Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, a book published by Harvard Business Review Press named by Thinkers50 as one of the top 10 management books of 2022.
Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He is also on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, where he teaches the unspoken rules of career navigation.
He has been featured in Forbes, The Today Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, New York Post, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, and CNBC. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022.
[00:00:00] - Gorick Ng
Many organizations are still at step one on this journey where even just surveying the race, the gender, the veteran status, the other forms of identity are really what these organizations are focused on right now, there is not yet very much data on who is first-generation professional and what their experiences are. For those who are interested in picking up this baton, this is definitely something to better investigate with your workforce, with your upcoming surveys.
[00:00:37] - Doug Foulkes
Small drum roll and welcome to a historic Episode 100 of Chaos and Rocketfuel, the Future of Work podcast. This is the podcast that's been looking at all aspects of work in the future for the past 99 shows. It's brought to you, as always, by WNDYR, and I'm your host, Doug Foulkes. With me is CEO at WNDYR, Claire Haidar. This episode is our last chance to chat to author and adviser at Harvard College, Gorick Ng. Gorick's book, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, is aimed to help first-time professionals navigate the workplace and was born out of his own experiences as a first-generation low-income graduate and worker. If you've missed the first two episodes, then we recommend you cycle back and catch up. Gorick's insights and research have been a real eye-opener to life for many as a new entrant to the professional work arena. This, our final week, we look at some practical applications for leaders and see what life has in store for Gorick himself.
[00:01:39] - Claire Haidar
Okay, so I'm glad that point was clarified and I fully agree with you on it. We can't just specifically look at this group that we're talking about here. But before we move on from them fully, can you share some demographics and data with us about them? Because I find that as an executive myself, once I actually do understand some of the demographics and the data behind an issue, I'm better able to understand how to incorporate that into my overall company strategies with my leadership team. Let's pause there and look at that.
[00:02:17] - Gorick Ng
Sure thing. Well, I'll start by saying that the data isn't all that plentiful, and that's important to highlight where the first-generation term is one that was first created within the field of education, especially for higher education. It's only now starting to creep into the workplace where the term first-generation professional is still rather new. When it comes to statistics, the main one that I'll cite is from the Center for First Generation Student Success in the United States. What they find is that among students who graduated with a bachelor's degree from 2015 to 2016, 42% of them were first-generation college graduates. Nearly half of the graduates coming out of higher education in the United States are the first in their families to pursue and graduate with such a degree.
[00:03:11] - Gorick Ng
We, unfortunately, don't have these statistics in the workplace because I've spoken with a number of leaders, especially in DE&I, about surveying their population. Many organizations are still at step one on this journey where even just surveying the race, the gender, the veteran status, the other forms of identity are really what these organizations are focused on right now. There is not yet very much data on who is first-generation professional and what their experiences are. For those who are interested in picking up this baton, this is definitely something to better investigate with your workforce, with your upcoming surveys.
[00:03:51] - Claire Haidar
I like that. It's really practical for any HR or executive leader listening to this. Doug, over to you.
[00:04:00] - Doug Foulkes
Gorick, we are coming towards the end of our time, but what I'd like to, maybe, the last main question that I've got is to get real in a sense that could you share an actual story of maybe someone that you've worked with and you've seen a change in. Just bring us into the heart and soul of one of these humans that we've been talking about throughout the podcast.
[00:04:23] - Gorick Ng
Sure thing. I'm thinking about a current mentee of mine who is first-generation and low-income coming from Texas. She is at one of the top 10 schools ranking-wise in the United States. On the face of it, she is coming from privilege. She will be graduating from a top-tier school. But when we unpack her experience, what folks may not appreciate is that one of her parents is incarcerated, the other is working multiple jobs, service jobs to make ends meet. She has a number of siblings, one of whom is dealing with drug abuse. Her college experience as a result has been influenced by her upbringing, where one, she's working multiple jobs to make ends meet. She's working multiple service jobs because those are the easiest jobs to get. She is, as a result, coming into the workforce not having as much "relevant" experience as some of her colleagues.
