The only African-American on the team, you are the first to arrive and the last to leave the office, keep to yourself, and never attend company social activities. Your boss says he appreciates your hard work, yet your annual raises are small and your name never makes the promotion list. Why?

Less than 5 percent of working African-American women hold official and private-industry managerial positions, according to the most recent data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). While there may be other factors that potentially hinder our advancement, one that’s often overlooked is workplace reputation.

“Your reputation on the job is just as, if not more, important, than the actual work you do,” says Stephanie Chick, executive coach, CEO of Deliver the Package ( “You might be working so hard that you’re missing the fact that your reputation isn’t what you think. You may think that it’s too late or that the change may be difficult, but here are some doable strategies to restore your good name:


If you have a reputation as…
…a gossiper

“Attempting to appear in the know, the gossiper shares information—verified or not—with anyone who will listen,” says Chick. “While people may seem to enjoy hearing the juicy details of the latest rumor, inside they are probably thinking, I wonder what she says about me when I’m not around?” Gossipers are typically considered untrustworthy, and this could especially have an impact on your advancement to a position that deals with confidential or sensitive information.

To reverse it:
“In short, mind your business,” says Chick. “Talking about others takes precious time away from accomplishing your goals. Focus on business-related conversation and how you can contribute more as an employee. That’s what makes you valuable in a business setting.”

Loading the player...

If you have a reputation as…
…a loner

According to Chick, while you may, in fact, be shy, keeping to yourself may brand you as someone who doesn’t work well with others or who lacks effective communication skills. “People often mistake the quiet person as being disengaged or not having anything to contribute,” she says. “This reputation can keep you isolated and ostracized from your coworkers, and can hinder promotion opportunities simply because people don’t know who you are or what you think.”

To reverse it:
Chick says learn to see the advantages of social relationships. “You don’t have to attend every networking or social event. Be selective based on your interests and the potential benefit,” she says. “Investing a little time in getting to know fellow employees can create stronger working relationships. And making yourself and your thoughts known—by speaking up in meetings and inviting colleagues to lunch, for example—goes a long way to positioning yourself to move up.”

If you have a reputation as…
…a worker bee

“If you find yourself 100 percent focused on results, or someone else routinely gets credit for your efforts, you may be working too hard,” says Chick, CEO of Deliver the Package (Deliverthe, a coaching firm. Missing chances to publicize your new ideas and achievements will keep you from the next level.

To reverse it:
“Spend as much time promoting as you do on producing,” Chick advises. “Attending networking seminars and getting involved in strategic planning or company volunteer groups can help you build your reputation in important but less quantifiable ways. Stop burying your head, and work smarter not harder.”

The Office 411
Readers’ advice for sticky workplace situations

STICKY SITUATION: “I had been with my company for ten years and was reporting to a new boss. I had a stellar record, was a top performer, and was always proud of my good reputation. My new boss said, ‘I’ve heard nothing but good things about you.’ She had all these plans for me and was considering me for a promotion. But then a back-office glitch led to one of my clients receiving double the funds they were entitled to. As soon as I discovered the problem, I contacted the client, with whom I had a long and trusted relationship, and arranged to have the money returned. I explained the mistake to my new boss, but after an executive blew the incident out of proportion and questioned my credibility, I was considered a risk and labeled untrustworthy.”

THE LESSON: “I didn’t panic. I have confidence in my abilities. I explained what happened and the reasoning behind how I dealt with it. I took responsibility for the error. I am reestablishing my reputation by continuing to produce the way I always have and show that I can handle any situation gracefully, under pressure.” —Darlene B., New York

STICKY SITUATION: “I once counseled an employee who had made an error and approached the faculty member affected by it to tell the truth about the mistake. The member proceeded to chew out the employee, and when I intervened, he started screaming at me in a public hallway.”

THE LESSON: “When he was done, I told him in to step into my office; he was a little taken aback. But I professionally and clearly told him in no uncertain terms that talking to me that way was unacceptable and that he should never do it again. Because of my forthrightness, he apologized to me and to the people who overheard him. I have gained a reputation for being a straight shooter, someone who tells the truth regardless of the circumstances.” —Linda W., Oakland