you good at? What do you need to improve upon? What are the available advancement opportunities, and are there any pitfalls in your way? Assess yourself from the perspective of a business merger and see where you can take things to the next level.

Release what doesn't serve you.

In predominantly white workplaces, you're going to get a lot of input from people who don't understand you or your experiences. Microaggressions, snide comments, pushback, and doubt are an unfortunate reality. Glenn has a great technique that he uses before he goes to sleep every night: he purges everything that doesn't serve him from his mind.

He runs a reel of his day back in his mind and consciously releases everything that doesn't help him or support his brand, and he keeps the good stuff that helps him grow and improve. Don't hold onto the negativity or the useless information and feedback that isn't moving you forward.

If you need help identifying your game-plan for getting to the next level in your career, let’s connect. Click here to put a one-on-one with me on your calendar.

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