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Addressing Discrimination and Empowering Women of Color: Insights from Lan Nguyen Chaplin's Journey

In almost every industry, women of color face numerous challenges, including receiving less support, experiencing double standards, microaggressions, and unconscious bias. These discriminatory practices persist at the institutional, organizational, and leadership levels. It is crucial to address these issues collectively to create a more inclusive and equitable environment.

Today we will delve into the personal story of Lan Nguyen Chaplin, who fought against the odds to secure her role as a tenured professor in academia. We will explore the strategies she developed to protect herself, her career path, and her mental health, providing valuable insights for women of color navigating similar environments.

Strategies Used

Navigating Discrimination in Academia: Lan Nguyen Chaplin's journey as a tenured professor in academia serves as a powerful example of the obstacles faced by women of color. The academic setting, like many other industries, can be particularly challenging due to ingrained biases and systemic barriers. Despite these challenges, Chaplin's resilience and determination allowed her to carve a path to success.

Recognizing the Need for Self-Protection: One of the key insights Chaplin shares is the importance of self-protection. Women of color often find themselves in hostile environments where their contributions and achievements are undervalued or dismissed. In response, Chaplin emphasizes the need for self-advocacy, maintaining a strong support network, and seeking out mentors who understand the unique challenges faced by women of color.

Building Resilience: Resilience is a vital trait for overcoming discrimination and thriving in challenging environments. Chaplin highlights the significance of developing mental and emotional resilience. This involves cultivating a growth mindset, viewing setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth, and utilizing practices such as mindfulness and self-care to maintain well-being despite the external pressures.

Creating Your Own Opportunities: In industries where women of color face limited opportunities, Chaplin emphasizes the importance of creating your own path. She encourages women of color to identify gaps and niches where their expertise can shine. By leveraging their unique perspectives and experiences, they can carve out their own spaces and establish themselves as leaders in their respective fields.

Collaboration and Mentorship: Chaplin underscores the significance of collaboration and mentorship in overcoming barriers. Women of color often lack access to established networks and mentors who can guide them through the complexities of their industries. Therefore, Chaplin encourages the cultivation of supportive relationships with mentors who share similar experiences and can provide guidance, advice, and opportunities for growth.

Advocacy for Systemic Change: While individuals can take steps to protect themselves, it is crucial to acknowledge that addressing discrimination requires systemic change. Chaplin emphasizes the responsibility of institutions, organizations, and leaders to dismantle biased systems and foster an inclusive culture. By advocating for policies and practices that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, women of color can create lasting change for themselves and future generations.

How Women of Color in Other Industries Apply these Strategies

Women of color in other industries can apply the strategies mentioned by Lan Nguyen Chaplin to navigate and overcome the challenges they face. Here's how they can do so:

  1. Self-Protection: Women of color can advocate for themselves by highlighting their achievements and contributions. They can actively seek out supportive networks and mentors who understand their unique experiences and challenges. By building a strong support system, they can protect their career path and mental well-being.

  2. Building Resilience: Developing mental and emotional resilience is key to thriving in challenging environments. Women of color can cultivate a growth mindset, viewing setbacks as opportunities for growth. Engaging in mindfulness practices and prioritizing self-care can also help maintain well-being despite external pressures.

  3. Creating Opportunities: Women of color can identify gaps and niches in their industries where their expertise can make a significant impact. By leveraging their unique perspectives and experiences, they can create their own opportunities and establish themselves as leaders. This might involve starting their own ventures, pursuing innovative projects, or seeking out roles that align with their strengths.

  4. Collaboration and Mentorship: Collaboration and mentorship play a crucial role in overcoming barriers. Women of color can actively seek out mentors who share similar experiences and can provide guidance, advice, and opportunities for growth. Collaborating with peers who understand their challenges can also foster a sense of support and camaraderie.

  5. Advocacy for Systemic Change: Women of color can advocate for systemic change within their industries. They can raise awareness about the barriers they face and work towards promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. This can involve participating in diversity and inclusion initiatives, joining or creating employee resource groups, or advocating for policies and practices that foster a more inclusive culture.

By applying these strategies, women of color in various industries can navigate the obstacles they encounter and create a more empowering and inclusive environment for themselves and others. It is important for individuals to take proactive steps, while also recognizing the need for systemic change at the institutional, organizational, and leadership levels. Together, we can work towards a more equitable and inclusive future for all.


Lan Nguyen Chaplin's personal journey as a tenured professor highlights the discrimination faced by women of color in academia and serves as an inspiration for others facing similar challenges. By embracing self-protection, building resilience, creating opportunities, seeking collaboration and mentorship, and advocating for systemic change, women of color can navigate and overcome the barriers that hold them back. It is essential for institutions, organizations, and leaders to recognize their role in addressing discrimination and fostering inclusivity. Together, we can create an environment where women of color receive the support and opportunities they deserve, leading to a more equitable and prosperous future for all.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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