Being a Black woman in the workplace can be both a rewarding and powerful experience. Are you laughing, why, has that not been your experience? Is that because you're different, exotic, loud, aggressive and although you are one of the few, unrecognisable when you change your hair, makeup or style of clothing hahaha now I am laughing with you. Can I just say, how you manage those micro aggressions will determine if the first statement I made, can also be your truth.
I have been where you are and where you are I have been, not because we live or work in the same place or country, not because we work in the same role or industry but just because by default we are women facing sexism and black faced with racism and finally Black women exposed to and exploited by colourism. Ladies, all that said, for our sistas that also have other protected characteristics, they are often in for a far more challenging ride. All of our rides will have bumps in the road but many of us will also experience a thrill or two along the way.
Why don't we look at the thrills? I bet I can find a few ya'll ain't even looking at, considering or you are only able to see the challenge in those situations. Imma flip them on their heads and claim some of the rewards and power they offer us.
1. Any thing culture related you will be asked to get involved, your culture, my culture, her culture what does that matter? As the minority, you are the obvious choice. Ok, this is a sad assumption on their part but before you turn it down out of offence why not find out what it will involve... if it's not against your values or beliefs why not do it! It will definitely increase the awareness of others, whilst educating you, building you a new network, adding to your future/current career projection as a CV builder and who knows, you may get all expenses paid for an experience you would never have thought of, huh, you seeing it differently, maybe jus a little bit, lol!
2. Another woman is upset about something and all eyes are on you to provide support and comfort. You are already rolling your eyes cos you dun know you was barling before you left your house about some mess you have to cover, you've fixed your work face on and are here to get through till clocking off time and now your expected to deal with this mess that wouldn't even have been a problem if you were faced with it. OK, I get it, but how about this, people may take kindness for weakness, but most see compassion as a positive character trait, one to be envied, so take that accolade gurl. This is also a situation that a good listener will learn and gain from. Some insider knowledge may escape that sad woman's lips that stop you from making the same mistake or open up an opportunity you wasn't expecting. Disclaimer: do not use this information to gloat or gossip, even if this person pays you no never minds on a daily, she will repay you with kindness given the opportunity.
3. The other Black girl ain't got no sense of time and her work ethic is dependent on that evenings social activities, you stand back from her because hell you don't care for her as a person either until the boss asks you as a more senior and long-term employee to speak with her about her tardiness. Yes girl you, you should speak to her, your left side is thinking I know they ain't asking me to put this girl in check whilst your right side knows dang well why your black behind has been asked to get all blackity on her. Now you may be thinking I don't care for this chick but I ain't out here trying to get her the sack either, so what do you do? Don't worry, I got you. There are two ways to play this. 1) Explain to your boss that you appreciate the chance to take on more responsibility but would relish the opportunity to shadow in the first instance, allowing you to re-read the current HR guidance and then observe how the guidance is used to manage staff. Before they can respond, thank them for giving you the opportunity to witness how they deal with HR matters, whilst keeping the department in right standing with company policy. 2) Explain you are too close to the situation as this woman has so often been mistaken for you (even though you look totally different) and this may be a conflict of interest if the employee decides to take the matter further. I assure you, both or either of these actions, work.
4. You are asked to dance and loosen up at the office at the party. You know you are not going to set yourself up for no falls where your bills get paid. But we ain't going to talk that talk, no way instead, let your colleagues know that although you would love to join in you haven't been feeling well but felt rude to not show your face. Or, suggest a song that they would all know and ask them to demonstrate the dance shining the light back on them. Lastly, agree to get loose after the meal as you are a little hungry, by which time they would be smashed and won't notice you slip out...belly full and no drama, winning!
Whatever your situation Sis, know this, when you make the head space to see things differently you empower yourself and feel rewarded rather than ridiculed. Black women right now are advancing in all industries. We are pursing career paths, leadership roles and pay-cheques that only 5-10 years ago would not have been in our sights. There are added and different struggles for us in the work place compared to those experienced by our Caucasian counterparts, but I believe much of that is down to lack of or no representation, leadership model and mentorship.
When we look around and we see only one or two of us ahead of us on the organisational ladder it is disheartening, even more so when those Black women that are making it, will not look back for those of us on the rise.
Do not waste your time and energy being angry with them, we do not not know their story and so, if they cant or wont help you, seek mentorship else where. Not every mentor needs to be in your field, in your age bracket or desiring the same as you. They have to have been at that level, worked through the process to get there, identified work arounds and anger management strategies, sought HR advice and know where to get external support whether that be financial, professional advice or training.
Wisdom does not all come in one package with a neat little bow, so you may need two or three mentors, simultaneously or one after the other to get to where you are going. No matter what, when you arrive, cock up your feet, pour that glass of something special take a sip and smile, remember to look back, someone helped you so be a blessing to another Black woman climbing the ladder behind you. The more of us at the top, being unapologetically us, the faster those isms, struggles to access and advance, underrepresentation and wage disparities will become a thing of the past.
Onyx Yayas wish you all the best in your journeys check out some character traits that will support your career pursuits.