The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
At the age of 7, I decided that I was going to be a lawyer. Every chance that little Brittany had to tell teachers, family, and others what I wanted to do I would boastfully say that was it. A younger me would rush home after school to watch soap operas, or “the stories,” with my Grandma. A slight obsession formed with people wearing suits and carrying briefcases. As you may take notice I am not a lawyer. During my Sophomore year internship, a very difficult child abuse case broke my spirit and will to continue my path to law school. I walked into the following semester changing my major and abandoning all that I once wanted. I went on to get a BA in Journalism studying PR and Advertising with a second area of study in Psychology. If anyone asked what I would be doing with that degree all these years later, it would not be this.
2020 signifies nine years since I have been in Corporate America. I don’t carry a briefcase or wear suites (a lot) but spend my days adorned in Nike clothing with an oversized tote. My tenure over time has included roles learning intricate parts of growing and developing business processes to now working as a Manager of Delivery Partnership Strategy and Government Affairs in the Digital and Tech space for the largest convenience chain in the world.
My career path hasn’t been a straight line but like a tire being drop-kicked off a hill bending to the erosion of the earth. One thing that has stayed consistent over this course of time is the lack of Black people, especially Black Women in C-level and up positions, across the board, yet I know so many talented people in Corporate. What is the truth? Is the adage still holding true? We all know it. We’ve heard it and live by it. Do we still have to be TWICE as good to get HALF of what they have?
Diversity & Inclusion has become lazy over the years. It has developed as a method for companies to plaster lackluster stock photos on their website, speak on its importance of panels composed of only white men and women, and receive awards for hiring people that “are different.” We are told by many executives that they don’t see color as if that is a good thing. Choosing to purposely ignore color defies looking at the core of diversity. The majority of the time D&I programs don’t do the real work. The very basic programs companies deem as good may barely uncover the biases and microaggression issues with workplace culture let alone offers a way to solve the issues. Does a 15-minute webinar on the importance of diversity actually do anything? Companies can continue to hire diverse staff until Jesus comes back but without a workplace that promotes true inclusion as well as promotes its people, you’ve done no better than the companies that outwardly do not care nor invest in D&I.
In the study Being Black in Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, Black people are still largely invisible in Corporate America. Despite our passion to succeed and genuine ingenuity, Blacks only represent 3.2% of executives and senior manager-level employees. Julia Taylor Kennedy, a researcher on the report, stated that 65 percent of Black professionals say it’s harder for Black employees to advice meanwhile only 16% of white professionals agree with that statement. An old clip of Omarosa on the Bethenny Frankel Show in 2013 has recently resurfaced on twitter with a large crowd of white women booing her for truths in mediocrity vs exceptionalism for Black Women.
The Water is Wet News:
- 64% of Black Women aspire to make it to the highest level of their profession (Nielsen)
- Women of color make up 4% of all C-level Executive positions (LeanIn.org)
- 41% of Black Women say that they never have substantive interaction with a senior leader about their work; 40% of Black Women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise vs only 27% of men experiencing the same thing (Forbes)
- There are currently only three Black Women in CEO positions.
I can point out experiences in my journey as a Black Woman in Corporate where I have been questioned for the simplest things regardless of being the most tenured/experienced person in my role. My business cases were picked apart on national calls and challenged by mediocre men that were said to be “the best at their job.” I’ve been labeled hard to work with for standing my ground. To this day I recall a situation where I got sent home from the office after my counterpart loudly embarrassed me for a mistake he made. He loudly asked me in a room full of our peers “did I know how to read” a client document that we had received during negotiations; when I pointed out his error the apology was in quiet although the disrespect was boisterous. My VP and others claimed it was an honest mistake but I should take the rest of the day off to cool down. As Black women, we have to constantly be mindful of our hairstyles, clothing, and even defending ourselves in the workplace It is exhausting juggling a life of assimilation and showing up as our authentic selves at work all while micro-aggression, sexism, and racism are being thrown into the unseasoned gumbo pot.
With the theme of International Women’s Day 2020 being Reach for Equal, I ask what does that mean for us as Black Women? Does it mean having space to bring our authentic selves to work? Wear our hair without question? Is it being that we are actually smart enough for our own good instead of for our detriment? Is having the same basic treatment that is given to white men and women in the workplace equality or is it time we made it a general expectation? We can’t continuously reach for an equal world where inequality thrives with the culture of Black Women. True equality is not just that of gender but also of the overdue respect that you and I deserve and quite frankly have earned.
