Posted August 16, 2021 by Mark Perna
A leading career coach shares how you can embrace your uniqueness in the workforce—and leverage it to advance your career. Mark’s article, “4 Strategies For Diverse Professionals To Fast-Track Their Career Wins,” published at Forbes.com on August 10, 2021.
In recent years, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have vaulted to become a top-of-mind issue for companies everywhere. And while things are trending in a positive direction, many workplaces still have a long way to go before everyone sees different as good.
What’s encouraging, says CareerHigher founder and director Andy Agouridis, is that even while companies make progress in DEI, workers from non-traditional backgrounds can leverage their uniqueness as an asset in today’s workplace.
Agouridis, who was born in Greece and moved to the UK to earn his master’s degree, has experienced these hurdles firsthand. “Belonging to a minority can be challenging, no matter if it’s where you came from, your skin color or your sexual orientation,” he says. “Listening to a group of peers talking about their common background and wanting to participate without having anything to say is a strange feeling.”
Agouridis, who coaches professionals from all backgrounds and industries to achieve their career goals, offers four practical steps that can fast-track career wins for individuals who come from under-represented groups.
Research shows us that prioritizing diversity and inclusion is not only the right thing to do ethically, but also good business. While employers have started understanding this, sometimes diverse professionals don’t. “Discrimination has been a real thing for far too long,” says Agouridis. “If you belong to a minority, it’s important to shift your mindset to see this as a strength, not a weakness.”
Once you’ve made this mental adjustment, you can then tailor your pitch to communicate the immense value you bring to the table. Don’t forget: You can’t shift an employer’s mindset about your unique contribution unless you’ve shifted your own.
Agouridis likens applying for a job to taking part in a competition where the most relevant person is offered the role. Alongside your qualifications, your relevance can depend largely on understanding the employer’s requirements and helping them see how you fulfil them. “Belonging in a minority can be considered a plus, but only if you help your audience understand this,” he says.
Agouridis says that if you’re a graduate or junior professional, you have to start by understanding how the job market works. “This is the most important step to success, especially if you don’t come from a background that has already prepared you accordingly,” he says.
Then, research your target industry, employers of choice and jobs. Networking can help you connect with people from your target audience and get information from insiders. “Remember, most people want to help,” says Agouridis, “especially if you go to them prepared and find a way to reciprocate.”
As you create your resume and prepare for interviews, make sure you act according to the requirements of your target geography, industry and employer. Your job search—and research—should be strategic. “Everyone loves an underdog once they understand that they deserve a chance,” says Agouridis.
According to a recent report by Tallo, only 38% of Gen-Z members feel that American workplaces are truly diverse, equitable and inclusive. As companies work to attract top talent, it can be hard to tell if their DEI talking points actually reflect company culture. So how do you uncover the truth? “Candidates can start by checking an employer’s website, however, this is not enough by itself,” warns Agouridis.
Agouridis says you should look for interesting stats, like representation of different groups in the executive office. “Check reviews from past and current employees to understand the culture better,” he says. “Even better, speak with people who work with the employer and ask them whether it’s a place where people can be themselves.
“Lastly, if you get an interview, make sure to discuss with the hiring manager and gauge their take on DEI.”
Whether from personal experience or secondhand accounts, many diverse workers feel that their capacity for success is correlated with their ability to “fit in.” “The first and most important step to succeed in your career as part of a minority is to understand that you face these challenges due to your background, not because it’s your fault,” says Agouridis. “Once you do this, you can stay true to yourself by embracing your differences more fully.”
What many under-represented workers don’t fully realize is that their uniqueness is actually an asset to their employer. “You should start thinking about how you can use your differences to help an employer,” says Agouridis. “It’s important to try and understand how your target audience thinks so that you can showcase your ability to bring a fresh perspective.
“As you do this, don’t lose your personality—stay true to who you are.”
If you’re an employer working to enhance DEI in your organization, where do you start? It’s all about your reasons, says Agouridis. “Companies should see DEI not only as a means to improve business but also as something they genuinely want to do,” he says.
Once you’ve settled your motivation, it’s time to get practical. “If you are serious about DEI as an employer, hire a DEI leader. Start by asking your workforce for input on how you can be more inclusive. Consider external data on how other businesses have created a diverse workplace, too. Then, invest in making the required changes.”
Remember, DEI is not just something to check a box and promote your company to potential candidates. “It’s about an ongoing effort, where you continuously inform, educate and motivate your people to create a workplace where anyone can be themselves,” says Agouridis. “Then, you can attract the top talent globally and reap the rewards.”
Of course, it’s not just diverse candidates who are looking for a company that treats all employees as equals regardless of their personal characteristics. “Most people prefer an inclusive and fair work culture,” says Agouridis. “The only difference is that candidates from a traditional background may not have thought about DEI-related issues as much, as they are not directly affected by them.”
Agouridis believes that while DEI initiatives are improving workplace cultures across the country, it’s going to take time until this transformation is complete. And even then, it may not be flawless. “Group thinking is a human tendency, which means that unfortunately minorities may always have to try a bit harder to achieve their goals.”
As we work to create a better and fairer future for all employees, recent social action has shown that we are moving in the right direction. “More importantly, it has shown that we want to make things right, no matter where we come from,” says Agouridis. “Things are far from perfect, but we’ll get there!”