“If you go into labeling and blaming, they just feel
like you’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” says
Brigid Moynahan, president and CEO of Montclair,
N.J.–based The Next Level. “Problem is, we assume
bias before we find out if it is bias.”
2 Research how others are treated.
Do not go to other executives and ask if they’ve
experienced similar problems. That comes across as
rumor-mongering and implants the behavior you’re
asking about in their heads.
“When you don’t have any tangible evidence, you
shouldn’t engage anyone else,” says Young.
Once executives check with others, they’ll likely
find that the negative behavior is not directed at them
personally but is a pattern of behavior. Learning that
allows an executive to further depersonalize the slight
and deal with it objectively.
“Look for an objective assessment of what people
are doing that does not depend on the possibility
of interpersonal forgetfulness,” says Rowe. “I’ve
known a nontraditional person who thought that
recognition of nontraditional people was overlooked.
Instead of complaining, they arranged for the meeting to be videotaped. Suppose I’m the only brown-skinned person in meetings and over time I begin to
think I get passed over in meetings. Suppose I could
keep a video record of meetings where job responsibilities are handed out or reports made. Often, that
objective evidence tells the story.”
3Keep a personal log.
Sometimes these slights are based on stereotypes. For example, the executive who has a disability
is overlooked for promotions because the supervisor
remembers the person’s disability before remembering the person’s accomplishments.
“So it is extremely important for the employee
who feels they’ve been underrated to make sure that
they can present a whole slew of facts, a detailed
write-up or a detailed memo to show what they’ve
accomplished throughout the year,” says Marc
Bendick Jr., principal of Bendick and Egan Economic
“When I’ve asked supervisors of minority employees the [executive of color’s] level of education,
they always remembered too little education,” says
Bendick. “When decision-making time comes, the outgroup employee had better actively fight the effect by
presenting accomplishments in writing.”
Rowe agrees, saying that a personal log of accomplishments can serve as an objective assessment.
“Keeping a log will show it,” says Rowe. “Lists are
4Be the best performer.
Make sure you’re the best performer, especially
if you’re a person from a traditionally underrepresented group.
“If I’m the best performer, then over time I’m likely
to be treated with more and more respect,” says Rowe.
“In most modern organizations, if you’re the best
performer, you’re well protected. I’ve known women of
color, white women, LGBTs and others who have decided that the sturdiest way … is to be the best performer
in the unit,” says Rowe. “If you know someone who was
in a difficult place and became the best performer, then
one finds he or she has understood exactly what the
job is, what good performance is and how to get there.
It’s harder for that person to get derailed because they
understand the system around them.”
5Educate the boss.
The time has come to approach the boss, but
don’t ambush her. After you have increased your performance or kept a log for a while and observed others
experiencing similar slights, ask for an appointment
with your supervisor, says Bendick.
“Point out to the boss why there is concern. If an
employee starts to complain … it’s more likely [that]
the boss won’t realize this is part of a bigger concern.
The boss probably perceives himself as being neutral
and unbiased, even though he isn’t.”
Make sure your critique is not personal but
covers the behavior. Start talking about the supervisor’s strengths.
“When giving feedback, first find something you
value in the relationship and the person,” says
Moynahan. “So say what is important, such as, ‘The
work we do together is very important and I value
your input.’ Then you critique the behavior and reveal
how you respond to the behavior. And be specific
about the goal to connect and do better work.”
If in your discussions with other employees you
learn that others experience the same slights, you can
suggest that a training program is instituted or further
developed to include what respect means, says Rowe.
“If everyone went through active-listening classes
once a quarter … people would treat each other respectfully,” says Rowe.