[00:05:31] - Gorick Ng
When I ended up coaching her, I told her, "Well, actually, it's great to be working in all these service roles, but if what you're really interested in is policy advising, you might find it more useful to pursue, for example, a policy research role with a professor on campus who could then maybe introduce you to a policy role within the government for your upcoming summer internships." When I had that conversation with her, it was a big eye-opener for her because she thought, "Wow, I didn't even know that I needed relevant experience. I didn't even know that this is the process of getting a job within the government." Over the course of a semester, we ended up having her move away from service work and over to more policy research-oriented work.
[00:06:19] - Gorick Ng
Now, that was just the first of many more steps because once she showed up in that workplace, she was surrounded by folks who had come from very different backgrounds, whose parents were executives, whose parents were in public service themselves. What they knew was that they had to speak up in meetings, that they had to go to happy hours, that they had to network and meet folks at the senior rank so they could get pulled into closed-door meetings and high-profile assignments. Whereas she was putting her head down, waiting for work to be assigned to her, what her colleagues were doing instead were approaching higher-ups, identifying their pain points, proposing projects, and ultimately getting pulled into these projects. In a matter of just several months, she was the person who was sitting in the cubicle, putting her head down, being invisible, whereas all of her other coworkers who were, frankly, putting in less work, less hours were getting promoted faster than her.
[00:07:22] - Gorick Ng
We ended up having to help her navigate some of the realities of the workplace, which is that it's not just about your outputs, it's not just about how hard you work, it's also about how you show up, how much you're seen, how much you're heard, how much you're remembered. That's still an ongoing process between she and I. But that really goes to show that the work has only just begun with someone like her.
[00:07:43] - Doug Foulkes
It's very much a mindset. You have to completely change the mindset of the individuals, irrelevant of what their background is.
[00:07:52] - Gorick Ng
I would say it's not just on the individual. I want to make sure that this isn't just a matter of self-help. It's also a matter of all of us needing help. A conversation for leaders of her organization is, "Hey, this individual that you just hired is a hard worker, is eager to contribute, and could be your next cohort of leaders. But she will require more investment in the form of maybe you proactively inviting her to meetings versus her volunteering herself. You perhaps giving her more space to contribute maybe outside of meetings and you ultimately leveling the playing field for her such that she isn't navigating these whole host of unspoken rules and unknown unknowns and coming across as if she's a low performer, even though she really isn't. It's just a matter of her not knowing what the expectations are."
[00:08:52] - Claire Haidar
Gorick, I love that story that you shared and I fully agree with Doug's sentiments around it very much being a mindset. There's a big mindset that needs to change. It's almost like if I was to summarize the conversation and how I've heard it today, at a company level, it's a process and a system to use your words that needs to be codified, but it doesn't remove the very real work that has to happen at the individual level, which is a mental, heavy, psychological mindset change.
[00:09:28] - Gorick Ng
It's a psychological mindset change on the part of the individual to realize that regrettably, especially in the world of white-collar work, that it's not a meritocracy, that it's not just about the quality of your work, it's also about how you show up and how you sell yourself and how you sell your ideas. It's also a mindset shift on the part of leaders to recognize that the people that you might see as high performers are perhaps high performers at identifying, deconstructing, and following the unspoken rules and that the place that you might see as a meritocracy may not be so much of a meritocracy once you unpack these unspoken rules.
[00:10:08] - Claire Haidar
Gorick, we're just going to ask you a few interesting questions about yourself that we can leave with our audience. Immerse us into your own culture. I'd love to smell the smells, feel the textures, the sounds.
[00:10:23] - Gorick Ng
Yeah, sure thing. Well, I'll share with you the culture of my past and maybe the environment of my present, where when I think about the past, the smells are of my mom cooking in the kitchen. The textures, frankly, are of a house that's filled with furniture that we... None of which we purchased. All of it was handed down to us by others or furniture that we picked up from the curb. The sounds are of my mom downstairs in the basement sewing, patching up some of my old clothes. When it comes to the environment in which I live now, I've been, over the last while, been on the road a fair bit doing speaking engagements and workshops at companies. The smells, the textures, and the sounds, I would say, resemble that of an airport these days. Though just a short while ago, I was living on campus among Harvard undergraduates. You can imagine the smells, the textures, and the sounds of an undergraduate environment.
