The Only ‘One’ in the Room

Guest Editor – Monica Gillison

The Only ‘One’ in the Room

It’s hard to ignore what’s going on in the world today. There are things we can do to encourage inclusion.

Have you ever felt alone in a room full of people? How is it possible to feel like you don’t belong even when your qualifications, credentials and experience validate that you do? I often ponder these questions and wonder how others would feel in my shoes, the shoes of a black woman who is often the only “one” in the room.

Why should this matter, you might ask? It matters because more often than not, this is what happens when many life sciences representatives, managers and leaders gather for meetings and/or training. If our goal is to create a safe space for learning, an environment free of barriers that inhibit sharing and being vulnerable, and an atmosphere where we want people to feel open to contribute and share ideas, then we must make every effort to cultivate that type of environment versus one that may inadvertently foster isolation.

I once had a manager who shared his experience with me of riding a bus in an inner city. He grew up in a rural state and this was the first time in a setting where he didn’t see anyone who looked like him. He was indeed the minority surrounded by people of color.

From that experience, he recognized how it was an uncomfortable feeling and how he  felt different and somewhat detached. He then asked me how I felt in his region, a region where no one else looked like me.

He wanted me to know that even though we did not look alike, that he understood how I must often feel. He wanted me to know that he got it. It wasn’t an attempt to single me out or create attention, it was a way of forging a human connection and identifying that even though we have several things in common, we also have obvious differences that should not beignored. That happened 15 years ago and still resonates with me today.

Black people account for about 12% of the U.S. population, but occupy only 3.2% of the senior leadership roles at large companies in the United States. And, just 0.8% of  ll Fortune 500 CEOs are black, according to the analysis by the Center for Talent  Innovation, a workplace think tank in New York City.

We often teach the importance of showing empathy, “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another.” This is often crucial when connecting with our customers.

But how often do we practice this with our learners, colleagues and teammates? It’s hard to ignore what’s going on in the world today, around social justice and racial discrimination. And it’s certainly not going to be solved in one training session. However, there are things we can do to acknowledge the situation and encourage inclusion.

First, take a deliberate look around the room. Observe the people in your presence and mentally note who the “only one” might be.

Two, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes and reflect on how you might feel.

Finally, make an honest connection. You don’t need to openly address the situation but rather just take the time to let them know you “see them” and want them to know they and their input and comments are welcome.

Like the old adage goes, treat others how you would like to be treated – do it intentionally!

Monica Gillison is senior manager, sales training, for SK Life Science. Email Monica at


Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network

About Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network

Leave a Reply