“I can’t help but notice that when we have our all-staff meetings, the only demographic represented on the highest level of leadership is Caucasian and male.” -Crystal Colon

Present day, I work a for social services agency that serves individuals living with severe mental illness, but when I initially decided to pursue my Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2010, I didn’t have a defined employment path in mind. Two months after graduation, I accepted an offer with my current employer–unsure of what to expect during my time here. What I did know was that social service agencies functioned to promote the welfare of others–and I liked that.

In time, I began serving adults diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, to name a few. These adults had been cast away by family members and the general population; labeled as “too different” or “too crazy” to function successfully in the world alone.

Fortunately, my employer’s mission seeks to integrate this population into their communities. We teach clients that they are not defined by their diagnosis, and can therefore live good lives. We advocate for them, and show them how to advocate for themselves. We teach them how to live inclusively in the world, even though they are often judged for being different. This sort of work is grueling and stressful, but also described as “invaluable” by many.

Case workers spend much time advocating for inclusion on our client’s behalves, so we mustn’t forget the importance of advocating for the inclusion of persons of color on staff, at these agencies.

Looking back at the people I have worked with over the past four years, I proudly boast that my employer has made our diversified workforce a priority. All races, ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds are represented among our staff. I take pride in the fact 2 out of 4 case managers on my team–myself included, are Hispanic. My coworker’s first language is Spanish, and she speaks both English and Spanish during her work day. She is one of the most productive and successful case managers I have ever met. I also take pride in that the program I work for spans multiple New Jersey counties, and is directed by a Hispanic woman.

The range of diversity among our staff reminds me, daily, that the value of my presence is determined by my work, rather than a racial quota. However, I can’t help but notice that when we have our all-staff meetings, the only demographic represented on the highest level of leadership is Caucasian and male. This demographic determines each worker’s workload, compensation and other important factors that affect our livelihoods.

There is a common misconception that under-representation of persons of color in the workplace is an issue too far gone to repair. We must remember that every effort made to combat that sort of thinking is not only accomplished by grand gestures, but day-by-day actions as well.

Try incorporating these 5 actions in your everyday life:

  1. Make sure your voice is heard, and when it isn’t, keep speaking until it is.
  2. Support one another. Don’t compete with other persons of color because there is limited quota space. FORCE YOUR INDUSTRY TO MAKE MORE SPACE.
  3. Seek education and experience in creative and traditional ways
  4. Let the value of your work define you. Instead of accepting the label, “Puerto Rican case manager,” you also have the right to identify as the nicest, most productive, or most dedicated case manager you can be.
  5. Don’t be afraid to demand more of whatever it is you need and deserve.