What it’s like being a minority in the workplace
It can be tough to navigate an environment when you’re feeling vrou-alleen in your place of work. In a recent piece, a reader spoke about what it’s like being the only black woman in the office.
From dealing with aircon issues, to the way people to respond to her whenever she changes her hair, the various quirks and differences she talks about provides us with a fascinating insight into what it’s like when there are glaring cultural differences that are sometimes amusing, and sometimes frustrating.
In response to this piece, some of our readers have shared their own experiences when it comes to being a minority in the workplace (Note: submissions have been edited for the sake of length and clarity):
Thank you for the beautiful article. It makes sense so much, and I can relate to most of the things mentioned.
One or two things that I can add is the salary issue. I know this is not "proven" and that we’re not allowed to discuss our salary, but most whites earn much better than any other race even if they are your junior or doing the same duties as someone who isn’t white.
Whites are "allowed" to attend their kids school functions, sports games and so forth – it’s actually understandable - but not for blacks.
We also have kids that play soccer, volleyball and chess and yes we would like to support them too so that they can represent Mzansi in the Olympics. Fake smiles, they are very evil and scary.
Crime affects us all. Just because it's "done" by our fellow brothers doesn't mean we don’t get affected. It disgusts us as much it does to everyone. Oh, and dressing for the office Christmas parties, themes like Batman and Spiderman are very childish.
I am a white Afrikaner male working in an office mostly comprised of white colleagues, yet I am a minority at work. Even though the two black colleagues, who are seen to be the sole representatives of the diversity in the office, are far outnumbered by their white counterparts, they too, in this case, form part of the majority.
Why? Well, they are all Christian while I am an atheist.
I cannot be completely certain of this, but I suspect my coming out as an atheist will in all likelihood negatively influence the professional relationship I currently share with everyone in the office. To be sure, it would probably also ruin any chance I have of moving up the chain of command. I prefer such personal beliefs to remain personal in the work environment, but this weekly ritual already nullifies that principle.
My hope still lies in the chance that the faithful majority come to realize the presumptuousness of their position and decide, for the sake of all, to abandon this exclusory practice. If not from common sense allegiance to secular values, then only to at least try and be more professional.
I'm Indian and work in Pretoria.
1. So where in Durban are you from ?
Not all Indians in SA are born in Durban
2. What discount can you offer me?
It's assumed that all Indians are born with discount stamped somewhere on them.
3. Make a plan and all man.
It is a common misconception that all Indians are magicians.
4. When are you cooking us some lekker hot kerrie?
An insult really, most supermarkets stock Indian cuisine ingredients.
5. Why don't you Indians play rugby?
Indians will not subject themselves to contact sports. Cricket and chess are more our thing. Anyway what is point of injury?
As I read the previous article, I know all too well what it means to not only be the only black but at my previous company I was 1 of 2 blacks, the only female and the youngest in the building by almost 2 decades.
While at my current company the gender gap has been significantly decreased (only female in the department).
I'm still the only black person. I have however become used to it but there is definitely zero chill when it comes to the air conditioning.
No matter how cold it is outside, it is freezing in the office and guess who sits next to the air con? Me.
I have been told on many occasions that I do not sound black at all right after the "I'm not racist or anything but". I never know how to respond to that, my favourite though is being called a "diluted black" because I'm not as loud or like what is viewed as "white things"
What I would like other races to know, especially whites is:
1. Just because I'm black, it doesn't mean I know why other people do the things they do.
2. Crime happens to ALL races.
3. I am not as sensitive about being black as you think I am. Don't feel shy about saying black. If you’re going to say something, say it and own it.
With that being said. Let’s all embrace each other.
Not currently, but in 2007, while working, living and making my presence felt in the construction industry in Dubai, I suffered a very debilitating stroke which almost killed me.
Obviously, being paralysed for 6 months had its own set of challenges and suddenly, coming back to SA, having just re-learned how to stand and walk again, came with difficulties.
My stellar CV landed me a job with a decent company in SA. The smiling HR manager was very interested in my career thus far and made the right "uh-hum" noises as I answered questions.
Suddenly, when I realised that I the possibility of getting the job was, the realisation hit me that I’d have to negotiate the 17 painstakingly counted stairs downward again.
The HR manager's face stiffened.
He was not in the boardroom when you battled my way into the boardroom. Needless to say I was told that I had the job "If I wanted it".
Well, I took it and seven years later, many promotions later, I am glad to say that I resigned. l will make a success elsewhere. A drop foot NEVER meant that I was or am stupid.