This is one of those topics that will spark discussion. I know that it will not resonate with everyone but for some of you it is true. You grew up feeling like a second class citizen. I did too.

Growing up to immigrant parents who were learning English at the same time they were trying to build a new life, they saw and knew what struggle was. They dealt with racism. They dealt with being turned down for jobs because of the color of their skin. They dealt with people not talking to them in stores because my parents couldn’t speak English. They were treated as if they didn’t exist sometimes because they didn’t speak the language. It was a novelty and a wonderment that they had their kids in sports. It was easy to see as a child when the other parents when look at my parents with a sense of wonderment like they had opened the world to something new when they brought their kids to the hockey games or the modeling school as there were no other Indians there. My parents constantly broke down barriers in the community for us as children as they tried to learn what the other families in our neighborhood were doing so the kids can be “normal.” My mom would ask my brother and I:

  • what the other kids had for dinner and how they made it
  • what was their curfew
  • what type of clothes were the other kids wearing

All this so they can help us fit in so we wouldn’t have to deal with what they deal with.

As a child, I always felt we were playing catch up. I had to learn a culture at the same time of learning the curriculum at school. It was a double whammy of trying to navigate through a school where there were very few minorities. Everyone else was having different experiences than I was. I had strict Indian parents who were trying to navigate their own lives in a new country.

I just never felt good enough as the other kids.

I remember thinking how I just wanted to be a “white” kid. They seemed to have life be so easy. They were allowed to wear what they wanted to wear, they had way less rules and their parents had experienced some of the same ¬†curriculum and high school life. The lives of my parents as high school kids and mine seemed so different. At least my parents were able to help me with math even if they weren’t able to help me with the other subjects.

As I moved into my career, I started noticing that there were only a handful of people who looked like me in management roles or in professional roles. If someone had a role that was in any time of leadership position, they had made it somehow. I remember feeling that maybe we were good enough because of the color of our skin again. I remember talking to some of those individuals and asking them how their journey was. The response would be:

  • You have to work twice as hard to get here.
  • You have to prove yourself.
  • I dealt with a lot of racism

One thing I noticed about these men, yes mostly men was that they had developed a thick skin as to what others said about them.

Now to add on the fact that I was a female of color, that meant I had to even work twice as hard as these men. To this day, females of color are the lowest paid (here is an article that talks about those statistics in the US). Still when we see women of color as a partner or in a senior position, there is a level of awe that is associated with it as she has made it. She also had to sacrifice a lot. Many a times (I am generalizing), members of her community will think she acts too western and she doesn’t fit in with people of her own kind or she thinks she is better than the others. This attitude is changing especially in the last ten years but growing up what I saw was that women were ostracized for being success. They were told that at home they still needed act as what was culturally accepted depending on what culture they were brought up in. What a internal struggle for these women then and for many it is now.

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First you have the challenges of having to balance your own identity at home with the cultural pressures of what you were brought up in where many times the women stayed home and then the cultural pressures at work where you had to prove yourself as that leader and great manager without mentors that had the same struggles as you. There is always a double layered struggle that is there and a sense of having to push all the time.

It is very tiring to feel that you had to prove your worth, your ability and your knowledge. It is tiring to have to push doors open for yourself all the time. It is lonely to be at places where others don’t understand how hard it was to get there. It is physically exhausting to have to balance the act of being the good girl that takes care of the immediate and extended family, the home and all the social activities while striving to move through new ranks in the workplace.

Luckily, we live in an age where there is awareness to these issues. Where there is a deeper level of understanding of diversity and inclusion. We are far from where things are equal but there is movement.

In the meantime, in order to keep your sanity:

  • Have conversations about your daily experiences at work and home with those who can help change the experience. The reasons why females want 50/50 with errands is because they are also contributing to the workplace. They have an additional barrier that they need to work through.
  • Hire immigrants in your workplace and talk about the skills they have to offer not just where are they from.
  • Talk about cultures and cultural practices in the workplace as that creates a deeper level of understanding of how people respond to different management styles and different working styles as well. For instance, in some Asian countries when a manager gives direction you just say yes. Ask people for their opinions as they may still be operating under cultural biases even if they grew up in Canada.
  • As an individual, understand your own working styles and how much cultural bias is impacting your career. Are you blocking your career progression in some way?
  • If you are tired, it is okay. It has been a struggle. In time, you will have the strength and capacity to do all that you want to do. Just give yourself permission to be.

In closing, the second class syndrome is something has existed in many countries like India and Africa. It is time we shed this cultural influence in our lives and understand where you are is where you are meant to be. You deserve to be here and you are worthy. You are worthy of marketing to the mainstream community, you do not have to focus just on one community because they will understand you. Others will understand you too. You have skills and talents to contribute to this world. Allow those to shine now.

For those of you interested in understanding the impact of the cultural biases and are ready to shed them, coaching is an avenue to uncover and clear obstacles while creating the mindset and action plan to move forward with the confident leader that you are.