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In the last post, we covered the definition of marginalization and tactical examples of how to recognize it. This time we'll discuss steps you can take if you're experiencing marginalization in order to get yourself out of the margins and back into the mainstream.

As a quick summary, the way marginalization manifests in the workplace includes but is not limited to exclusion (the act of being left out of decision-making processes, social gatherings, or opportunities for advancement), microaggressions (subtle, often unintentional acts of discrimination against marginalized groups), underrepresentation (when groups of particular demographics hold fewer positions in leadership, key projects, or company initiatives even though they hold a significant percentage of the broader population e.g, the employee, customer, or community base), tokenism (when someone is included just for show, without genuine regard for one's contributions or perspectives), and stereotyping (when someone is unfairly generalized based on characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability status).

The affects of marginalization can impact individuals, communities, and organizations with symptoms ranging from lowered self-esteem, confidence, and well-being, decreased engagement and productivity, policies about marginalized groups rather than in their best interests, high turnover rates, and company-wide negative publicity and reputation damage.

A bunch of apples with the words, "Even in the most progressive companies, one bad apple in leadership can create a toxic environment, so it's not unusual to be afraid of retaliation, lack confidence in HR, or lack trust in management especially when that's the source of your marginalization."

Tactics for when you're being marginalized

If you're being marginalized and are actively looking for help, the likelihood of getting it can vary depending on several factors, including the organizational culture, the effectiveness of existing support mechanisms, and the responsiveness of those in positions of authority. Even in the most progressive companies, one bad apple in leadership can create a toxic environment, so it's not unusual to be afraid of retaliation, lack confidence in HR, or lack trust in management especially when that's the source of your marginalization. It's up to you to decide what feels safe for your personal situation. To address a toxic marginalization cycle, here are tactics you can try:

Self-advocacy and documentation - Speak up and keep a detailed record of what you're experiencing, including dates, times, and specifics, as evidence when addressing concerns with management or HR. Depending on the situation, who the perpetrators are, and the level of gaslighting in effect, your results may vary, but keeping a record can help you to stop internalizing the messages you're receiving so your self-confidence stays intact. It can also be helpful evidence in litigation proceedings if your self-advocacy efforts result in illegal retaliation.

Seek supportive community - Connect with allies, employee resource groups, or HR representatives who may be able to provide support and guidance. If those efforts aren't helping, look outside of your employer to find a supportive community that shares your experience and perspective. Seeking out and building social support can reduce the feelings of exclusion. They can also help to build meaningful relationships, mentorship, sponsorship, and networks that are crucial for career advancement and professional success.

Seek healthcare and preventative services - There is a very real toll on your well-being when you are marginalized, especially over time. Seek physical and mental healthcare for stress related concerns such as an increased risk of mental health issues and chronic conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disorders.

Seek different employment - When your access to career advancement opportunities is negatively affected, it can lead to feelings of frustration, disillusionment, and a sense of being trapped in your current position. If your efforts to address being marginalized are in vain and the environment feels toxic, you may want to look for a different role (whether in a different department, region, or company).

The effect of marginalization in the workplace can have profound impact on your well-being, career trajectory, and overall quality of life. These are some steps you can take, depending on your situation, to mitigate those harmful effects.

You are your own strongest ally and advocate, so listen to your instinct and do your best to not internalize those negative messages and feelings from causing you more harm. You are worthy, you are capable, and you deserve to find an environment where you can thrive and reach your full potential.

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Here's this week's Friday journal reflection prompt: Reflect on a time when you may have inadvertently contributed to feelings of marginalization or exclusion within your team or organization. How did you become aware of this impact, and what steps did you take to address it? What have you learned from this experience, and how can you apply these insights to actively promote inclusivity, equity, and belonging in your leadership approach moving forward?

Journaling prompts can help you set aside dedicated time in your routine for reflection. If Fridays don't work for you, save it for a different day, depending on your preference and availability.

