What To Do When You Feel Excluded At Work
It happens to the best of us. I worked with a programming executive whose solution to most everything was to eliminate people from meetings. He was convinced this was the source of leaks, which also happened to encumber his influence: too many cooks in the kitchen.
How do you take a seat at the table when you’re not even invited?
And for a host of psychological reasons that are beyond me, it seems that the meetings you want to be at are the ones where you’re excluded. This affects everyone. I heard that a senior executive at a competitor would somehow get wind of important meetings with the CEO and just show up. Everyone was too polite to kick her out at that point.
“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member.”
I wish it wasn’t like this. But as a former exec myself, I know how delicate some topics can be and why some closed meetings are necessary. Of course, I also worked for one Group President who demanded confidentiality and then shared the secret himself to whoever asked him. It’s Hollywood.
There’s a lot of talk (finally) about harassment and bullying, but the more subtle act of excommunication or ostracism is far more prevalent. In this study, 49% of professionals reported harassment whereas 71% experienced exclusion.
You are not alone.
The research is clear: ostracizing actions are harmful. Intentional or not. All of us have an innate need as humans to be accepted and belong. Back in ancient days, it was a survival mechanism. Today, it’s a management advantage (e.g., the “boys club”). So to be excluded is a painful act, which I think for women especially triggers a spectrum of mean girl experiences from childhood.
First and foremost, ignorance is truly bliss in this case. If it doesn’t concern you, don’t bother. I used to like to say, “They don’t pay me enough to be in that meeting.”
Yes, it would be nice to have facetime with the heavy hitters. Yes, it might help your career. But eventually once I started to get invited to those high-level meetings, I realized it was because they needed someone to do all the work.
And when you’re there and you’re the lowest on the totem pole, you can’t exactly say no. So know there are two sides to every coin.
The modern workplace is a complex playground. Decisions happen in meetings that affect your everyday, and if you’re not there to speak into the process…I get it. It can be frustrating.
Most managers see it as their job to go to meetings, so their team can work. As much as you can mentally shift from “he’s keeping me down!” to “he’s protecting me from the insanity”, then you move yourself into a healthier frame of mind to make the ask.
My guess is 9 times out of 10, they themselves are trying to find a way to get out of the meeting anyway.
So my advice here is to gently remind your boss (or whoever is giving you direction) what was at stake and what was lost by you not being at the meeting. It could be a lag in development. Or repeated misunderstandings that are causing delays. The key here is to point to tangible consequences and show that you can be trusted to represent the team.
Make Being Involved An Objective
There were individuals on my previous teams that would beg to go to meetings just to be seen. I indulged them when I could. But I would just caution to make sure to check your ego and understand authentically why you need to be at a certain meeting.
You can set the tone for this in your annual or mid-season review. This way it’s not like death by a thousand cuts when you ask, but rather part of a vision to become a better manager because you see yourself staying at the company. This is music to a rational manager’s ears.
Potential goals to discuss include: practicing executive presence, representing the team across functional lines, or public speaking. Practice the conversation with a mentor here.
This all translates to timing, timing, timing. I witnessed too many young adults strive to lean in before they even knew what they were leaning into. It was painful to watch.
Remember your time will come…today, tomorrow, or at your next company.
“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”