The perils of being the only one person with a particular background at job
Thanks to advancements in the diversity and inclusion policies, adopted now by many companies and public organizations alike, there are people from different backgrounds joining the workforce. But sometimes being the first person with a particular background means being the only one, which can turn out to be rather stressful experience.
The feeling of exhaustion that comes from being the only person of a particular identity in an environment is known as representation burnout. It is particularly strong, if an employee comes from a marginalized background and feels that they need to double or even triple their efforts to be accepted as equal. It may come with a pressure to speak and act on behalf of the community. The feeling of otherness can be accentuated by the colleagues, who try to do their best to be inclusive but just don’t know what to do and are guided by assumptions and prejudice. Or they try to learn more and end up asking unwelcome questions.
Below are some tips you may use to protect yourself from representational burnout:
- Find your safe place, where you can be yourself among like-minded people or people with similar life experience to move focus from being the only one in the room to the communication with friends.
- Set the boundaries. If you know that questions from colleagues or a particular work situation is going to stress you, you have the right not to engage in conversation. You don’t have to explain yourself and you are not an outreach program to educate people about race, gender or identity.
- Rely on allies – knowing that there are people who can stand up for you is a huge support in moments of high-stress.
- Stay away from the news, at least for a while. The world is not equal – sad but true. Disengaging from news about life’s horrors and tragedies from disempowerment of women even in Western countries to attacks on queer people doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means that you need time for self-care.
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