Have you ever worked during a religious holiday, fearful of asking for an unrecognized day off? Have you shortened your name to one syllable to make it easier for your co-workers to pronounce? Many questions related to females in the work force go unanswered, and even more questions related to South Asian females are left in the dark. We’re interviewing career expert Tory Johnson tackle some of those culturally sensitive career questions.
Career expert Tory Johnson is the founder and CEO of Women For Hire, the only producer of high caliber recruiting events for women. Johnson is the Workplace Contributor on ABCâ€™s Good Morning America, where she reaches millions of viewers on a wide range of job-related issues and challenges. She is the anchor of Home Work on ABC News Now, and writes columns for ABCNEWS.com, Yahoo Hot Jobs, and Shine Among Others. Johnsonâ€™s fourth career book, Will Work From Home: Earn Cash Without the Commute was published in 2008 and became an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller.
SAPNA: South Asians are often insecure and feel that having “ethnic names” on their resume will cause some employers to discriminate against their application. Some South Asians will go as far as creating more American sounding names, such as changing Jahangir to Jay. What advice would you give South Asian Americans dealing with this insecurity?
TJ: In general, I think it is a personal choice and I donâ€™t think helping some one else feel comfortable is wrong. So, for example many times I will meet someone and they will say their name and I have never heard of it, or I think I will not be able to pronounce it. I will ask them to repeat it and ask them to tell me about their name. I think it is a great way to feel comfortable. Sometimes, if I am looking at a resume and have never seen the name or cannot pronounce it, I will ask them to repeat it again. I think that the more someone can do to make themselves comfortable about who they are and what their name is, it serves them better.
SAPNA: Many South Asians celebrate Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist holidays, just to name a few. Yet, the majority of us still feel that taking off for our 2 or 3 special holidays becomes a huge imposition on our employer. The majority of South Asians will still work on holidays that are the equivalent to the Christian tradition of Christmas. Islamic holidays are decided on moon phases, so these days are taken off in short notice and have been treated as if they were burdening the department. What is the best way to approach employers about this special time off?
TJ: First of all, an employer cannot legally penalize you for observing religious holidays. Employers get all bent out of shape when they have not had the benefit of prior notice. For example, at 5 P.M. you do not say, “by the way, I will not be here because it is a holiday…” A holiday your manager has never heard of, doesn’t understand, and doesnâ€™t know. One tip is to have the courtesy to sit down with the manger and say, “because of my religion, these are the specific days where we have holidays that are highly religious and observed in my faith and I want to be able to work with you so my work is covered. I also want to be able to support colleagues who might have different observances that they need to pursue. For example. when people can not work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other traditional holidays I am your person and I can be there.” It is really important to have that candid conversation, showing them respect and not surprising them at the last minute, working together, being respectful. A lot of times we see people being abusive at the workplace by having a holiday every week, and every week something special… That can run every one’s patience very thin.
SAPNA: Women, and maybe more so with South Asian women, are often caught in the trap of being passive or not confident in the salary negotiation process. It is not a skill handed down to us by our parents, who lived in a different time in a different country. What is the best way for someone right out of college to handle salary negotiation? What is the best way for someone who has been working for 3-5 years to handle salary negotiation?
TJ: There are a lot of resources you can use such as reading books and looking on websites. It could be worth finding a mentor that comes from a very different background who has a very different experience and can say, “if you want to be successful in this work environment these are the kinds of norms to follow.” These are not necessarily direct cultural norms, but workplace norms. You can ask somebody to be a mentor to guide you to visit seminars, it can be somebody you know and have worked with or a neighbor or friend that you have not worked with. You can establish a connection with a professional association or alumni association and say, “I know that with my society and background, it is not as natural for us to be as assertive and vocal, what types of skills do we need to succeed in the American workplace?” Then immerse yourself in these resources, in the books, websites, seminars, to help you tone up skills, especially one you are not accustomed to.
SAPNA: Do employers make any judgments on you in the interview process or even early in your hire, if they know you are recently engaged or plan to be engaged? Is there an insecurity that you will be distracted, not committed to living in the area, etc?
TJ: There is not a place on a resume or an application that should show that you are engaged, but there will always be some employers who assume that by getting engaged, you will get married or have a baby. That is natural. That is the reality for women who work: eventually they may get married and have babies. Ultimately you want to minimize discussion about yourself personally and transfer as much focus as you can on the profession.
SAPNA: Do you have a message you would like to give the women just stepping into the workforce.
TJ: The areas most people are having the most difficulty with and need the most energy in are networking, self promotion, and negotiation. If you are interested to meet someone in the industry you pick up that phone and make a phone call. Donâ€™t be afraid to toot their horn and recognize their strength to advance in your career. If you are not good at negotiation, find a mentor, read a book, attend a seminar and reach for someone who can help compensate for those weaknesses.
More on Tory Johnson – Johnson serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors for Emerson College. She is a member of the Women Presidentsâ€™ Organization. She was inducted into the YWCA’s prestigious Class of 2002 Academy of Women Achievers, which recognizes the outstanding achievements of women in business. Johnson is a mentor to dozens of women throughout the country, providing one-on-one guidance on both career advancement and entrepreneurship. In addition to her high profile work with people displaced in the Gulf states because of Hurricane Katrina, she is an active volunteer for many community-based organizations focusing on womenâ€™s issues and education. Johnson founded Women For Hire after serving in corporate communications positions at ABC News, NBC News and Nickelodeon. She lives in New York City with her husband and children. â€” Pooja Garg