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What is Marginalization?

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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