Dear DEI, Esq: I’m Competing with My Coworker

In this series, DEI, Esq. is helping individuals who may have experienced or perceived some sort of bias become bias interrupters.

Dear DEI, Esq.,

I am on the global sales team of a great company, and I’ve been working hard to excel at my job and gain the respect of my colleagues and management in hopes of moving up within the company. For four years, I was the only female of color and one of only three females on a team of 46 salespeople.

Recently, another Asian American female — also an experienced salesperson — joined our team. I was asked to help her get acclimated to the company, which I gladly did. Showing her the ropes, helping her establish key relationships — you name it. She hasn’t been with the company for too long, but she is already exceeding her sales objectives.

I’m feeling conflicted — I want her to succeed, but I also feel threatened by her success and am concerned that my prospects of advancing in the company may be in jeopardy. I’ve decided to start focusing more on my own growth within the company. She is already doing fine and doesn’t need my support anymore. Am I overreacting?

Please help me sort this out,

Conflicted coworker

Dear Conflicted coworker,

We understand your predicament. You may be experiencing the “tug of war” bias pattern, which is a form of gender or race bias, where conflict develops because of perception that there is room for only one female or one racial minority employee at the top. No need to overstress or overreact though! Here is some food for thought (and action).

The thought that there is only one seat at the table for Asian American females is as outdated as corduroy. Understand that your opportunity is solely yours, and your success and chances for advancement do not depend on others.

Just because someone you believe is like you is also successful doesn’t mean your chances for upward mobility are shot. Focus on what you bring to the table (no pun intended) instead of stressing over the notion that others are outpacing you.

Your situation is not a zero-sum game. Your colleague’s success does not equal your failure. Someone may outperform you in the short run but think about your situation in the long-term. If your colleague moves up first, celebrate her success! Don’t distance yourself and burn bridges. If she is on top, she can advocate for you and help elevate you. You are stronger together, and your turn will come. Focus on lifting each other up.

So, how do you course-correct? Make a move to turn your perceived adversary into an ally; schedule a casual chat with your colleague and say: “We’ve become distant recently. How do we get back on track? I am excited you are here and hope we can have a strong, mutually supportive relationship.”  And when she does something great, don’t be shy about singing her praises to others. If you’re worried that others will see the two of you as competition for “one spot,” then this can help dispel that misperception.

Hope everything works out well for both of you!

DEI, Esq.

DEI, Esq. is comprised of in-house counsel who share a deep passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion. While the members, Jane Howard-Martin, Connie Almond, Olesja Cormney, Jennifer N. Jones, and Meyling Ly Ortiz, work as employment counsel at Toyota Motor North America, Inc., their views and the thought-leadership expressed are their own and not necessarily the views of their employer.