“Alan Henry doesn’t just illuminate the invisible barriers that often stand in the way of success—he shines a light on what you can do to break through them.”—Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife
For over twenty years, Alan Henry has written about using technology and productivity techniques to work and live better for publications such as Lifehacker, The New York Times, and Wired. But he found that as a Black man he didn’t have access to some of the more powerful ways to hack your job—like only checking email once a day or blocking out time on your calendar to do deep work. In fact, he found that even when he landed a prestigious title at the Times, there were moments when he was still overlooked and excluded from the most interesting and career-boosting work.
This led him to first explore these struggles in a Times piece titled “Productivity Without Privilege.” Now he goes even deeper, interviewing experts across multiple fields to come up with powerful tools to overcome the forces of marginalization. In Seen, Heard, and Paid, Henry shares the new work rules that may finally allow people of color, women, and LGBTQ+ folks to have the same access to career advancement and rewarding work as those with more privilege, including:
How to Be Seen: Only spend time on work that gets you attention.
How to Be Heard: Figure out your unique contribution.
How to Get Paid: Data is power and power is money.
Whether you’re dealing with microaggressions, trying to get the glamour work instead of the office housework, weighing the pluses and minuses of working remotely, or deciding it’s time to look for a new opportunity, Seen, Heard, and Paid will help you feel informed, supported, and empowered.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Inclusion Only Works If Everyone Buys In
The first rule of being seen, heard, and paid starts with understanding if you are being marginalized. For the sake of clarity, I’ll dispense with a few formalities right here. First of all, I’m not going to spend time proving to you that people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, people with disabilities, and other minority groups of all stripes, whether they’re ethnic minorities, religious minorities, or just underrepresented in their field or workplace, suffer specific challenges when they go to work every day. Or that the challenges compound if their identities intersect with any of those labels, especially in a way they can’t or won’t consciously hide or minimize when they go to work. Those people bring with them a level of social baggage that they can’t leave behind or just sideline and hope they have a nice day at the office. (Well, in truth, most of us do just that—we put it in the backs of our minds and hope against hope that we won’t have to deal with microaggressions today, or that our colleagues, even if they’re well-meaning, don’t say something offensive.) Our majority counterparts—and yes, that means white, male, cisgender, and heterosexual in most workplaces—don’t have to bring those same concerns to work. One person’s well-meaning curiosity can be another’s oppressive straw on our backs while we’re all trying to do our best at the office. If you have issues with that basic thesis, then there’s a whole world of data to back up what I’m saying. Google it and don’t engage in bad faith, and you’ll learn a lot. This isn’t a book about marginalization, or proving that it exists—it’s a book about how to succeed at work regardless of your identity, and especially if your identity is one that’s in the minority.
Marginalized Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does
What does marginalized mean to you? Sure, Black workers can be marginalized in majority-white workplaces, as I have been. However, white workers (especially white women) can also be marginalized in spaces where they’re the minority. The differences, of course, come down to both organizational and social power dynamics. Strictly, to be marginalized means you’re a member of a social group that has been traditionally kept out of, or away from, power, decision-making, or import and that you are consequently treated as insignificant or somehow less than those who make up the majority or the empowered people. In an office setting, being marginalized can mean being kept from power and decision-making, but it can also mean simply being excluded from the greater culture that permeates the space.
To illustrate the point a bit further, I spoke with Ruchika Tulshyan, CEO and founder of Candour, a diversity and inclusion strategy firm that works with organizations to root out these kinds of biases. The company trains employees on antiracist behaviors that help marginalized or minority employees stand on even ground with their majority, privileged colleagues. I initially met and spoke with Tulshyan while writing a piece for the New York Times about how to find success if you’ve been discriminated against or marginalized at work—a piece largely based on my own experiences there. I knew I had been marginalized, but aside from knowing how it feels, how do you describe that to someone else? “Long-standing research on tokenism,” she said, citing research that Rosabeth Moss Kanter conducted in the 1970s at Harvard Business School, “has shown that when you’re the only or one of the few of a historically underrepresented group in a work environment, it can have a profound impact on your workplace experience. You can face increased scrutiny and pressure to conform to a stereotype. You may struggle to find role models or even models of success that look like you.”
