Three words that corporate offices are allergic to – women of color. Before I graduated college I knew I wanted to land a job in corporate; I loved retail but knew that working in a store setting wasn’t going to satisfy me, so I focused on getting a position in Corporate America, preferably landing a position at one of my favorite retailers. My first opportunity came when I worked as an intern and was flown out to the office of one of America’s most successful department stores – I was intrigued, it was filled with two workout rooms, several small stores, cafés, health centers, and features I’ve never seen in one building. There were a lot of people busily scurrying off to meetings, but there was one person in all the craziness that pulled me to the side to tell me something that I’ll never forget. This person warned me that while Corporate America paints the perfect picture that everyone is accepted as long as you have the qualifications and you work hard, he repeated several times that this setting is not ideal for a person like me – a black woman.
I landed my first job in Corporate America working for one of my favorite retailers. I was ecstatic and over the moon. While I was always proud of my accomplishment and loved my job; the excitement began to fade because I started to realize that my job description came with more than what I had bargained for and I quickly learned a couple of things:
- It is emotionally draining being a woman of color and working in Corporate America. It can make the most confident woman second guess herself.
- You can have more experience than your counterparts, but your work can be devalued and opinions ignored.
- You have to work twice as hard just to prove your intelligence. This has to be done constantly and several times a day.
- Your ideas are often overlooked until someone repeats the same thing you just stated, then Eureka! It’s the best idea ever,
- You have to downplay your ethnicity to succeed.
The thing is, being a woman and working in corporate is already tough, but that increases with your ethnic background. As per the Center for Woman Policy Studies, 21% of women of color did not feel that they were “free to be themselves”. Assumptions are made that all black women are loud, aggressive, mean, and rude – you know the ABW (Angry Black Woman) syndrome. Indian women are looked upon as non-social, but productive and Latinas are slated to be loud and rough around the edges. My advice on how to handle these challenges are below:
- Be assertive and aggressive in meetings, if you need to show emotion do it in private and only share these thoughts with your partner, family, or friends.
- Always reiterate your ideas when someone tries to take credit; do this in a polite manner.
- If someone interrupts you in your meetings be firm, but polite and say, “Sorry, but I’m going to finish my thought”.
- Focus on the positive and not too much on the negative – find ways to conserve your energy to run your own business one day or go somewhere else where you’ll be valued.
- Take control and always speak up.
- Save every form of communication and have everything in writing. If someone makes a promise verbally, ask them to put it in an email.
I will say that after having almost 5 years’ experience in Corporate America there is a lot of work that needs to be done to address these issues that women of color face in the office on a daily basis.