Every story is different but they all tend to have some similarities. Same can be said by experiences of black women in corporate America. Most of us tend to “play a role” or brush off slightly offensive behavior because “they aren’t worth our job” or quite frankly, we just try to be understanding to the fact that most of the issues come from others just being ignorant about our culture. I’ve had plans to write this post for a long time because in my opinion, we aren’t vocal about it enough. It comes to the forefront today because I ran across an Instagram post that gave me a kick in the ass…
Everyone’s idea of a toxic work environment is different but it all comes down to being comfortable in the workplace which varies from person to person. Although, I’m sure that there are many areas that can be spoken about regarding this issue but I’m going to focus on what I’ve personally dealt with and what I’ve heard from other black women. The first and most common is of course… BLACK HAIR.
Rule #1. Never touch a black woman’s hair without permission.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to black folk, we know better BUT I’ve learned the hard way, that is not the case for everyone else. I’m almost 30 but I just had my first experience with someone aggressively touching my hair in the workplace. I’ve always had coworkers touch my braids of course but that never bothered me (& yes, I know that is not the case for everyone). In this particular situation of course, my natural was acting like it had some home training and your girl had a successful twistout at work. I’m the type to love big hair so I picked it out to it’s full glory for the day. As I’m sitting at my desk, one of my coworkers comes over and pats my perfectly fluffy hair down while they proceed to tell me, “I love your hair!”.
Shoutout to growth…because old me would have caught a full attitude and would have been annoyed for the rest of the day. Thankfully, I’ve been actively trying to focus on the “intentions” of others rather than completely on the “actions” of others. Instead of instinctively getting irritated, I expressed that I would appreciate if it didn’t happen again as well as WHY it shouldn’t have been done. I know ladies, you are thinking, “but why should I have to tell someone not to touch me?”. Don’t stress yourself. If someone smiles and touches your hair, you know they don’t understand. Express it. Don’t silence yourself because your blackness isn’t understood especially in the workplace. You spend more time at work than you do at home nowadays and you have every right to be comfortable there too. From my experience, the outcome of bringing clarity was nothing but positive. I’m not about to sit around annoyed and uncomfortable for nobody. Since I’m already on the topic of being comfortable…
Inclusion & diversity is so important and the lack thereof in some workplaces causes you to feel so alone. I’m currently in a position where my Assistant Manager is a black woman with natural hair and my company has incredible programs to help with inclusion/diversity but my work history was the complete opposite. To be honest, I’ve had black women in management previously that pushed me down because of the fear that my light may shine brighter than their’s BUT… that’s a whole different blog post that we will get into at a later date. Back to what I saying, the issue of inclusion & diversity is a hard one to tackle because we can’t control our companies. However, we have the ability to educate the leaders around us about the importance of it, speaking up at company town hall meetings, including yourself in councils that makes those decisions for your companies, and bringing more of us in. Most teams are notified FIRST if there are going to be openings within their team, if you know someone that is qualified, work to bring them in. If one of us wins, WE ALL WIN.
I was a little uneasy about dropping this last one in but it needs to be brought up. Most of us have more curves than other races. I know it’s annoying to deal with, I was born with top and bottom so trust and believe, I get it. We just can’t wear everything that Becky does no matter how much we may want to at times. Our curves can sometimes make an outfit “sexy” instead of “professional”. With that being said, that doesn’t give any man nor woman the right to make comments on our attire. Don’t giggle it off because you are afraid of the repercussions.
We all know that it happens but we can’t run from that. As a black woman, we are born with a special power that no one can explain nor hinder. Embrace that. Stop letting people silence you or put you in a box for whatever reason. You will have an understanding of the climate of your company. If you know that speaking up will cause you to be backed into a corner, start researching other companies because why do you even want to be a part of an organization that doesn’t nurture your growth or respect you?
The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. – Malcom X
Let’s actively do our part to speak up against that disrespect. We owe it to our ancestors, ourselves, and the generations after us.