Moving past stereotypes



Friends and colleagues often confide in me about the difficulties they face assimilating into new teams and working with new project managers. Sometimes faced with stereotypes, they wrestle with moving beyond superficiality to connect with their teams. These struggles can lead to agonizing personal decisions.


In earlier years, anglicizing my name fostered acceptance. I figured if my name fit in, then perhaps my face would too. After I gained confidence and experience, I rebelled and began to use my given name with confidence, pride and courage. Once I stopped seeing it as a barrier it ceased to be one.

Some of my gay and lesbian colleagues find it difficult to achieve acceptance without compromising who they are. They talk about overhearing co-workers in a company meeting imitating a gay man by using stereotypes—talking with a lisp and waving a hand. Their pain is real and they continue to hide their identities to protect their careers.

“Discrimination against gay people is everywhere. Some can pass and some cannot. And some don't really care if they pass,” says David Halbeisen, principal of Half Iron Inc., a professional services firm in the United States. “The issue has less do with being gay than it has to do with subterfuge. … We all engage in socially acceptable practices to protect ourselves.”

We are firmly into the 21st century and yet there continues to be insensitivity and a lack of awareness. This situation can cause team members distress. Within the project management community these issues arise with unremitting and tedious regularity. Individuals are forced to choose:

  • To deceive colleagues for fear of retribution
  • To defer social invitations
  • To be judged as unfriendly or antisocial if they fail to participate
  • To take a guarded approach to “trust.”

As project managers, we need to step up to the demands of a diverse society and create environments that allow for individual preferences and facilitate business excellence.

It is the project manager's role and responsibility to determine methods, tools and techniques to facilitate multiple values and preferences of individuals in a team. This can be done by:

  • Positively recognizing diversity
  • Educating team members about diversity
  • Communicating openly and enabling team-building
  • Fostering openness and respect for individuality.

Personally, I value the richness of individuality and I encourage other project managers to engage in curiosity, suspend their judgment and enjoy diversity within the workplace. Doing so has provided me with some incredibly rich experiences. Hopefully it will do the same for you. PM

Sheilina Somani, PMP, is owner of Positively Project Management and vice president, education, for the PMI Diversity Specific Interest Group.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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