Navigating Cultural Wealth in Your Career

career advice Jan 22, 2020

When you think about the concept of wealth or capital, what immediately comes to mind is abundance of money. However, social scientist Tara Yosso believes all forms of capital can be used to empower individuals, particularly from a cultural point of view. 

While her research focused on how students of color can capture and fully express their talents, strengths and experiences in their college environment, the concept of cultural wealth has application in career management and development.

This strength-based and appreciative approach to cultural, encourages people of color to communicate often overlooked and undervalued aspects of their unique experiences when accessing their skills, interests and qualifications high-level positions.

Without this approach, the focus may be on the lack of skill or ability, instead of seeing that the skills developed through the lived experiences can position you for success.

It's through an understanding and application of one (or all) of the six (6) forms of cultural wealth that women of color can begin to see themselves through a different lens, increasing self-worth, self-efficacy and confidence. This framework can also diminish the impact of imposter syndrome most women of color experience at acute levels. 

Cultural wealth, as defined by Tasso, is an array of knowledge, skills, abilities, values and experiences that are learned, shaped and shared by a group of people.

All six types of cultural wealth--Aspirational, Familial, Linguistic, Navigational, Resistant and Social--are interconnected, working together to strengthen an individual's ability to function powerfully and effectively in multiple spaces.

I recommend using these principles, and the skills associated them, in your performance evaluations, resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and in your professional narrative and branding. Consider these part of your superpowers.

Aspirational Capital

Aspirational capital focused on the hopes and dreams for the future in the face of real and perceived barriers. It is the ability to envision a future beyond your current circumstances and work towards pursuing your aspirations. An aspiration is a strong desire to achieve something. Going after your dreams give you fuel to achieve amazing success and is a demonstration of courage. It helps you find purpose and an application of your interests and passions. When people talk about your "why," it can very well stem for your aspirational capital. The strength-based skills developed through this particular capital can be referred to as: ambitious, focused, goal-oriented, motivated, perseverance, driven, tenacious, self-starting, persistent, unshakeable, earnest and passionate. 

Familial Capital

Familial capital refers to the social and personal human resources that can be drawn from your extended familial and community networks. This speaks to the collective wisdom, values and stories from their home or your extended cultural communities of support. Career success is not about work/life balance, but instead work/life alignment. This is achieved by leaning in to the core principles that are an important part of who you are and how they impact what you do and how you do it. To understand your familial capital, it's extraordinarily useful to spend some time identifying your key personal life values. This can be articulated as an appreciation of history and broader understanding of the importance of organizational values and traditions.

Linguistic Capital

Linguistic capital refers to the various language, history and communication skills you've learned through your life, as well as the role storytelling as a form of passing down wisdom from generation to the next. It's clear that being bi-lingual can give you a competitive advantage. However, storytelling is an important skillset for leaders to learn. Storytelling allows you to capture and share the most important aspects of an organization, team or individual role. Storytelling can be used to inspire, teach a critical lesson, set a vision for the team, explain your belief system and define culture, principles and values. These are key leadership skills and can demonstrate: memorization, attention to detail, comedic timing, facial affect, communication skills including listening and presentation, adaptability, problem-solving, multi-tasking, decision making, reflexivity, and empathy. 

Navigational Capital

This form of capital focuses in on your ability to maneuver systems and institutions that historically were not designed to support communities of color. There are multiple avenues of support and relief that help an individual function and excel in systems that can often be isolating for people that feel different. An important aspect of navigating organizations is knowing the “unwritten rules,” or implicitly communicated workplace norms and behaviors that are necessary to succeed within an organization. Diverse women continue to perceive negative stereotyping which makes fitting in difficult and poses challenges to advancement. This is why navigational capital can not be undervalued, as well as, the critical skill developed as a result often to the emotional and sometimes physical detriment of the individual. Skills developed here include: resourcefulness, flexible, creative, adaptable, innovator, nimble, effective, proactive, resolute, culturally competent, problem-solver. 

Social Capital

Social capital is the utilization of resources and personal support systems to gain access and achieve your goals. This type of wealth understands the value of emotional support, as well as building and maintaining social networks that support reaching one’s goal. In corporate spaces it's widely known that for women of color, advancement is often linked to having sponsorship in the workplace. Mentors are different then sponsors in that sponsors have a seat at the decision-making table, will exposure your work to create credibility behind closed doors, and have power in the organization. Social capital speaks to your ability to effectively utilize your relationship currency. Skills developed include: effective use of social networks, strong networking skills, team building, relationship building, establishing trust and confidence, taking initiative, bridge building. 

Resistent Capital

Resistance capital has its foundations in the experiences of communities of color in securing equal rights and collective freedom.  It highlights the skills and knowledge used to resist inequality and push forward. Resisting stereotypical typing and assumptions contrary to your authentic self. This type of capital is often experience when you're in a career or environment that's predominately white or white male. The challenge is maintaining your worth, value and authenticity, particularly when faced with gender, racial and financial equity in the workplace. The courages acts of engaging in these spaces is a skill in and of itself. However, it can be articulated as: pioneer, social justice values, risk taker, adventurer, entrepreneurial, trail blazer, leader, advocate, champion, initiator, trendsetter, high-achiever and resilient.

While these concepts or underlying definitions may not be new to you, I hope you've discovered a new way to consider their usefulness in talking about your skills, abilities and superpowers.

Interested in learning how to not only articulate these skills in your career management plan, but looking to do meaningful work in a way or place that values your cultural wealth, schedule a career strategy call with me today. 


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