Young Professionals: Earn (then Demand) Respect in the Workplace

RespectI’m working on an exciting new project. It’s awesome, really, because I get to teach college students about leadership and about success at work.

So in an effort to find the right topics to discuss and the right stories to share with these students, I’ve had to reflect a lot on my experiences in the workplace.

And well… that hasn’t been fun.

It hasn’t been fun because I’ve realized something. I’ve realized that although there are a lot of things I can teach these students, there’s no way that I can control the hardships that they’ll continue to face as young professionals.

There’s no way that I’ll be able to rid them of the label they’ll often be given: Young and Inexperienced.

I once went on a job interview and overall, it was a great experience. The people were friendly and made me feel comfortable…something a bit rare for an interview. I was actually having a good time. Until I wasn’t.

I was totally bothered by something that one of the men who was interviewing me asked. He said, “I’m going to ask you something…you look very younghow are you going to handle yourself when an executive or a senior employee needs something resolved and doesn’t want to talk to you because you look so young?”

Yes. I was really supposed to answer that.

Now, don’t get me wrong…the man who asked me the question was a nice guy. I actually got a long with him very well and so I know that he didn’t mean this question to be negative or to upset me.

But it did upset me because it made me realize that this is a very real problem. When we talk about discrimination, stereotypes, diversity in the workplace, etc., we often tend to focus on race and ethnicity.

But what about age? I mean, in that very same interview, would it have been okay for him to say, “you know…you look a bit Asian….how are you going to handle yourself when an executive or a senior employee needs something and doesn’t want to talk to you because you’re Asian?”

No. Absolutely not. That would absolutely NOT have been okay.

So why is it okay that he asked about age? Why is it okay for young professionals to receive less respect than we deserve?

Think about it. So many of us are intelligent. So many of us are driven. So many of us are talented and determined and hungry for the opportunity to make a difference.

Sure, we don’t know everything. No one does. And yes, we have a lot to learn. But we need people who will teach us and who will treat us as equals. Not people who feel that we’re beneath them. Because at the end of the day, we all have a lot to learn from each other.

So when I think about these students whom I’ll be advising, I hate that I won’t be able to force others to fully see their value. I hate that I won’t be able to delete that label that many of them will get stuck with. But I CAN make sure that they understand the following…

Each of us… get the respect that we earn, then demand.

Simple as that.

Just because we’re young doesn’t mean that we’re not good at what we do. Skill and ability are not necessarily determined by age. Experience, not age, is what leads to wisdom. And sometimes people forget this.

So young professionals…

  • Earn, then demand that respect
  • Don’t let people underestimate your abilities and your talents
  • And when they do, prove them wrong
  • Don’t let people be mean to you just because they think that they can
  • Know your worth
  • Be professional
  • Do good work
  • And always make sure to stand up for yourself.

Because if you don’t demand that respect you’ve earned, no one else will.






For this post, YouTern thank our friends at Gen Y Girl!



Image courtesy of Thank you!



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