Black women bring so much to the table. We are just as ambitious, competitive and smart as everyone else. And yet, because of our position in society, we face unique challenges that leave us feeling less than our best.
Mogul Millennial caught up with America Allen, therapist, consultant and owner of suNu Healing Collectively, to discuss the psychological implications of how Black women navigate the workforce. Black women face intersectional issues of race, gender, economics and quite often, politics. And because of that, it is important to learn how we can contribute positively to the workplace while still being our authentic selves.
America offers a few ways in which Black women are impacted in the workplace, and what can be to done to make the experience easier:
The plight of racial micromanagement
“Many of the women I work with, and myself have experienced being judged based on your presentation, your tone, your face, diction and other criteria that are not tangible and up to interpretation,” she says.
What you can do: Be authentically you and own it like marketing executive Bozoma Saint John. Wear a power jacket or statement lipstick to remind yourself that your best skills, talents and ideas include all of you. Also, when necessary, humble brag on yourself.
The issue with inclusion
The workplace is basically a mental minefield for Black women. The prevailing notion has been conformity in order to secure a job and fit into the company culture. Yet 86% of African-American or Black women feel included at work compared to over 90% of white women and men.
Assimilation can cause more harm than good, when not implemented properly.
“We are often forced to play small, negate our true self for the sake of survival,” says Allen, who runs her practice out of Durham, N.C. “It has been ingrained in us that once we get these jobs, we have to prove ourselves at all costs to keep them.”
Black women don’t mind going hard often. But we are burdened to go the extra mile every time to show that we are capable. There’s also no room for error for us. A study on diversity and leadership found that Black women are judged more harshly than white men, Black men, and white women when making the same mistakes in the office.
What you can do: Stop feeling shame or guilt that you have to prove yourself. Instead, keep track of your minor accomplishments and pull out the receipts. Additionally, you need to take up space! Always let your voice be heard with something valuable to contribute.
The struggle with diversity and inclusion
Many companies struggle with diversity and inclusion. Being the only one can make Black women feel quite isolated. And furthermore, lack of representation, or not being able to see other Black women in higher up positions, may lead us to feel like we don’t deserve what we’ve earned. Allen says she works with a lot of women on imposter syndrome.
“These experiences are traumatic and often lead to symptoms of race-based stress, including anxiety and depression with symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, worry, sadness, withdrawal coupled with perfectionism, over productivity and guilt related to rest,” says Allen.
What you can do: First, connect with others who look like you, share similar experiences, or talk the same talk as you. Also consider helping other people with your background get through the door, so the organization as a whole can be more diverse and inclusive. Find someone who can mentor or even be an ally to help increase your confidence and belonging. Seek a professional mental health practitioner to talk to and release what doesn't serve you.
Being mindful of bias and microaggressions
As Solange says, we have a lot to be mad about. Studies show that Black women are more likely to experience racism in the corporate workplace than anywhere else. Whether it’s unconscious bias or outright racism, Black women are pitted against constant reminders of race and gender.
These reminders can be microaggressions, sometimes disguised as compliments, says Allen. “Wow, you are so articulate. “You are such a hard worker.” As a psychologist, she gets an inside view of what impact this has on Black women, namely irritation and feeling marginalized. She also says the tricky thing about microaggressions is that they make the receiver start to question their own judgment and experience. The fact that these instances are covert and the fear of "playing the race card" causes us to internalize these experiences.
What you can do: Know how to be able to address such comments head on, eloquently and assertively. Let the other person know, "this is how what you said makes me feel and this is how I would like you to address me moving forward." Help the offender understand what made you uncomfortable, offer alternatives that work for both of you, and share the positive result from them being more knowledgeable and appropriate.
At the end of the day, Black women are rarely able to be their authentic selves, nor are they given the space to address it in the workplace. Navigating through stereotypes, suppression of feelings and microaggressions causes undue internal stress.
With these obstacles, it’s no wonder Black women may also find it hard to get pay equity. Imposter syndrome makes them afraid to ask and the attitudes of employers minimizes their work value.
Whether it’s through therapy or other self-care practices like playing the latest Beyoncé single, Black women must protect their mental health in these spaces. Fortunately, these are a few techniques in which you can react to attitudes and situations that can be mentally draining. Additionally, employers can do more to overcome their biases and root out racism. If Black women were consciously treated better and paid adequately, both the workplace and society will be much better for it.
Feature image provided by: America Allen