To be black and to be a woman in corporate America is hard, to say the least.
Monday through Friday, you wake up to go to a space where you often are not welcomed and many times are not allowed to be your authentic self. Maybe you’ll build a few relationships beyond surface level interactions, yet overall you are going to do something you are paid to do, something you may even love, however, you may not be able to fully enjoy it. For many black women, at work we often find ourselves protecting our space, being overly polite and simply leaving day in and day out.
In previous work experiences, I found myself having to be extremely mindful and conscious of how I showed up beyond the work I came in everyday to do. Because, who wants to be labeled as the “Angry Black Woman” with “RBF” (a facial expression that unintentionally appears as if a person is angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous). As much as I strive to avoid those stereotypes, I have been labeled with both multiple times throughout my career.
And let me tell you, it's beyond hurtful. One instance in my career was especially stinging, because it was told behind my back to my boss months after the 'un-collaborative' meeting in question where I apparently sported a "RBF". The entire situation left me disappointed with my coworker for not addressing their mis-labeled concerns in a timely and productive manner. Long story short, the unfair moment in my career left me feeling challenged and beyond frustrated.
I'm thankful for other black women in my career who have provided me a space to talk through these false labels and experiences. My former General Manager, who I consider to be one of the most powerful black woman in the industry, told me that we as black women should not have to worry about how someone views our everyday face. If someone chooses to be offended because you have a straight face, then it’s their dilemma. Teary eyed, I tilted my face up in shock from her response. I completely understand the effects of body language, but I agree with her 100%. I wholeheartedly think it’s unfair to judge a person, strictly by how their face looks to you. After the conversation with my mentor, it solidified my stance on RBF and how black women continually struggle with these false labels.
Setting aside for a moment false accusations based on misinterpreted body language, there are additional moments of exhaustion from micro-aggressions. These moments create a dynamic of constantly fighting for your value.
I'm tired of swallowing others out of pocket comments.
I'm tired of being asked to style your hair a certain way to simply please others.
I'm tired of statements in company meetings like “brown is the ugliest color”. In a setting where there are only a handful of black or brown people in the room out of 25 other employees, it's a very insensitive statement to say.
I've experienced corporate companies that hire managers that have no understanding of cultural differences, places where there's no penalty for use of continuous offensive language. Nor did these past employers create spaces where people could be trained on diversity and inclusion. I continually saw Human Resource departments condemn a black woman for her actions, yet console someone else through the same actions.
Success is really hard to achieve when aggressive company goals are coupled with traumatic experiences as a person of color. They're plenty of amazing and dynamic women of color who don’t get the accolades, don't get the job positions, and don't get the salaries that they deserve. It’s hard, it’s emotional and it's extremely draining. I share my experience to encourage everyone to know your worth and be the change you would want to see.
In early 2020, I made the decision to leave corporate America and accept an offer to work under a very courageous, smart, and fearless black woman, Venus Williams. This was a huge decision for me. One I didn't take likely, as it was a very uncertain time given the economic impacts of COVID-19.
I am thrilled to work under a black woman who values her business, and more importantly, her employees.
At the same time, unbeknownst to the world, we would also be encountering another huge movement of dismantling racial injustice - yet again. After the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other black women and men, I witnessed my CEO find the words. Words that really confirmed that I should be here. Words that proved to me that my physical and emotional health are just as important as my salary.
Oftentimes when deciding to make a shift in your career, there are so many factors that one must evaluate to make the best choice. For many, the most important factor is money. For me, I found three other reasons worth prioritizing:
- The opportunity to work for a black female founded and operated company and the ability to use my expertise to help grow it.
- Growth opportunity
To all the young adults and women who are experiencing racial injustice within the workplace, here are my tips for you:
- Hold tight to your identity and worth —don’t stay where you are not valued. Knowing who you are will keep you grounded.
- Money doesn’t mean everything, your spiritual, mental and physical health does.
- It’s okay to show emotion in the workplace, just don’t let it stay there. Process openly and honestly, with trusted individuals because your feelings matter. Don't negate them. It’s healthier than you may think.
- Be the change you want to see and trust in the power of change. Whether that be changing your job, or challenging the company culture, you can be the pebble that causes a ripple to the wave of transformation.
I am extremely grateful for the experiences that I have encountered and the relationships I have gained along the way.
I am proud of the conversations that brought understanding and those that didn’t.
Written by: Tynisha Parks