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About

She was paraded around Europe, where spectators jeered at her large buttocks. Would her image represent a reviled past or a canvas of resilience? Were they proud to bear a similar buttocks or ashamed to share a similar stature? Showmen exhibited her throughout Europe, where, in an embarrassing and dehumanizing spectacle, she was forced to sing and dance before crowds of white onlookers. Often naked in these exhibitions, Baartman was sometimes suspended in a cage on stage while being poked, prodded and groped.

Description

Interviews with 10 women of color shed light on some of the common challenges faced by black women in the workplace, how they cope with those challenges, and how those coping mechanisms affect their chances of long-term success. Many of the women talked about having to code-switch, or embrace the dominant culture at work. Zero of the women interviewed regularly worked with other women of color.

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A few years ago I started attending classes for my part-time MBA. This lack of female leadership is important to explore, but what are the experiences of black women in the workplace before they make it to the c-suite? I wanted to find out how other black women navigate the intertwined barriers at the intersection of race and gender.

What fit looks like: a black woman's journey

Over the course of a year I worked with Professor Elizabeth Morrison, Vice Dean of Faculty at NYU, to interview 10 women of color in order to understand the challenges they face in the workplace, how they cope with those challenges, and how those coping mechanisms affect their chances of long-term success.

A lot of women told me that they code-switchedwhich involves embracing the dominant culture or vernacular among certain groups like co-workers, for example and switching to a more authentic self when around friends and family. One woman I spoke with, a successful entrepreneur who was interning at a tech startup before going to business school, excitedly described her most recent position where, for the first time in her career, she reported to a black woman. Your work is judged plus other intangible things.

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You second-guess yourself and that affects your confidence. Another woman passed on an opportunity for a full-time position at the Obama White House because she felt inhibited by stereotypes. A twenty-something woman at a top-tier consulting company described the first time she worked for a client team that included other people of color.

How black women describe navigating race and gender in the workplace

The client was a prison and her team was making recommendations for how to group specific inmates together. It was the project I performed the best at. There was a general disillusionment among these women about how their colleagues view the world versus how they experience it. One woman described crying in her hotel bed after reading about a police officer killing a person of color.

She had been traveling with coworkers for a business trip and they were all on a text chain to coordinate logistics. That same day a Hollywood couple had also broken up and the conversation on the text chain focused on the Hollywood gossip, never addressing the shooting. And then having to go to work. And no one checked in for your wellbeing.

How black women describe navigating race and gender in the workplace

That is the experience of black people in general — that we are tied to other people of color who are in poor situations. This forced separation between hardships facing the black community and the institutional whiteness of the white-collar job can be mentally taxing and make it harder to perform well at work. The women I interviewed talked a lot about having to dampen aspects of their personality to feel like they could fit into the culture of their workplace.

I always thought I had to bring that down to make people comfortable. Almost every woman I interviewed touched on the idea of needing to find sponsorship in the workplace — the idea of finding someone at your company who can advocate for raises, projects, and promotions on your behalf. The black community where I work we have a hard time finding that. You need sponsors to get projects.

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Staffing is really anxiety-driven. You interview for every project. If you have a sponsor you might not need to interview. If you have no one in your corner you get weeded out.

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Black women often find sponsorship challenging in their organizations if they have trouble relating to those whom they work with. Because of this, they may often attribute their lack of advancement in the company to a lack of sponsorship. Aside from not seeing professional role models, there are real business consequences to consistently being in the minority at work.

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Differing from the majority at work creates what Katherine Phillips, Nancy Rothbard, and Tracy Dumas call status distancethat is, how far away you are from the perceived norm and power structure in your company. Exclusion forces people to deviate from their authentic selves.

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And authenticity is integral to well-being. And beyond the emotional and mental toll, homogeneity and bias can have real career consequences for black women. Statements said by a black woman in a group discussion were also least likely to be correctly attributed compared to black men, white women, and white men.

Black women in leadership positions are also more likely to be criticized or punished when making mistakes on the job.

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While I tried to limit my own bias as much as possible by interviewing only women whom I did not know and sticking to the same set of questions for every interview, it was impossible to completely remove my own personal experience from this project. This is also a small sample size which makes it impossible to draw sweeping conclusions. Once they are in the door, they need to feel supported in ways that are specific to being a woman of color.

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How black women describe navigating race and gender in the workplace

Subscribe for unlimited access. Interviews with ten professional women of color. on Race or related topic Gender. Her writing about race and intersectionality has appeared in Lenny, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and HuffPost, and she participated in the Tin House Winter Workshop for nonfiction. Partner Center.

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