The Turning Point
Diversity hire indeed
I still remember my heels clicking on the shiny hardwood floors as I walked into Andersen Consulting for my first day of work. I had just moved to the city and was eager to make a strong first impression at my new job.
I introduced myself to a few friendly looking coworkers, receiving warm handshakes and smiles. But as I approached the office kitchen to refill my coffee, a tall woman in a sharp business suit looked me up and down with disdain.
“So this is the diversity hire?” she snorted under her breath.
I was taken aback by her openly rude comment. “Excuse me, I don’t believe we’ve met...” I began.
She cut me off with a cold glare. “I know your type. Don’t think for a second you actually belong here,” she hissed before pushing past me to refill her own mug.
I stood there stunned and fuming. The nerve of this woman to make such snap judgements about me when we’d just met! I wanted to put her in her place, but took a deep breath and walked away. I would take the high road...for now.
Over the next few weeks, I learned the rude woman’s name was Priya. She was a senior manager, and clearly thought she could look down on new hires like myself. Priya never missed a chance to make condescending remarks toward me in meetings or sabotage my work.
One day I overheard her gossiping about me in the office kitchen, warning others not to trust me. “She’s only here because HR wanted to fill their diversity quota,” Priya sneered. “I give her two months, tops.”
I boiled inside but held my tongue. It was clear Priya wanted me to fail, but I refused to stoop to her level. I vowed to stay positive and focus on doing excellent work, no matter how much she tried to tear me down. Surely my professionalism would prevail.
But Priya’s persistent hostility began to take its toll. The once-vibrant office culture turned toxic, and I dreaded coming into work each day. She was slowly succeeding at isolating me and ruining my career. I realized I had to take control of the situation. This was not the high road; this was letting her walk all over me. It was time to make a change.
The company’s annual holiday party seemed the perfect opportunity to execute my plan. I knew Priya’s fiancé Raj would be there, thanks to the office gossip mill. When they arrived arm in arm looking blissful, I kept my distance across the ballroom. Tonight was not about petty confrontation. I had a higher purpose.
As the party died down, I approached Raj while Priya was schmoozing with executives. “Raj, congratulations on your engagement,” I said warmly. “Priya is clearly a remarkable woman.”
Raj beamed. “Thank you! I’m the luckiest man alive.” As we made small talk, I planted seeds of concern about Priya’s behavior toward her colleagues, especially new hires. Raj listened intently and promised to speak to her, thanking me for bringing this to his attention.
Phase one of my plan was complete. Now to let it take root.
In the following weeks, the change in Priya was noticeable. The snide comments and undermining stopped. In meetings she was civil, even complimentary of my work. Over time, our relationship thawed into mutual respect. She began mentoring young new hires instead of intimidating them. Raj’s influence had worked wonders.
Six months later the company threw an extravagant engagement party for Priya and Raj. I walked up to Priya, smiling warmly. “Congratulations, this is such a wonderful night. Thank you for inviting me.”
Priya squeezed my arm affectionately. “Ava, I’m the one who should be thanking you. You helped open my eyes. Raj told me what a valuable team member you are. I was unfair in my judgement of you and I sincerely apologize. Will you forgive me?”
“Of course,” I said. “I wish you both a lifetime of happiness.”
As we celebrated late into the night, Priya pulled me aside once more. “I admire you for taking the high road even when I was foolishly cruel,” she said. “You handled things with maturity and grace. I still have a lot to learn from you.”
I beamed, feeling vindicated after months of frustration. By acting with integrity, I had turned an enemy into a mentor. This was the beginning of a new office culture where young talent could thrive without intimidation. I had created lasting change, and it felt incredible.
Five years later...
The annual company picnic was in full swing. Kids ran laughing under the warm sun while employees mingled, enjoying barbecue and music. I sat with Priya watching the crowd.
“Well, looks like you survived way more than two months here,” Priya joked. We both laughed as she squeezed my shoulder. “I’m so proud of you, Ava. You’ve blossomed into one of our most talented leaders.”
I smiled gratefully. “It’s been a rewarding journey. We’ve all come a long way together, haven’t we?”
Just then Priya’s daughter toddled over and climbed into my lap, waving a little flower she had picked. My heart swelled looking into her innocent face that mirrored Priya’s own.
“I always want Asha to feel supported here to reach her full potential,” Priya said softly. “Just like you helped me realize the culture I wanted to build.”
I tickled Asha, my heart full of hope. Her giggle embodied the positive workplace we had cultivated together.
“She will,” I said. “Because no matter what obstacles come, we know how to overcome them with courage, wisdom and grace. That’s what you’ve taught me.”
Priya squeezed my hand, her eyes glistening. We sat in satisfied silence, watching the happy scene before us. There was still more progress to be made, but we were committed to the journey together.