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. Let me tell you sis, it’s can be a struggle. And if you’re the only black woman at work, there are even more social pressures that can negatively impact your identity and happiness.
Society and culture play an incredibly large role in contributing (and even encouraging) a constant stream of negative stereotypes of black women. And it’s safe to say that these alternative facts have made their way into the workplace as micro-aggressions.
So as a result, we hold back our ideas for fear of being judged, don’t share our opinions so we don’t appear too aggressive, and even question our hair texture and personal style. In fact, according to a Forbes study:
- “40% of black women have had their judgment questioned in their area of expertise; 27% of men have.”
- Only 35% of black women said their manager promotes their contributions to others; 46% of men said their manager does.
Basically, we compromise who we are because of the pressure to shrink and fit in (and I know it all too well).
I always felt that I had 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 figured out the best strategies to turn to for when these pressures start to take their toll on you. This way, you can maintain a calm confidence, not compromise your identity, and stay 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.
Yes, even when you’re fielding the usual ignorant questions about your hair and black culture, don’t let yourself get too upset. Try to turn it into an opportunity to educate, and it will feel 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 you let every micro-aggression get to you, you’d always be on 10. 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.
Learn to 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. 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
Be-friend 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?