How Two Appalling Events Can Inspire Breakthrough

Recently, social media has been shaken up by two appalling events. First, a Chinese doctor was brutally dragged off a plane through no fault of his own. Second, a particularly insensitive commercial was released essentially mocking protesters in a year where women and the homosexual community globally rallied on several accounts to show solidarity in the face of violent oppression.


Being female and of Chinese descent, I’ve been a visible minority all of my life. Born and raised in the 70’s and 80’s in Canada, I was one of three Asian kids in my elementary. I was the only one in my school to wear glasses in grade 1. In high school, even though I sought out friends who looked like me, I was the only kid born in Canada to hang out with the Hongers (kids from Hong Kong). If you had passed us in the hall, you’d see a bunch of black-haired Asians yammering away in Cantonese, laughing and having a good time. What you didn’t see is how one of them was the butt of the jokes because she unknowingly misused a Cantonese slang. While referring to a second cousin, she inadvertently used a term that actually meant ‘dickhead’ in Cantonese. It’s not even all that funny when I look back.


Of course, this is nothing compared to some of the heinous events that have transpired throughout history. I’m happy to say I have been sheltered from such extreme marginalization. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for the men and women in history who sacrificed so much so that I can walk down the street in safety. I can enter a restaurant and not have to worry about being refused service for the color of my skin, or my gender. Don’t get me wrong. Discrimination is still alive and well. While humanity has progressed far forward, we still have a gaping hole to fill in this regard.


Photo Credit: Womens March


No One is Immune

Here’s the thing. No one is really immune to this. You don’t have to be a woman to feel marginalized. You don’t have to look like an immigrant to feel like an outsider. You don’t have to be the only boomer in a team of millennials to feel out of place. If you’re looking for a way to be ostracized, it’s easy to find one.
Though it’s a bit tongue in cheek, even the privileged white male can stick out like a sore thumb in the right circumstance. Case in point, there was a guy on my team who was the token Caucasian among an otherwise mosaic of different cultures and ethnicities. We often shared food from each other’s heritage most of which he’d never even heard of and was afraid to try. Inside, I’m thinking, “damn, you’re sheltered,” as the rest of us exchanged knowing glances of camaraderie. But you know you’re on a good team when everyone is still diplomatic and respectful to each other, despite our differences.


Winning Attributes

Obviously, it’s critically important to raise awareness for accepting people for who they are, however they are. As the Pepsi commercial so desperately tried to convey (and yet failed), acceptance is essential to building a good community. What I have discovered, however, is that it goes both ways. From an individual standpoint, it’s what you do with your individuality that matters. How are you playing the hand that was dealt to you?


Last week I was talking to my friend at a networking event about women in leadership positions. I’m sure you’re not completely surprised to hear that the percentage is embarrassingly small, especially in the utility sector. There might be several understandable reasons for this: Utilities is traditionally blue-collar, hence male oriented. Additionally, it’s not really an industry that appeals to a lot of women, as opposed to healthcare, or fashion. I’m not intelligent enough to accurately comment on why this is so.


Here’s the rub. It’s no surprise that men occupy most of the leadership positions in the world. But even further to this, there are certain attributes that can give you advantage. According to The, there is one attribute that most senior executives have in common in the US:

They are Tall?

Not freakishly tall. But Malcolm Gladwell discussed this in his book “Blink.” A third of Fortune 500 CEOs are at least over 6’2” tall. In fact, one Dr. Sheena Iyengar from Columbia University even translated that height advantage into a marginal income per inch. She calculated that men earn about 2.5% more per inch of height. Well, that’s just fabulous. Where does that leave the rest of us?


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I remember listening to a podcast where Gary Vaynerchuk (5’7”) transformed his dad’s wine business from 1 to $10 million in a ridiculously short stint of time. He mentioned half jokingly that he started his own business because, well, he wasn’t particularly tall. It was much more probable for him to start his own empire than to be hired to lead someone else’s. I totally agree with this philosophy, height or not. I’m the same way. For me, there would be no question but to build my own empire than to try to get hired to lead someone else’s. So if you’re tall, then goodie for you. Go and lead a company. For the rest of us, there’s something better in store: the entrepreneurial playground.


