The Answer Starts Within


There are constant calls from many self-help career advisors for a more assertive and aggressive attitude at work in the advancement of one’s career. The idea is that, especially for women and for those who are members of minority ethnic or racial groups such behavior is essential to getting ahead. But is this really a smart path to follow? Accepting such a belief couples the myth of confrontational necessity with the myth of an ambition gap. Those who support this argument continually point to statistics such as the low percentages of women and members of various minority groups in high leadership positions. However, the seeds for that imbalance were planted forty or fifty years ago; today an observer of current young people entering the business world can see that there is little such directed imbalance, and that in the US and other democracies of the West, opportunities based on merit are truly the norm. Competition in business today, heightened by the interdependency of our global economy, make active discrimination a very expensive proposition. Nowadays those who perform are rewarded, and those who do not are neither promoted nor well-paid.

If anything the human crisis in business today when it comes to personnel is what role the below-average employee will play. Years ago under-performing but well-meaning people could often remain gainfully employed, as companies felt some duty to provide a livelihood, especially as less competitive environments permitted them to control price levels and protect profit margins. Lack of technology then also allowed for a multitude of menial, easily-supervised tasks which could be performed by the less capable but which are now done by machines or software. Today, the idea that businesses can afford to allow attitudes toward work from decades ago to hold sway is not realistic; a business that did so with any consistency would risk becoming uncompetitive and be likely to falter.

The unfortunate part of the females/minorities statistical imbalance message is that it plays to people’s stereotypes and prejudices and thereby gains popularity. It breeds a lonely separatism. Coworkers can be transformed into suspicious factions, rather than potential allies. It ignores the real and most hopeful truth of business: that more people have an incentive to help your career than to harm it.

Of course it is possible that you may be the victim of a specific bias on a micro level. Such things do happen, and unfortunately more often than they should. Your age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, social background, looks or personal style might be held against you by another individual or a group of people within a larger business. In that event looking within yourself to identify, cultivate and share your best remains your essential task. Thinking about anything else only serves as an unnecessary distraction, and it is crucial to always remember that unnecessary distractions only slow you down. Instead of overtly or silently taking on the fear and burden of bias, manage the process. See and understand where your strengths and value-laden abilities may best be shared. If you do so relentlessly you will be noticed; many others besides those fostering the bias will observe and report on your capability.

The practice of identify/cultivate/share will lead to increased chances for success and fulfillment in your career. Promotions, raises, and new job offers come when others, and you may not even know in advance who those others will be, see and recognize the positive things you do and the best attributes you manifest. In addition, as a philosophy and belief it is re-affirming; the more you make it your primary career faith, the faster you will reap the benefits through your own productivity and sense of accomplishment.