[00:11:34] - Claire Haidar
Gorick, if I'm very honest with you, I think the smells of your past are better than the current ones.
[00:11:43] - Gorick Ng
I think I have to agree with you on that one.
[00:11:48] - Claire Haidar
Doug, over to you.
[00:11:51] - Doug Foulkes
Gorick, I've got a couple of very quick questions. What are you researching next?
[00:11:58] - Gorick Ng
I'm researching two things next. One are the unspoken rules of how to be an effective first-time manager. It's really the flip side of everything we talked about as it relates to how to be a high-performing individual. What does it look like to be a high-performing manager? The second is around the unspoken rules of achieving breakout success in your career, where when I take a look at the patterns I've observed across successful professionals, how did they spend their time at the earliest stages? What choices did they make? How long did it take for them to achieve their goals? That's another topic of my research today.
[00:12:39] - Doug Foulkes
Why did you feel so compelled to write your first book?
[00:12:43] - Gorick Ng
I'd say it came from the head and the heart, where the head, it comes back to this experience of seeing, oh, my goodness, how inefficient is our labor market where you have millions of young people figuring out the early stages of their career through trial and error? How can we save people some of this time if only we had written down some of what people wish they could have learned sooner? Then when it came to the heart, I didn't go through the education system even knowing that the first-generation low-income identity existed. It took someone else to introduce this vocabulary to me, coming back to the power of language.
[00:13:23] - Gorick Ng
But once I honed in on this first-gen low-income identity, I started realizing that there are so many others who are going through the same thing. When I look at the statistics of the types of college enrollees that higher education institutions are increasingly bringing in, it's an increasingly diverse student population, and it's increasingly first generation. I just felt compelled to pave a smoother path for those who are coming after me.
[00:13:53] - Doug Foulkes
[00:13:58] - Gorick Ng
I'm running one leg of a broader relay race that many of us are running as well.
[00:14:04] - Doug Foulkes
My last question is maybe around that, where did your career go next? What's next for Gorick Ng?
[00:14:11] - Gorick Ng
Well, that's still a work in progress. Those who are listening to this podcast and have ideas, I would encourage them to reach out to me. I'm still trying to figure it out. I think at this point, I'm having a great deal of fun doing this research, doing this consulting work with organizations, doing this speaking, getting in front of management teams, and just sparking this conversation. But I think about this more in terms of the impact rather than the means. So far, I've only gotten as far as writing a book and speaking about this work. But if folks listening to this conversation have ideas on what leg of the relay race is under-invested in and that I can run effectively, please do reach out.
[00:14:57] - Doug Foulkes
Well, there's a good advert. Hopefully, someone will reach out.
[00:15:04] - Claire Haidar
Yeah, I hope so as well. Gorick, I can't thank you enough for spending this hour with Doug and I. It gave me pause. Having been raised in South Africa, right in the middle of apartheid, there's a social awareness around these issues that I live my life with, in a very conscious way. Yet this specific group of people, interestingly enough, even though I am actually one of them that we're talking about, has never actually been something that I've stopped, paused on, and reflected on. It's been a very personal podcast for me, from the very first conversation that we had to the preparation of the questions to the conversation today. Thank you. I've learned a lot. As a leader in a company, I'm definitely challenged to go and make some changes and to think more broadly about the world after having spent this time with you.
[00:16:09] - Gorick Ng
I appreciate that, Claire. I've had so much fun in this conversation. I appreciate you offering this opportunity to share my story and my work. I'd like to think that we're both running this relay race together, me passing the baton off to you and you doing the same to me. Thank you.
[00:16:28] - Doug Foulkes
Lastly, from my side, Gorick, thank you as well. It's been a really enlightening hour and I'm absolutely sure that your book and your work is going to help level the playing fields out there for many people coming into the job market.
[00:16:44] - Gorick Ng
Appreciate that. Thank you so much.
[00:16:47] - Doug Foulkes
That is the end of our 100th episode and our in-depth look at the unspoken rules that lie in the subconscious of many of our biggest companies with Gorick Ng. If you found this podcast of value, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. You can catch us on Spotify, Google, and Apple Podcasts, or on WNDYR's own website, WNDYR.com. From Claire and myself, bye for now.