What About the Rest of us?

From an individual standpoint, and gender aside, I’m interested to know what you are doing to create leadership opportunities for yourself? What are you doing about your own career? It’s one thing to go on about how the world is unfair and how others get more privilege. It’s another to take things into your own hands and make it happen.


When I look at the folks who have achieved atypical feats in their career, despite being a member of the minority, I see a few commonalities. Almost every single one of these individuals exhibits the same two attributes. There are definitely more that I might go into later, but for now, let’s focus on these two:


1. Their Communication Skills are Impeccable

Everyone, I mean everyone who has gone far in their career, has a great command of whatever language is in their corporate environment. Usually, it’s English. But it could be French, Spanish, Arabic, or Mandarin depending on where you are the world. One thing’s for sure, if you can’t convey your message clearly, you look like an idiot. Nobody cares to see how smart, or how technically good you actually are if they have problems understanding you. Your true strengths remain hidden behind the barrier of communication.


If you want to advance in your career, if you want to be considered for leadership opportunity, there is one thing that you need to have: impeccable communication skills. By this, I mean both speaking and writing skills. Thankfully, this is trainable. The best thing you can do for yourself is to invest in your own communication skills. Anyone can get better. It’s one of the salient abilities that separate us from other animals. The problem is that no one cares to do so, especially in IT. Most IT folk are far too consumed in bettering their technical skills, learning the latest and greatest thing in the computing world. Everyone misses this simple thing. All it takes to better your communication is to read a little more. Write more. Speak more. Practice is the only way you will communicate more eloquently.


2. They are well liked, and well respected.

While there are definitely folks in leadership who are just plain asses, I’m telling you right now, it’s not sustainable. They’re broken. They got crapped on sometime in their life and they feel they need to crap on the next generation of corporate climbers. Somehow they think that they’re getting redeemed by perpetuating the cycle. Quite the contrary. True leaders are good people. They’re not pompous twits. People enjoy being around them. People enjoy following them. It’s not to say that they’re always the life of the party. It has nothing to do with whether or not you’re introverted or extroverted. It has to do with how great your EQ is. True leaders make people feel good about themselves when they’re around them. People want to reach higher, and do more because of their leadership influence.


Screw the Glass Ceiling. Create your own Skylight.

I, personally, have never wanted to climb the corporate ladder. One reason is that I’m actually not all that competitive. Another reason is that I don’t enjoy playing by someone else’s rules. It might stem from growing up with strict Asian parents. I was scared to go against authority. Now that I’ve grown up, I’m defiant. I’ve discovered via years of personal development that I can play by my own rules. I can make the rules. This is why I’m a contractor.
There are so many individuals who choose this path. Instead of fighting for leadership positions in the establishment, they break out on their own to create something great.

Don’t Wait for Luck to Find You

In my post last week “How to Get Lucky and Stay Lucky” one of the key traits of lucky people is that they can recognize opportunity and act on it. This, in my opinion, is hands down the most important thing you can do for yourself. If you want to break out from being marginalized, you don’t sit there and whine about it. Find opportunity. Act on it. Make it work for yourself. Every dog has his day. Be so good that they can’t ignore you.


I was interviewing Joe Gagliardi, FCPA, FCMA, ICD.D of Recruitment Partners recently. One of the questions I asked him was this: What are the top things someone can do to sail above the crowd? He said, “Pick something and be known for it. Whatever it is. Be that person whom everyone goes to for that one thing.” When you’re in an organization, it’s being that intrapreneur, as opposed to being the entrepreneur. But the fundamental is still the same. You make things happen. You are the source.



Related Post: How to Get Lucky and Stay Lucky


If you’re still not smelling what I’m cooking, let me give it to you plainly. Breaking out of being marginalized requires one thing. You are accountable to make things happen for yourself. So do it. Make it happen. Who cares what they think of women, colored people, gay people, short people, old people, young people? It matters not one iota. You are what matters. What you do to make sparks fly for yourself is the only thing that matters.

Also published on Medium.

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