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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

Reframing Challenges in the Workplace

On one episode of Being Brown at Work Live, I had the honor to speak to an incredible researcher named Dr. Amina James. She's a talent and organizational development strategist who has worked in the public sector, higher education, and in non-profits, and she's currently an adjunct professor in organizational leadership and learning at George Washington University. She's published several books, and while pursuing her doctorate from GWU she focused her research on professional identity construction among Black professionals and government executives.

What I love about Dr. Amina's research is the way she focuses on race and gender and how those two factors intersect, so I couldn’t wait to pick her brain.

You'll often hear me say that there's no difference between personal and professional, and for Black women, that's especially true. We can't leave our identities at the door, because no matter where we go, we are visibly black and visibly women in white, male spaces.

Dr. Amina interviewed Black women with high-powered careers and asked them questions about their journey. How did they get where they are? What did they learn along the way?

The main thing she learned is the positivity that can be derived from their experiences as Black professionals. Things that many people perceive as disadvantages can actually be productive and advantageous to a Black woman growing in her career. Put differently, Dr. Amina found that our history and culture are a strength, not a risk.

For example, you may have heard the saying that Black women have to work twice as hard to get anywhere in their careers. Grim, right? But Dr. Amina's survey respondents stressed that this philosophy of hard work and determination ended up being an incredible benefit to them once they got to that seat at the table.

While they were climbing, it was difficult, and they faced many challenges, but at the top when they finally arrived, their work ethic could not be beat. It helped them so much to have that sense of dedication and grit.

Her respondents also spoke about how their difficult moments in their climb taught them how important it is to mentor and help others. These Black professional women were mentors and community leaders, helping other women up behind them. They left the door wider than they found it, and not only is this a great asset to an organization to have career mentoring coming from inside the house, but it also helps Black women as a whole. This extends to growing careers by hiring diverse talent. Seeing inequity in action made these women powerful advocates for hiring under-represented groups and helping them adjust and thrive in their new environments.

Dr. Amina's study is so encouraging to me because it helps us reframe our thinking as Black women working in the world today. These disadvantages we face can teach us lessons that are an asset to us, not just trauma dragging us back.

We can use our hardships to pull ourselves forward, and then use that strength to reach back and lift others up behind us. It was a hopeful, encouraging conversation, and if you want to hear more of it, check out the Being Brown at Work podcast.

If you want guidance for your specific situation, schedule a one-on-one with me. I'd love to meet you where you are on your journey and help you get to the next step.

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