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Information, helpful advice, and commentary about topics relevant to relaunchers.

Working While Black: A Story From One Professional on Being Black in Corporate America

This past year has been a tough one for us all: with the pandemic raging, job losses, anger of racial injustice, politics in the news and so much more, there have been no shortages of struggles. While many of us have our own way of dealing with each of these struggles, as a Black professional, there is an additional burden to navigate in having to fake a smile through it all. Despite the additional challenges this year has given us, one challenge remains the same year after year: being a Black female professional in a predominantly white corporate environment.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve encountered many microaggressions. I have heard racial slurs. I have been looked down upon for not affording to dress a particular way to work. My achievements have been discounted at the sake of uplifting my white counterparts. My intelligence has even been questioned at times. 


This year has brought up many emotions and made me hyper aware of the mental calculations I make on a daily basis. I’ve had to question and contain all different types of emotions: anger, frustration, hopefulness and despair. I’m always working in a headspace of carefully managing how my non-Black peers perceive me to avoid falling into a box of common racial and cultural stereotypes.


I feel like I’ve had to represent my entire race, coming across as more than proficient, more than competent, and more than capable. There’s this constant thought in the back of my mind of having to be “on” all the time because in the back of someone’s else’s mind, they could be judging my entire race based on my actions. I’m constantly trying so hard to fit into the white standards of professionalism that have been embedded in the workplace for as long as racism has been embedded in our society.


My inner monologue churns on: “The expectations for me as a Black woman are much higher than those of my white colleagues. It feels like I am expected to go above and beyond while my colleagues at the same level just do what is described in their job descriptions.


Despite all the challenges that come with being Black in corporate America, I want to lead...I want to motivate myself to do and be better always. And I want other Black women and men to do the same. However it is critical that I and my fellow Black colleagues also feel supported in doing so...and that starts with the company. Companies as a whole need to focus on the unique barriers that people of color face. With this awareness, you can create an environment and allyship for Black professionals. And there you can be an ally to POC. To create a more inclusive workplace: 

 

1. Set guidelines with your team.

Develop guidelines to explain exactly what an inclusive culture looks like and what constitutes unacceptable behavior. 

 

2. Provide comprehensive allyship and antiracism training.

In addition to teaching employees to recognize sexism and racism, this training should address the importance of understanding one's own privilege and taking proactive steps to recognize and eliminate bias,and how to be actively anti-racist. It should also emphasize tangible ways that employees can practice allyship, such as speaking out against discrimination and advocating for opportunities for Black colleagues.

 

3. Make the “Only” experience less common for Black professionals.
Consider hiring and promoting Black professionals in cohorts. Or provide employee resource groups specifically for Black employees. This can help them feel more supported and less alone.


4. Take a closer look at company and team norms.
Ensure that Black employees have a voice in shaping company norms, and make it as easy as possible for them to speak up if it’s difficult or uncomfortable for them to participate.


Support is what we need because it makes all the difference in the workplace. While I’m lucky to have co-workers and an environment where I feel heard and visible, many others are not provided this support that is so critical. I call on managers, VP’s, COO’s CEO’s and change makers in their respective spaces to create an environment where Black professionals feel supported, uplifted, and celebrated. 

Happy Black History Month. 

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