How Upset Should I Be If I Was Hired Because I’m a Minority?

I am a recent college graduate, 22 years old, and Latino. I have always been a good student. I had a 3.73 grade-point average in high school and a 3.84 in college. Unlike a lot of my college friends, I was fortunate to find a good job straight out of university. Most of my friends are having a really hard time finding good work. Some even moved back in with their parents. I know I'm lucky. But I am also smart and resourceful, and I work very hard. So imagine my disappointment when one of my new coworkers told me I was hired partly because I am a minority. Several coworkers and I went out for drinks after work last week and told me about the hiring process for my position. I guess there were hundreds of applicants. All of the finalists were white except for me. One of the other finalists had more experience and even had two degrees, including a master's. From everything I've been told, this guy had a stronger profile than me. The guy who told me about this said there has been a corporate mandate to diversify. He didn't say this in such a way to make me upset and he tried to reassure me that I am a great hire. But my office is very white. There is me, one black woman, and about 30 white people. Of course I noticed the lack of diversity when I was hired, but I didn't consider the possibility that one of the factors they liked about me was my race. I am glad I got hired, but I am upset that there is a possibility that it wasn't entirely on merit. I did not want to be hired to be a token of diversity. I wanted to be hired because I have a lot to offer and I deserve it. I know that there are many minorities who are discriminated against by employers, so my mom thinks I should be happy that things went my way, even if my race was a factor. She says they wouldn't have hired me if I couldn't do the job. I guess I wonder: How offended should I be? Should I talk to my supervisor or HR department about this? Since I'm new, I don't really want to rock the boat or get on someone's bad side. —Color Me Disappointed
Dear Color Me Disappointed,

Wow, that’s a really tough issue to face. I’m glad you wrote, and I hope I can help you out some.

My first question is how do these colleagues know about the hiring process? Many companies encourage a strict confidentiality for human resources to avoid this very issue, and I am concerned that this information seems to be readily available and that it was shared openly.

Second, with regard to your question of being hired on your merit and the frustration you’re feeling, it’s important to remember that affirmative action was put into place because, historically, minorities have a harder time being employed. Studies have shown that résumés with minority names get 50% fewer callbacks for interviews than white-sounding names. Some people call this “everyday racism,” and it is one of the ways racism becomes systematic. You mentioned that there is a company mandate to diversify, and it sounds like the company sorely needs it and your hire may be one of the ways they are attempting to rectify it.

It could also be that you were the strongest candidate and the information you received is faulty. I question why your colleagues would feel it necessary to share this information with you and what they hoped to gain by doing so.

I also wonder whether this experience has activated some part of you, a part you’re not necessarily conscious of, that harbors feelings of inadequacy. Most people don’t get through life without taking on some of that in childhood, through no fault of their own. It’s important to recognize feelings that might be triggering and to remind yourself of your own value, even in the face of signs and experiences that may seem devaluing. You know you’re worthy of this position; as you said, you’re smart, resourceful, and a hard worker. If your employer didn’t know that before you were hired, it surely does by now.

As far as whether you should go to Human Resources, that is a deeply personal decision. Do you think you can work at this company with this awareness and the accompanying questions? Will you be able to live with the answer if they acknowledge that they hired you based on your status as a minority? Are you comfortable working in an environment where deeply personal and private conversations such as why a person was hired over another are made common knowledge?

Unfortunately, this is a situation many minorities still have to deal with and there’s still a long way to go in terms of eliminating racism.

It seems to me that this great opportunity has been tainted for you, and understandably so. It may be worthwhile to have a conversation with HR to express your concerns. At the very least, they may make some changes in how information is protected. As you noted, you may be seen as “rocking the boat” if you do that and some people might not like it. It may make for a challenging work environment, but you have to weigh whether the benefit of speaking up is more than the possible cost.

Unfortunately, this is a situation many minorities still have to deal with and there’s still a long way to go in terms of eliminating racism. There are many who have the same questions you do and who feel they have to work harder or perform better to prove they deserve what they have gotten. It’s not an easy situation to be in, so I encourage you to call upon your support system to help you process this situation and your feelings about it. It might also be worthwhile to seek out a therapist who can help you further process what you’re feeling.

I encourage you to take care of yourself while you decide what to do—rest well, spend time with loved ones, and do what makes you feel good. After you’ve allowed yourself to process and release some of the emotional charge, if you decide to go to HR, you will be grounded, confident, and responsive, and less likely to be offended or reactive.

Wishing you well and hoping for the best,

Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, specializes in existential psychology. Her primary focus is helping people to be more present in their lives, more engaged with their existence, and to face the world with courage. Lisa began her career in the mental health field working in residential treatment, community mental health centers, and with adjudicated individuals before moving into private practice. She is in the process of finishing a PhD as well as advanced training in existential-humanistic psychotherapy, and provides clinical training and supervision.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Erica

    August 28th, 2015 at 10:39 AM

    you have a job- celebrate- show them that you are a good employee regardless of the color of your skin or your ethnic background

  • Steve

    August 28th, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    Maybe against all of the odds you were a better interview and match for the job. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and move on

  • riley

    August 29th, 2015 at 2:13 PM

    I too would question why someone would even feel the need to bring this up to you! Or why they would in any way think that it was professional to share this kind of information? I would seriously reconsider who I hung out with because it sounds like this kind of talk is actually in some ways being fueled by THEIR feelings of inadequacy around you, and they could have seriously been saying these things to just make you feel bad about yourself.

  • deGarmo

    August 30th, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    Why not take this as a chance to show them that you are so much more than just the color of your skin??

  • Edward

    August 31st, 2015 at 3:49 AM

    And use this as a stepping stone to something even bigger and better

  • McCoy

    August 31st, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    Well it’s not like you have been discriminated against. Think about it form the view of someone who has been turned down because they are NOT a minority. I would think that that is the person who would feel bad. You should be pleased that there was something about you that stood out and led to your getting the job. If there are huge issues with it, I do think that I would go to HR to hash it out.

  • Howard

    September 8th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    This could be a really great stroke of good luck for you- look at it as an opportunity, you have the job, and now it is time to make it your own. Defy the odds.

  • Cathy

    September 17th, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    How upset should you be to know that there are others out there trying to bring you down with all this negativity? That’s what I would be the most upset about.

  • Viki

    March 17th, 2022 at 12:27 PM

    I have heard it!- you got that job because of you minority status! Could that been come from that person’s envious naturel ! The comment is a way to pull down, shake the confidence. It hurts, but I know my ability, and it’s bee six years, growing and striving in my job.

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