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Getting out of the margins

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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