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Everyone – at some time or another – has felt the harsh effects of being rejected or left out. The ten-dollar, corporate world word for it? Marginalization.

Have you ever been the last person picked for the team? Or been left at a clubhouse door staring at a “Keep Out” sign? Ever notice the conversation screeches to a halt when you enter a room full of people? Then you know what it’s like to be marginalized.

But in the business world, marginalization looks a bit different. It can show up through:

  • being excluded from meetings or important projects
  • not consulted on important matters that fall under the realm of their job description
  • not being taken seriously when contributing ideas and suggestions
  • being trivialized (“Anybody could have done THAT.”)
  • contributing with good work and an undeserving employee takes credit for it
  • being ignored and made to feel invisible.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

When we are excluded, we start to believe negative things about ourselves, like that people:

  • don’t care about us
  • don’t understand us
  • aren’t interested in us
  • don’t want to learn about us.

People who have found themselves excluded report feeling an overwhelming loss of:

  • self-esteem
  • self-worth
  • energy
  • the sense of contributing to the goals of the business.

Beyond the personal negative effects, marginalization can hurt an entire business. To exclude just one employee can:

  • deny an entire team access to good ideas and innovative answers to problems
  • foster ignorance of the needs and wants of whole market segments
  • detract from the value of the service or product being offered
  • harm personal and professional relationships
  • keep others locked in their own narrow standards, prohibiting personal growth
  • destroy trust.

At one end of the spectrum, marginalization looks like interrupting a coworker in a meeting. At the other end, it looks like discrimination, isolation and even violence. To the person being targeted, there is little distinction of severity along this escalating scale of offensive behavior.

Our view of inclusion directly impacts when and how we marginalize others.

“But I haven’t marginalized anyone!”

Chances are you have.

We are all capable of marginalizing others, consciously or unconsciously, when we fall back on stereotypes that can lead to unfair assumptions and generalizations. The distortion is often an extension of implicit bias and can result in exclusionary behaviors and practices.

The equation:

Stereotypes + Assumptions & Generalizations = Exclusionary Behavior & Practices

For instance,

“I’ve heard that people of Tom’s race are lazy.” + “Therefore, Tom must be lazy.” = “Let’s avoid giving Tom responsibility on this project.”

The process of marginalizing someone may not be as obvious as the example above, but the results are the same. Imagine the loss that you, the team, the company and Tom suffer when this process is at play. From all these negative impacts, defensive behaviors begin to arise that become counterproductive. In the above case, Tom may respond to being “left out of the loop” with:

  • anger
  • resentment
  • vindictiveness
  • punishment
  • withdrawal and perhaps worst of all…
  • a marked absence of motivation and productivity.

Ironically, these behaviors (particularly the last one, in this case) are then used to justify the rationale for exclusion to take place — “We were right to exclude Tom.”

We all possess the power to transform marginality into mattering, every day, in the workplace.

When people are treated as though they matter, they act and behave in ways that reflect the positive cues and feelings they are receiving.

People who matter:

  • become more productive
  • openly share information
  • feel high levels of trust from others
  • are motivated and dedicated
  • respect others’ skills and contributions
  • put the goals of the group ahead of their personal needs and wants.


Utilizing Mattering not only to counter Marginalization, but become an Employer of Choice!

Considering how difficult it is to find and retain the brightest and the most talented employees, it is critical for organizations to become an Employer of Choice — an organization that respects, recognizes and rewards employees, allowing them to bring all of who they are into the workplace.

Employers of Choice realize:

  • Workers must feel that they matter
  • Workers must feel respected
  • Workers must be recognized and rewarded
  • Departing workers cost money.

So, remember that marginalization is not only personally hurtful but goes against your bottom line! Instead of allowing for an exclusive workplace culture, go for inclusion – go for mattering, productivity and innovation: get the best talent out there and watch your business flourish!



This blog was adapted from Principal Amy S. Tolbert’s updated book Reversing the Ostrich Approach to Diversity: Pulling Your Head out of the Sand: Five Simple Concepts You Can Use Now to Reap Bottom-Line Results by Honoring Diversity available on Amazon today!



Tolbert, A. S., et al. Reversing the Ostrich Approach to Diversity: Pulling Your Head out of the Sand: Five Simple Concepts You Can Use Now to Reap Bottom-Line Results by Honoring Diversity. Amazon, Kindle Edition, 2019.