I love this quote from the book “The Help”: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Reminding ourselves of these things is good, but what if others don’t recognize those traits in you?
Many people in businesses fly under the radar. They are the worker bees who keep things running with little to no fanfare. They show up on time, are pleasant to work with, and they get the job done. But if asked who the stars of the organization are, their names are not the ones normally mentioned.
Sometimes these workers choose to be almost invisible, but in many cases the person is neither seen nor taken seriously because of biases.
Take me, for example. In my first academic position I was the only woman in my department. I was also a short person and was the youngest in the department. Add my southern accent to the mix and I had four strikes against me. I was talked over, ignored, and summarily dismissed, so I sometimes felt invisible.
Although it was years before “The Help” was written, I knew I was kind, smart and important. I figured if the guys were going to underestimate me, that was their problem, not mine. I had confidence in my abilities and set goals that I achieved. I quietly got things done and one day they were a bit surprised, perhaps, that I was excelling. Although I’m normally not a shy, retiring wallflower, I sometimes felt that way for the first couple of years. I found my voice mostly through success.
To those of you who are still below the radar and not taken as seriously, can you embrace that attitude?
I could not convince people of my smarts and importance without realizing goals. Every person has inherent biases and, in the example above, women were few and far between in business schools, so the guys didn’t expect much of me. They had few role models of successful women business professors. So I cut them some slack.
Perhaps you are still helping break down barriers in your workplace. If there are few people like you, your role is to help educate your colleagues that you, too, are smart and important. Be a little patient, but don’t be a doormat. There’s a limit as to how much anyone should have to put up with.
If you’re a supervisor and notice that some of your staff are being dismissed or talked over, it’s your job to address it. I’m guessing that most of the people treating a person as invisible don’t even realize they are doing it. It’s your job to call their attention to it. You might have a one-on-one conversation or, if it’s more widespread, maybe it’s time to think about a team-building exercise to address it. But address it you should.
Now, when people underestimate me, I am OK with it. I know that they will be shocked when they realize that I can and will do more than they expect, and it’s kind of fun to see their reactions when it happens. Again, when people treat me this way, it’s a problem of theirs, not mine. But in today’s workplace, we should treat each colleague with the respect she deserves. Remember, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” And so is everyone else.