At the Times, I worked with some of the smartest, most talented people I’d ever met. The environment, however, definitely had its arrangement of social circles, some more difficult to penetrate than others, especially if it was your job to try to work your way into them. My role there was supposed to be a bit of a liaison across multiple areas of the newsroom, kind of preaching the gospel of service journalism (as in journalism intended to inform and provide actionable advice and useful context to the news of the day to readers) to journalists who may not have thought that this was their realm of expertise or their responsibility to consider. I was successful in some spaces, but in others, I clearly wasn’t welcome.
I don’t attribute the tepid reception I received to my ethnicity or the combination of my ethnicity and gender (or my physical appearance at all, frankly), but privilege has many levels, like Dante’s Inferno. Where you did or didn’t go to school or how much money you have or the path you took to that particular job can be just as important or damning as the color of your skin. And yes, some people, even at the Times, still think you’re not a real journalist if you didn’t graduate from a certain prestigious school in Boston and then work for years at local newspapers before “graduating” to “the Paper.” It’s unfortunate, but as much as I thought walking into the organization having previously been an editor in chief of a popular publication and having a decade of writing and editing experience under my belt would make a difference, it didn’t. Being willing to learn and eager to talk and share ideas with people who had more experience than I did didn’t matter, either. Was it any less painful to feel sidelined because of my background and not just because I was one of the few Black men in the newsroom? No, it wasn’t. And there were plenty of moments I also felt marginalized for that, too.
“It’s enraging that the burden of proof of racism is put on the marginalized, not the perpetrator,” Tulshyan told me. “As a society, we need more empathy that being the only one, or one of the few, puts immense pressure on people in majority-white organizations. Coupled with the fact that three-quarters of white Americans don’t have a single friend of color, it’s not hard to imagine that white employees who may initially face some exclusion (because they’re new/junior, etc.) will still likely find themselves later accepted or, at the very least, find other white people (even if not on their immediate team) to build alliances with. This is very, very hard for people of color who are the numerical minority.”
I also asked Tulshyan about the social baggage that marginalized workers bring into the office every day without necessarily wanting to. For example, I asked her, what about the white employee who wouldn’t think that describing a Latinx woman on the same team as “fiery” but who is indeed marginalizing her? Those behaviors, while simultaneously deniable and simply cliquish, are actually harmful. Tulshyan agreed. “One of the big issues (and harder to track but absolutely key),” she said, “is that these discriminatory behaviors end up having an implicit or overt impact on a person of color’s career progression. When this hypothetical person is seen as ‘fiery,’ her manager may think she isn’t deserving of a pay raise or advancement. That also casts a long shadow on how other Latinx team members are viewed.”
The wider implications of marginalization explain why it matters more than just not having someone to eat lunch with and why it so often takes many forms. Sometimes it’s simply about being the only person or one of a few people like you in a space, regardless of your background. Yes, sometimes being marginalized takes a clear form, such as being discriminated against openly because you’re a woman in a predominantly male workplace, or being passed over because some manager thinks you may start a family soon and therefore shouldn’t be given more responsibilities if you’re just going to leave the company. Being marginalized can also look like not being invited out for dinner with the team or for drinks ever, merely because you’re not one of the “cool kids.” It can also come in the shape of a pay gap between women and men in similar jobs, or between white employees and employees of color. It can look like a white employee’s getting promoted simply because a minority employee with a more senior role joined the team. Tulshyan elaborated: “Shonda Rhimes calls it FOD. Being the first, only, or different. She writes in her book, Year of Yes, about how being an FOD can make it feel like you have to represent your whole group in every interaction—your success is not yours alone, as in you’re fighting a stereotype, and that pressure of if you fail and let down your whole community is real.”