So what can we do?
- Hire Black Women
- Develop/Train us
- Promote Black Women
- Pay us accurately. Our current gap is 39% less than white men and 21% less than white women. (Lean In Org, Gender Pay Gap Study)
- Don’t use us as a diversity check. Invest in us. Create a culture that welcomes us.
Black women are doing more than our part. We are getting more degrees than ever to head the most educated group in the US yet we disappear as we move up the corporate ladder. As much as the responsibility lies on the corporations to do better, we also have to look out for those currently at the table with us and create more spaces for those who are looking for a seat. Show up for yourself at work, but show up for the ladies coming behind you as well. Be the voice that you wish you had to cheer for you.
Tips for Advocating for Other Women in The Workplace
- Set a good example by being your own advocate. Be present in meetings and make sure your voice is heard. It is easier to amplify someone else’s that way.
- Celebrate the successes of women around you from small to large
- Speak up for women in rooms they aren’t in. Talk about the good partnership they bring, a key highlight they brought up or other points of reference that shows their value. When on calls with partners external and internal, I try to make sure that I always say how good my counterparts are at something or are a subject matter expert that people love to work with. A little goes a long way.
- Encourage the women around you. That promotion? Get is sis. Looking to learn a new skill I know? How can I help
- Be a peer-mentor. We all bring different skill sets. You can mentor across the table the same way you mentor down. For example, if your strong skill is presenting and a fellow Black coworker is struggling, give them some one-on-one time to help them find their groove.
- Don’t be afraid of having to be “the only one” in the workplace. Generations before us have struggled with this idea that only Black women could exist in an office at a time. Refer to others for jobs when/where it makes sense. Look at their resume before and see if it is missing any info. Pre-interview tips if you can.
- If you work with external vendors/partners, look for to hire/contract Black women. When working on marketing/influencer areas for work, I always look for ways to diversify that and how we can bring in Black women on campaigns.
When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for,, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”
We need more of us, and we need more of each other.
FROM AEROSPACE TECHNOLOGY TO DIRECTORS, BELOW ARE A FEW OF THE WOMEN I CELEBRATE DURING INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S MONTH FOR PUSHING THEMSELVES, AND THE CULTURE, FORWARD.
- Casie, Senior Management
- Chasity, Managing Editor
- Beanca, National Marketing Events Lead
- Kian, Communications Strategist
- Camille, Trade Marketing Director
- Aleah, Consultant
- Leyandria, Small Business Consultant
- Alex, Senior Director
- Angel, Consultant
- Courtney, Marketing + Brand Strategist
- Lauren, Relationship Manager
- Bola, Claims and Legal Specialist
- Christen, Account Manager
- Stephanie, Scrum Master
- Kayla, Account Manager
- Daniella, HR Associate
- Kym, Financial Associate
- Brelyn, Conference Sales Executive
- Nicole, Consultant
- Hannah, Attorney
- Charlene, Board Investigator
- Jenai, Data Migration Specialist
- Krystal, Senior Producer
- Lauren, Sales Manager
- Yinka, Managing Director, Regional Communications & Public Affairs
- Morgan, Infrastructure Cloud Consultant
- Jenae, Program Manager
- Imani, Senior Accountant
- Brittany, Marketing Strategist
- Nicole, Producer
- Korpo, Management Consultant
- Ashley, BIM Coordinator
- Taylor, Product Development Manager
- Francesca, Inclusion and Diversity Program Manager
- Kia, Senior Project Manager
- Britney, Manager- Finance
- Lela, Corporate Trainer
- Faith, Chemical Engineer
- Symphony, Manger of Vendor and Partnership Strategy
- Alexis, Social Media Manger
- Jasmine, Mobile Banking Product Owner
- Andrea, Investment Professional
- Marshay, IT Consultant
- Rachel, Delivery Lead
- Sydney, Events Manger
- Courtney, Non-Profit Communications
- Le’Dia, Diversity Manager & Recruiter
- Kenna, Sales Manager
- Kierra, Director of Admissions
- Jasmine, Agile Delivery Lead