Being the Only Black Person in the Room
Recently on the Being Brown at Work Live, I had the pleasure of talking to Monique Wells. She’s the director of diversity, equity and inclusion at DTE Energy, and our conversation was illuminating, fun, and informative. Check out the full podcast for the whole conversation, but I wanted to pull out a few key points from our conversation that I think might help you on your journey. Enjoy.
As Black and Brown women in the workplace, we so often have the shared experience of being the only minority in the room. To be a Black woman is to be doubly marginalized, and in the workforce that can be stressful and othering, but it doesn’t have to hold you back. Here are some tips that Monique Wells shared on navigating this difficult workplace dynamic.
Find people who pour into you.
When you're in a situation where you're isolated, you feel conspicuous and uncomfortable. Being constantly aware of your differences from other people and working to navigate those differences is exhausting. You're constantly performing emotional labor to keep moving forward, and that work takes effort. You need people around you who support you and fill your cup, because your strength isn't infinite. Find strength and community in friends, family, and loved ones who can recharge and re-energize you in your journey.
Be clear on who you are.
If you're constantly feeling different from other people in the room, then it's important for you to know your identity in ways that aren't just in reaction to other people. Who are you, actually? What are your values? What are your big picture goals? Having a strong sense of self and a personal mission statement will help you define yourself more by who you are, not just by what makes you different.
I recommend that my clients sit down with a journal and do what I call the "deep work." Write what has helped you, what holds you back, what you want for your life. Feel free to ramble, just get it on paper, and refer back to this document frequently. Remember who you are just as much as you remember who you’re not.
Own your unique walk.
When you're surrounded by people who are different from you, it can be isolating. Monique spoke about being in a room with engineers whose fathers and grandfathers had been doing the same work, and how being the first person in her family to have that seat at the table made her feel like she might be unqualified. But Monique knows what I want you to know: your walk is special, unique, and it got you where you are today. It might not look the same as everyone else's, but that means you have unique talents that set you apart in good ways. Your differences are an asset to you if you own them.
Remember that no part of you is lacking. You are wholly, entirely enough just as you are. Whether you call on a higher power, the memory of your ancestors, or the vision that gets you out of bed in the morning, you're unique in powerful ways, and you have a team behind you that's rooting for you.