6 Ways to Successfully Manage Being a Black Professional in the Workplace
Where do I even start?
As I write this the world is currently being rocked by a wave of protests against police brutality towards black people in this country. I find it harder to focus with all this change happening in the world, but I am confident I don’t have to convince any black person in America that we have to do more to prove ourselves, bend over backwards to justify our own accomplishments in a way that no white candidate would have to. It was already hard, but stack on police brutality and a global pandemic? Man. It’s a lot.
As a black professional, I am exhausted. I have seen many peers express the same feeling, so today I want to lean in with some encouragement to help my fellow black professionals continue our journey towards getting that seat at the table.
Do not give up.
You are worthy, and you have a tremendous amount of value that has gotten you to where you are today. Remember when you just started out? The place you are right now seemed so far away, but by working hard and showing up, you made it. Rest in that value and do not doubt yourself. You’ve been walking the walk all your life, and nothing about today’s current events changes that.
Take time for self-care
A side-effect of that work ethic is that it can be difficult to step back when you need to. We’ve had to work harder than other people to prove ourselves, and that hustle takes discipline. But during this time, don’t forget to take a step back. Log off Facebook or Twitter for a while, give your brain a break, and don’t feel bad for enjoying a movie or TV show. These events are important, but they are also to some extent traumatizing. Make space for yourself to rest. Own that time, then step back into the work when you’re ready.
Use your voice
Think for a minute how lucky you are to have the position you do have, to have the voice you do have. While we as a country have a long way to go, remember that you do have a voice, you do have power, and you can use those tools to make a difference. If you see bias in the workplace, say or do something. Go to a manager or call a meeting, but don’t let it slide when you see bias. It might be scary, but it’s incredibly powerful to be an ally to someone experiencing discrimination. Remember a time when someone was prejudiced towards you and nobody did anything? Be the person who speaks up for what’s right.
It is so easy to feel disillusioned. I get it. But leadership teams are more receptive than ever right now to hearing black voices and addressing culture issues inside organizations. Take the time to talk to your management about what challenges people of color are facing in your company, and bring ideas of ways that things could change. Not only is this progressive, ethical, and brave, but it also demonstrates tremendous leadership.
Lead by example
If you’re lucky enough to be in a leadership position, now is the time to remember that you have a chance to make a difference. Chances are almost zero that you got to where you are without someone reaching back and lending you a hand up, so pay that forward. Lead with excellence in equality and inclusion, because people look up to you and are watching you. You can make a huge difference by being the kind of leader you would have liked to have earlier in your career.
Speaking of helping hands, don’t forget to lean on those people who have supported your career. Reach out to your mentors, friends, and colleagues who you trust and share what you’re feeling. Maybe you need to vent, maybe you need to have a cry, maybe you just need a hug. Whatever it is, don’t isolate yourself. We need to rely on our support networks now more than ever.
I’d like to end by reminding you again that you can do this. You’ve come so far, you’ve worked so hard, and I’m hoping that I can reach you through this blog and remind you that you didn’t do so much to quit now. Stay engaged, stay brave, take care of yourself, and get the help you need. None of us can do this alone, but neither should we give up.
I’ve been where you are, and still am! Yes I am a VP but I am still fighting conscious and unconscious bias. It doesn’t disappear at or near the top. It just gets more covert. Only difference, I have a more powerful voice and value that the company needs.
If you’re reading this and you feel overwhelmed, I get it. Click the link and let’s get on a call. I know what it takes to authentically stay in the game. Book a call and let’s connect. Be kind to each other and stay safe.