I graduated from university over 15 months ago and have been working for a large majority of this in the corporate environment. In just this short amount of time, I have been able to build incredible connections, learn many invaluable lessons and grow substantially as a person.
However, acting corporate (a pattern of behaviour which exists completely in its own space to acting professional) is not a skill I have yet been able to fully comprehend or perfect. For me personally, I did not have access to an abundance of people who were able to forewarn or advise me on how to navigate myself in the corporate world, hence all lessons I have learnt have been a result of my doings.
In addition, being young and BAME in the corporate environment adds its own complication as you are never sure which aspects of your culture you can reveal, or which must be suppressed as they are not deemed acceptable for the workplace.
For those of you furiously rejecting the previous paragraph, before you start your witch-hunt and label this piece a combative piece against the corporate world. This blog has nothing to do with the ever-so-present “R” word but rather the culture shock faced by young, BAME workers in the corporate world. Therefore, delete that passive aggressive comment you began to type, have a cup of tea and enjoy.
I remember early on in my career sitting in a meeting with my manager who turned to say “ X, you are a wonderful person and we all want you to do well here, however in order to do so we need you to voice your opinion more”. This was alien to me, because alongside having a closed off personality, I grew up in an African household which implemented the regime of “don’t speak when the elders are around”. In most instances to avoid being labelled as disrespectful in case I slipped a contrasting opinion, I always left the room when adults were speaking. This is something have carried with me going forward, and to this day I still feel uncomfortable challenging perceived senior authority.
On the other hand, this is not a blanketing opinion as I know many people from a similar background who have no issue with challenging and asserting opinions in the workplace. To all the people that have been able to unlearn/ balance the struggles of these previous teaching with their work life balance, well done! However, to those who are still struggling, we are in this together and my advice is trust in your capability and slowly this will have an impact. For me to feel as comfortable as possible being myself in a corporate setting, there are some codes and principles I try to apply in my day to day life at work and below are a few pointers:
- Step outside your comfort zone
Let your manager and members of your team (who you feel comfortable sharing your development needs with) know these are the areas you would like to improve. i.e. public speaking and try and be part of projects that’s require using these skills.
- Let everyone know what you are working on!
Independent people, I know this is a killer but in corporate environments, please let everyone know what you are working on when possible. While you may know progress of the project you are working on, if this is not communicated to other stakeholders this leaves space for questions. Key phrase – no update, is still an update! So, let people know even if there are any blockers. Make sure to (copy) Cc all relevant people in emails. While it is good to have verbal, confirmation make sure you have email correspondence verifying what you are doing in case this is flagged up on a future occasion.
- Speak up
Let the relevant people know, if you become unhappy with a series of events, have some career concerns or feel like work being assigned to you is not developing you.
- Take on external projects
Give yourself value in your company, make it known you are trying to improve this particular aspect for the company. Set yourself a target to work on 3 new things each year. If you are unsure, ask people around the role for ways you could improve or
automate the work process. Trust me this will pay dividends when it comes to mid or end of year review.
- Never stop networking
It does not matter if they are the CEO or a member of the opposing firm if you strike up a conversation with someone you find valuable try and exchange contact details when possible.
- Keep working
Getting a role does not mean your work ethic should dip, making strides in your career requires hard work.