Diversity Mirror

The Role of Diversity in Overcoming the Mirrored Wall Syndrome

Much has been written over the years about the issue of “glass ceilings” and “sticky floors” relative to the issue of employment diversity. Both concepts address the employment barriers that many minority workers face once they enter the workforce. Often times, these individuals are hired as a result of targeted recruitment efforts, but they face employment challenges in their attempts to move up the employment ladder.

Minority advancement within the workplace is often hindered by a variety of factors which range from a lack of mentoring and employment development opportunities to illegal discriminatory employment practices. Many minorities often face isolation when hired into nontraditional positions and are denied, sometimes intentionally, substantive employment development that allows them to learn the company culture or become privy to information that will allow them to move up the ranks.

On the opposite extreme are recruitment efforts that result in minority workers being placed in departments or positions that over the years have become known as “minority positions.” An example of minority position placement often occurs in such departments as community relations, human resources specifically overseeing diversity and affirmative action practices, administrative assistants, employment benefits, and most recently, employee wellness programs.

When there is a lack of minorities in certain departments or when it becomes known that minorities have never been hired into certain positions, it has the effect of dissuading minorities from applying for these positions, thus creating what I call the “mirrored wall” effect. Employment decisions driven by the mirrored walls effect tend to cause people to gravitate toward positions where there are others who look like them. They avoid seeking positions or promotions where they will be the “first” or only.

Diversity-focused retention, development, and promotion strategies are the only ways to not only overcome the impact of mirrored walls but to also shatter glass ceilings and clean up sticky floors. Employers who demonstrate a commitment to diversity ensure that minorities are not only recruited but are provided with employment opportunities that support their growth throughout the company.

In order to break through barriers to minority advancement in the workplace, diversity efforts must be driven by goals that specifically target minority workers to ensure that mentorships, coaching, and other development practices are equally available to minorities while also ensuring that such efforts do not turn into quotas.

The mirrored wall effect is a real problem in America’s workplace and is often overlooked. On the surface, the problem appears employee driven; companies escape blame by relying on a common response – “ no minorities applied” – when questioned about the lack of diversity in certain positions or departments. However, companies that are truly committed to diversity will seek to make opportunities not only available to all employees but will also foster a climate that is supportive and encouraging to minorities to become engaged and involved.

Overcoming the mirrored wall effect is not totally left up to the employer; the following are ways that you can avoid hindering your career by not falling victim to mirrored walls:

  1. Become a Trailblazer. Yes, it’s easy to follow a path that others have carved out for you, but it’s more rewarding when you make your own path. Don’t be afraid to be the first.
  2. Don’t Fear Success. Sometimes it’s easy to talk our self out of going after success when often it’s our fear of failure. If you are prepared, go for it.
  3. Ignore Negativity. Others may try to talk you out of pursuing a certain promotion, or position based on their lack of confidence, but you can’t base your decisions on the feelings of others. It may be fear, envy or jealousy that is driving them.
  4. Become the Best You. Take advantage of every opportunity to develop your skills and learn about the company. Spend additional time each day to also preparing for the job you want, while excelling in the one you have.
  5. Don’t Sabotage Your Success. Some career wounds are self-inflicted. Stay focused on your success and avoid making excuses for your failures. Do not be the reason for missed opportunities.

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