If you would have told me in my twenties that I’d make my career in the Diversity and Inclusion space, I would’ve been quite surprised. Back then, I thought I wanted to be a marketing and PR guru that would take over the world—my dreams were big, my energy was unstoppable. But over the course of many years, I was thrown for a loop.
At one employer, I was passed over for a promotion and was told that my lack of experience was the reason. But I knew the chosen candidate didn’t have the educational equivalent or years of professional experience that I did. At another, I found myself in several degrading situations. I was asked to play a maid as part of a skit during a team meeting, and the following year I experienced sexual harassment from a male colleague. While the company handled both situations sufficiently, I noticed that fewer opportunities to participate came my way, and I was again passed over for a promotion.
These events were confusing, humiliating and ultimately damaging to my confidence. I wondered if the real reason was because I was a black woman in white and male-dominated industries, or because I didn’t have the right connections to appeal to the decision makers. Most likely, a bit of both.
I was devastated.
Over the next 15 years of my career, there were certainly times of success, but I would again experience some very challenging workplace situations.
I began asking myself questions of which I had previously been so confident in the answers. Do others see me as intelligent? Am I a competent employee? Are my passions even worth pursuing?
As a result, I began to shrink. Shrinking is more than just a reaction to a professional setback, or early career disillusionment; it is a questioning of your full personhood, a frustration with the seemingly impenetrable barriers before you and a gut-punch to your resiliency.
When I realized I was in fact shrinking, I did everything in my power to grow. I knew there was still a spark in me. My light had been dimming, but it wasn’t gone. I work every day to kindle that spark, and turn it into a flame.
I used my experience to find my passion. Those not-so-great moments in my twenties were the catalyst of making my career in Diversity and Inclusion. At inQUEST, we strive to live and practice D&I each day–with our clients, communities and one another. We are constantly checking in to be sure we all feel welcomed, valued, heard and supported. And if we don’t, we work to do something about it.
I honor my story.
One part of shrinking is feeling like your own experience may be invalid. I remind myself by writing about it, speaking about it and empathizing with others in similar situations. It can be tough, terrifying and seem antithetical to reminisce on these experiences, but I’m doing so in the hopes of releasing the power I’ve given these experiences over the years.
I remember that I’m not alone.
In a casual discussion with some of my girlfriends, they shared they too have experienced this feeling. Some of them have had similar workplace experiences and others cite mansplaining, code switching, feeling like an outsider and even feeling invisible for reasons they are still finding their way back. No matter your gender, race or background, many of us have or are currently experiencing shrinking. Building a community of support can help to rise above it.
I challenge myself, and know my limitations.
What does that look like? I’m sharing ideas in spaces that I normally wouldn’t. I’m exploring ways I can do my job better and differently. I’m working with a life coach. I’m asking for help when I need it. And I’m proactively voicing when I am (and am not) the best fit for a certain task.
Two decades after entering the working world, I’m still trying to regain my confidence and voice. There are parts of my early experience that will always affect me, but I do everything in my power to grow, instead of shrink.