The troubling truths about black women in the workplace is a topic one can not ignore. After speaking to about 100 black women, I learned there were some alarming consistencies. I wanted to shine a light on what I learned. My hope is that we, can grow, together. The goal is to have the culture conversations that lead to solutions that enable all people to thrive. So, here’s what I gathered from my experience.
Barriers to Growth
The woman who is capable of doing ALL things in spite of everyday discrimination is powerful. Often she doesn’t realize the level of self awareness required in order to manage her self and her behavior, in the workplace. She is required to do more and say less. This means a wide array of skill sets including time management, attention to detail and optimum organization. She finds herself thinking and overthinking to write and speak. Many tend to hide their true identities in the hope of gaining achieve success faster- which, by the way, is so wrong on many levels.
This doesn’t apply to all black women. But it was uncommon how common it was with the women I spoke with. There were some troubling truths that left me paused. After self-assessment, it was off putting to acknowledge the same in my career journey. My immediate solution were a couple sentences etched in my journal.
We can not change how people treat us but we can improve how we show up in those spaces. We can lean in and listen. Without reaction, we can respond sharing progressive solutions. We can commit to eliminating or improving space that mute our voices or minimize our beings. We can affirm that these are our steps, not our story. – Allison Todd, Confidence Coach
How Hiding Hinders Success
For years, experts have repeated the best steps to success is being true to yourself. If showing up as your true self leads to exclusion , heeding this call will be a challenge. I learned that subjects like how you speak, how you style your hair and how you dress could be hurdles in the workplace. And in the effort to curve negative perceptions, perhaps we bury parts of our existence and replace it with “societal acceptance”. Unconsciously, this is where problem begins. When you lower your expectations and “neutralize your demeanor” to accommodate limited views, you create negative self-perceptions and low self-esteem. You end up questioning who you are and when you do that leads to big hurdles to your success.
What have you lost in doing so? Losing yourself and diminishing your existence is the ultimate self-betrayal. You do not have to become someone else’s idea of how you are to be seen. It is high time to do a self-assessment. In this self-assessment:
- See yourself clearly, understand your voice and recognize your worth.
- Identify what specific behaviors and parts of you are being suppressed.
- Journal the thoughts and ideas.
- Practice emotional self-care regularly.
- Create a list of affirmations that celebrate you.
The Troubling Truths
Before we can begin the self-assessment, we understand the problem. I’ve categorized some of what I heard below. Can you understand how this created growth barriers? Can you identify with any of these experiences?
- The Angry Black Woman Why does it seem like I am always looking out for everyone in the room, instead of just sharing my voice? My supervisor told me that she and her team members were afraid to talk to me. She said that she didn’t like confrontation so she found it hard to provide feedback.
- The Undervalued Black Woman They expect me to do three jobs and pay me for one. None of the extra things they ask me to do are in the scope of my job. They require me to prove my reasoning in ways that feels like I’m proving my own worth. They often question my judgement and take action on my behalf doing what “they think is best”. When I offer suggestions they aren’t heard until after someone else says them.
- The Non-promoted Black Woman I have a decade more experience than my colleagues who have all been promoted before me. Yet, I constantly have to provide evidence that I am knowledgeable, competent and educated. I don’t know why I feel like I have to go above and beyond all of the time. They don’t see me anyway. My colleagues are often celebrated for less. They are rarely asked to do the labor intensive tasks.
Confidence: The Solution Starter Kit
The idea is to first have confidence in you. When you capture the real essence of who you are, channeling such for others is an instant self-reward. You begin to feel seen and heard because you show up as you. You don’t have to limit yourself to accommodate others bias views. Let your YOU shine! Allow others to see the professional who is capable. Learn how to assert your innovations, process and strategies. Don’t just share your passion and purpose, be. Be confident that you, (insert your name), can deliver excellence on your own terms. When done accordingly, this will inspire others, motivate inclusion, shift mindset and unleash your true potential.
You may be asking yourself, did she say confidence is the first step to success? The answer is yes. I believe you can be who you are regardless of bias. Correction, you must be who you are. It’s important to first focus on you. Then, focus on how you’re going to insert change. Why? Because conscious bias begins with lack of confidence. And the more you assert confidence, the more you assert growth mindset.
Without a doubt, we retreat to our shells for fear of being ostracized, excluded and ignored. But, DON’T! Re-purpose that fear and convert it to confident fuel. The world needs all of you, your strengths and your weaknesses. Let people learn, share and grow with all of you. Only when you are free from the burdens of misconception will you truly enjoy life.