The 9-5 workday can come with the usual day-to-day stressors. Workplace gossip, passive-aggressive coworkers, and even more serious issues like harassment. It can be a daily struggle. But if you’re the only black woman at work, it can come with additional stresses and pressures that can be devastating to your identity.
I know that society and culture play an incredibly large role in providing a constant stream of negative stereotypes of black women. So how we should wear our hair, the tone of our voice, and keeping our opinions to a minimum become even more unspoken pressures in the office.
Do you have a fear of being perceived as too aggressive or opinionated in the workplace? You already know I have, so I also felt the pressure to shrink and fit in.
To agree to complete every task without asking for help. Or take on more responsibilities and assignments with no incentives. And sometimes even other’s work unnecessarily! Even shutting down my true opinions and quieting my normally extroverted personality.
But then there was a shift. I honestly couldn’t take hiding behind my “corporate voice” and polite smiles any longer.
What was the difference?
I began to embrace my whole self. I knew it couldn’t be worse than faking it all the time! Through it all, I’ve figured out some of my best strategies for when you’re the only black woman at work. These will be sure to help you maintain a calm confidence, not compromise your identity, and still keep it professional.
How to Thrive While Being the Only Black Woman at Work
Recognize the Ignorance
Micro-aggressions have become a new word for a very old problem that black women face every day. They’re used to under value and solidify ignorant stereotypes, so when you’re hit with one, don’t ignore it! Transform that energy into something more positive, instead of internalizing it.
I’ve had to deal with the usual ignorant questions about my natural hair and what’s “trending” in black culture, so instead of getting upset, I used it as an opportunity to educate. And honestly, it’s a lot less draining!
Take note of their lack of perspective and laugh when you can. Even when you feel like you’re on an episode of “Insecure”. Trust me, if I let every micro-aggression get to me, I’d always be mad. So save yourself the energy and keep from taking that anger home to your sacred space.
Stand Up For Yourself
It’s a fact that some people are going to try to undermine you because of their assumptions of who they think you are, based on their own prejudices. This is a pivotal moment when you can choose to stay silent, or say what you need to say.
So speak up! It’s important to say your piece when you feel inclined, and it’s another way to practice self care in knowing your worth.
Be your own advocate! It just doesn’t benefit you to give into the pressure of being the only black woman at work. I attempted to lay low at first, but it just isn’t who I am to take the heat. So instead of complaining to other co-workers (I’m guilty of it too!), go to the right people who can directly help you address the issue.
Keep Some Distance
If your work atmosphere makes you feel like you’re back in high school all over again, do yourself a favor and keep out of it! Don’t feel the need to constantly engage, especially if it feels soul-sucking. Empower yourself by creating boundaries and staying true to them.
Participating in gossip may help the day fly by, but it creates a false feeling of acceptance and camaraderie that is actually rooted in negativity. And if you already can’t stand walking into work every day, focusing on the obnoxious actions of others will just make it harder to get through.
Pro Tip: Make sure to get some alone time during your workday so you can give myself a mental break from the constant flow of negative energy.
The most important survival tip I can give, is to truly be yourself. As cliché as it might sound, standing firm in who you are is how you survive not getting swayed by the pressures and influences of others.
By trying to dodge stereotypes, your only aim is to please others, when you could be spending that valuable time focusing on being your best self! Recognize those pressures as distractions, and you’ll find it so much easier to follow your gut and do what feels right.
So why is this so important? Because your daily happiness matters! If being the only black woman at work is causing major disruption in your life and emotionally stressing you out, then it may be time to let it go.
Especially since that stress, believe it or not, can manifest into problems with your physical health. And no job is worth you sacrificing your health and well being to that extent!
Create A Support System
Befriend another black woman or woman of color. When you feel like you have an ally or someone that can understand your specific struggles, it gets easier.
Also, it’s easy to spot the differences between you and the people around you. But finding some common ground with those that you get along well with, will help you feel less isolated. So in the meantime, you can at least stand the sight of your coworkers everyday.
Remember that you can also create a support system for yourself! Continuing to practice your self care is so important, especially while dealing with an emotionally stressful environment.
Related: 5 Types of Self Care Essential Guide
Moral of the story?
I’ve learned that it just makes the most sense to live for you by not trying too hard to appease. Expressing your thoughts, feelings and emotions without trying to satisfy the expectations of others is the real path to maintaining who you are. It’s how real happiness and confidence are cultivated!
If it doesn’t feel right, take it as a sign to listen to your inner voice even closer. Even in the most trying times, remember that the only one you need to please and prove anything to, is yourself.
Have you had any similar experiences at your job? How did you deal with them?