Being a woman of color in corporate America is by no means easy. But we’re here to show you how to own who you are, step into your power, and get the job that works for you.
Being miserable at work shouldn't be your norm. We’ve talked with some experts who are here to set the record straight.
According to Dr. Tega Edwin, career counselor and coach, “There are so many opportunities available to us now that you should no longer be living to work. You should work to live, to have impact, to live out your purpose and you deserve to enjoy what you do for a living.”
Career coach and founder and CEO of Knac, Ariel Lopez, continues, “So many people put up with opportunities or take jobs that they don't really like or love, because they can't really see greater for themselves. But you can't do your best work unless you feel comfortable in being authentic, which is why the culture is so important.”
“Every workplace may not be for you,” said Sherry Sims, founder and CEO of Black Career Women's Network™. “If it's still in the company policy to have a specific image they want you to convey, you have to make sure it's in alignment with how you want to show up.”
BE THE ONE AND ONLY YOU
When you're the only Black woman in a workplace, it can be easy for people to automatically assume that you want to be a part of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, but that might not be the case.
“As a Black woman, you have to decide what you have capacity for,” said Dr. Tega. “Being ‘the only’ can put a lot of weight on your shoulders. You have to find time and space to take care of yourself.”
KNOW THE CODE
“So many people feel pressured to code switch. I have to adapt, I have to change, I have to alter my personality or my appearance in a certain way to fit in. And that shouldn't be the case,” Ariel said.
It can sometimes be a risk to show up as yourself because we’ve been so conditioned to change who we are to fit an arbitrary idea of what it means to be “professional.” Even so, Ariel suggested the bold and brave route of showing up as your full and authentic self throughout the entire hiring process. “It allows you to come from a position of power. And you can be a change agent to create space for more people that look like us.”
But if (and when) you’re facing a person or situation that makes you uncomfortable, make sure you’re equipped to handle them with information like the How-tos for Handling Microaggressions.
First and foremost, you have to be able to pay your bills. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have standards. Always keep a list of your non-negotiables—compensation, health and wellness benefits, remote work, and learning and development, for example. When you know your value and your values, it makes it easier for you to go after what you want.
“It's important to have that list and also know that this list changes over time,” said Ariel. We know it’s also important to not go broke.
Speaking of money... Even if you’re in a job you enjoy, it’s a good idea to meet regularly with your manager for a salary evaluation—which includes a conversation about your current role, how long you've been in the role, and what your current salary is versus the market.
“Ask your boss, 'If you were to hire someone in my same role right now, at what salary would you bring them in?' And if the salary is higher than what you're currently making, then they need to be matching,” Sherry said.
And keep a “brag bank” that highlights the value you’ve added for your next promotion conversation or new job interview. This collection of your accomplishments could be as simple as an email folder of messages that say “good job” or “thanks for doing this.”
Let us make one thing abundantly clear: If your job needs to let you go, they will.
Sometimes people put up with bad situations because they feel like they must stay for at least a year before looking or that they can't quit before finding another job. But, if your current role is causing mental and emotional stress, then it may be time for you to consider all your options.
“We all have a professional identity. You need to know your professional self,” said Sherry. “We all have values that we bring into the workplace. You need to make sure that the values of the organization are in alignment with yours.”
TIME TO GO
“Too many Black women let fear keep them in situations that don't serve them because they're either afraid they don't have the skills to do something else, or it'll require a pay cut.”
But Dr. Tega urged, “I want them to push past their fear and think beyond it. And if the place is not working for you (and you have privilege of choice in your career), go somewhere else.”
KEEP IT MOVING
When you’re considering what your next move should be, Dr. Tega has some recommendations.
Get help. Navigating work can be political. Work with a therapist and a career counselor and coach so you have someone who can serve as social capital for you.
Gather resources. If coaching or therapy aren’t options for you, read books about negotiation, promotions, communication, and leadership.
BEFORE YOU JUMP (SHIP)
Even though many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, a lot of people are leaving roles without having anything lined up. There’s a lot of risk in that. And a lot of bold bravery for jumping into the deep end. The experts we spoke with agree that if you have at least three to six months of savings in the bank, now may be a perfect time to take that chance on yourself. And full-time employment isn’t the only option, either.
“Freelance or consult or do something to better yourself, like get certified in something that you’re interested in, or go to a bootcamp,” suggested Ariel. “There’re so many things that you can do as you’re navigating forward.”
Dr. Tega also encouraged those making big moves to be intentional about their next choice.
“Don’t just jump into something else. You’ve already taken this risk. Maximize it. Take a step back. Figure out what you truly want and desire. Invest in yourself by investing in professional support. Do everything you can to try to make sure that your next move is one that is really aligned and best for where you are in a situation right now,” she said.
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