DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently started a new job, and I am the only African American person in the entire workplace. I don't know how to feel or what to expect because this is the first time I've been the only minority at my place of work. I'm not sure if I should even pay attention to it or if I should keep my guard up. While I don't want to be at work with a negative perspective, I can tell that most of the employees are a little shocked that I got this position. Some are masking it by being overly nice. Can you give me some tips on how to be comfortable in an environment where no one looks like me? -- Stand Out
DEAR STAND OUT: Even today, in 2019, there are many work environments that are not diverse. As in your case, believe it or not, there are still workplaces where someone can be the “first” person to diversify the workforce. Naturally, that can feel awkward -- for you and for the other employees. Rather than being self-conscious, hunker down and do your job. Figure out what success looks like in your company. Find out what the markers are for being a stellar employee and fulfilling the requirements of your job, and do your best to be excellent.
You will also need to build rapport with your co-workers. Go slowly on this front. Be a keen observer. Notice what my mother calls “the bright lights in the room.” Who stands out for you as a friendly, welcoming person? Befriend those people first. Also, take note of anyone who seems to dislike you. Keep those people in your peripheral vision so that you are aware of any efforts they might make to derail you. Stay the course. Believe in yourself. Hone your skills when needed. Ask questions of your supervisor. Demonstrate that you have the abilities and desire to be in that role.