Imagine being a 21-year-old HBCU graduate relocating to the Midwest with no knowledge of what a real winter is, where people that look like you will be sparse and a beauty supply store is no longer in walking distance. As women of color, we endure both false gender and racial biases developed by those that won’t ever take the time to have a serious conversation. The main benefits to what can otherwise be unpliable waters of corporate America is that we are accustomed to channeling our pains to further fuel purpose – while serving as an example for the young women aspiring to be in the very footsteps we may not always find enjoyable.
Here are some survival techniques to smooth the often rocky, laborious journey:
Use the voice you are given
It won’t be easy. Peers may not agree with you. Others may develop incorrect assumptions about you. But the one thing that can’t be taken away is your perspective and how you share that with others. Agreeing to simply avoid confrontation silences the power you possess while holding someone else’s in higher regard…it’s too purposeful for it to be disposed of. Be decisive and confident; you have a seat at the table because you’re qualified to be there.
Be intentional about creating a network that wants to see you succeed
our next role may not be listed on Indeed or Career Builder but will come from the network you’ve cultivated for yourself. Make sure you include people of all departments and levels within your industry. The most successful people are those that understand the importance of teamwork…your network is no exception.
Find a mentor and a champion
What’s the difference between a mentor and champion? A mentor assists in building you while the champion is your voice when you’re not present. They hold the hiring power and serve as reinforcement. Consider where you want to be within the upcoming years. Who has the skill set and/or job responsibilities you desire? Build a genuine relationship with them. Everyone needs a coach to help redirect them into unfamiliar territory or be pulled out of a funk when things are looking cloudy.
Allow excellence to be the goal versus people pleasing
Being a woman allows us to be more empathetic which should not be considered a weakness by any means. However, empathy does not translate to becoming the ‘do it all’ resource or compromising your own values to gain the acceptance of others. You are there to do your job successfully and collaborate based on common goals; not bombard yourself with being responsible for the fleeting emotions of those around you.
Stop offering unwarranted apologies
Just stop because you don’t mean it anyway. I didn’t realize this was an issue until I reread old email exchanges I sent when I was a part of an all-white male team. Why did I feel the need to apologize? I felt inferior. I had some odd misconception that if things went wrong I was always responsible, which could not be so far from the truth.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” – Lena Horne
Consistently be a problem solver
The size of the problem isn’t what matters – the impact of the solution is. Instead of chiming in with coworkers discussing what doesn’t work consider what can be done to rectify issues. Showcase your ability to analyze and think outside of the box.
Find a few hobbies and maintain them
Instead of knocking your co-workers heads off (and getting fired), find some positive outlets to calm you down when the days are rough. Exercising, yoga, drawing or whatever your muse can help you unwind from those, “tell me why I’m working again!?” days. Keeping yourself healthy is and should be your number one priority before anything else. Self-care is something widely discussed but not always executed. Find out what mix works for you.
I would be lying if I said this road is easy and without faults. I do know that we aren’t the first or the last to experience various hardships in the workplace, but we hold the power to reshape the narrative.
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