A number of weights on a table, with the words, "Reflect on a time when you may have inadvertently contributed to feelings of marginalization. How did you become aware of this impact, and what steps did you take to address it?"

Not sure how to get started with a journaling prompt?

First, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can focus without distractions. Approach your journaling with honesty and authenticity. Be open to acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. By embracing vulnerability, it can lead to significant growth and development.

Want to take it a step further? Based on your reflections, identify areas for improvement and set actionable goals for growth. These goals should enable you to track your progress over time. Periodically review past journal entries to track your growth and identify recurring patterns or themes. Reflecting on your progress allows you to celebrate successes and learn from challenges.

Reflective journaling can be a powerful tool for self-improvement and skill development. Come along on this journey and share your thoughts below!

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Marginalization is when individuals experience barriers based on their identity, background, or circumstances, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, religion, or immigration status.

It's common for marginalization to be unintentional, a byproduct of unconscious bias or systemic conditions rather than thought-out actions. Regardless, there are serious negative consequences possible in terms of access to opportunities as well as people's psychological, emotional, and physical health.

This isn't about "playing the victim". Rather, it's about taking responsibility for recognizing the signs that this could be happening so you have the capacity and awareness to see it for what it is, potentially address it (if the situation is safe to do so), and stop the vicious cycle of questioning yourself and your capabilities.

What might marginalization look like?

Maybe you use a wheelchair and you weren't invited to a team event because the venue isn't wheelchair accessible.

Maybe you're a queer leader and your manager holds meetings to discuss key decisions about your team's projects and work but excludes you from those sessions.

A bunch of oranges, with the words, "Maybe you're a queer leader and your manager holds meetings to discuss key decisions about your projects and work, but excludes you from those sessions."

Maybe your company implemented a new RTO policy without consulting with or considering employees who are caretakers and others who require flexible working arrangements.

Maybe you're a Brazilian immigrant and in meetings, others talk over you, then repeat your ideas and take credit for them.

Maybe your company consistently promotes employees based on subjective criteria such as "fit" with the existing team and you're a trans person who keeps getting passed over as "not a fit".

Maybe you're a person over 50 and your manager commented on your appearance, saying you look "surprisingly young" today.

Maybe you work for a company that has a pattern of scheduling important company events during non-Christian holidays.

Maybe you're a neurodiverse person and you've expressed interest in a leadership role, but you keep getting passed over for promotion in favor of less qualified, neurotypical colleagues.

Maybe you're a non-native language speaker and one of your team members repeatedly interrupts and talks over you, assuming you can't express yourself.

Maybe you're a Black woman and your coworker commented on how "articulate" you are.

Maybe you're a woman and your male coworkers and manager always volunteer you to do the "glue" or "housekeeping work" like taking notes, ordering lunch, setting up meetings, and dealing with all the little things leaving you little time for the type of work that's considered promotable.

Maybe you were appointed to an organization's board of directors as the sole AAPI member, but you aren't empowered in decision-making processes.

Data compiled by CultureAlly from 2016 shows:

  • Between 11%-28% of lesbian, gay and bisexual employees lost a promotion due to their sexual orientation (Center for American Progress)

  • 27% of transgender employees were fired, not hired or denied a promotion (Center for American Progress)

  • About 42% of American women reported discrimination at work due to their gender (Pew Research Center)

  • In the United States, 42% of employees have experienced or witnessed racism at work (Glassdoor)

With the current political climate promoting the marginalization of LGBTQIA+ folks, the corporate backlash against DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging) programs, and the humanitarian crises happening globally that disproportionately affect disenfranchised groups, it seems unlikely the data will be improving in the near future.

What can you do when you feel marginalized?

When you're experiencing marginalization, it's not uncommon to try to maintain a professional demeanor and, in the process, internalize your negative feelings and wonder if you're the problem. Next week, I'll talk through some approaches you could take, whether you're feeling stuck in your role, invalidated, isolated, experiencing low self-confidence, imposter syndrome, anxiety, or a lack of engagement.

The most important thing to note is that you're not alone. We are stronger when we stand together.

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