Dear Diversity Diva: I’m new to my job and work in a department where there is a distinct divide between the people who are fairly new to the organization and the people who have worked there for years. How do I get along without stepping on any toes? — Newest Egg to the Dozen
Dear Newest: The tensions between newbies to a job and respected elders can definitely be an issue. And being a respected elder has nothing to do with age, although that can be a factor. It has everything to do with who has sat at the workplace table the longest.
Some departments or organizations have frequent turnover or at least a fairly regular infusion of new personnel.
But other workplaces can become very insular from not changing over the years. And for someone new to that environment, it’s often the unofficial roles and positions that workers have settled into that can create tensions. Sometimes it is because certain individuals feel threatened; most of the time it’s just because of unconscious discomfort with change.
At its heart, diversity is about differences coming together in a community of people who have to interact. And at no time are differences going to show up more prominently than when a new person first enters a place where you spend the bulk of your waking hours.
Unlike other diversity issues that are cultural and/or unchanging, eventually you’ll no longer be the new guy or girl. Your way of doing things — from how grumpy you are before your first cup of coffee to what font you use in your memos — will be judged, evaluated and picked over until people just get used to you.
Until that awkward initiation period passes, all you should focus on is learning and doing your job, being pleasant and asking necessary questions of the respected elders to let them know that their institutional insight and knowledge is appreciated and respected.
For those more thorny problems that directly impact the work, you will have to judge whether you want to tactfully and informally seek clarification about work details with your boss or supervisors.