Black Girl. Corporate World. – 8 Tips for Success

Motivation and Inspiration

Black Girl. Corporate World. – 8 Tips for Success

As a black woman in Corporate America, and not even just Corporate America, sometimes we experience a variety of situations where our professional personas are challenged by the personal stereotypes of others. Some underestimate our abilities or think we’re uneducated and/or incompetent, and there are literally days where it seems like we’re alone or totally misunderstood.

Initially, I was prepared to be the only black girl in meetings, on the team and/or on conference calls because in college it wasn’t unusual for me to be the only black girl in most of my business classes. What I wasn’t entirely prepared for were the audacious comments related to my hair and culture. From misconceptions and assumptions about weaves and natural hair, “ghetto-isms” and “Ebonics,” to Jada & Will and Barack & Michelle – I’ve seen and heard a lot. Consequently, I’ve learned over the years how to deal with these types of experiences and continue to maintain as a “black girl in the corporate world.”

So, here a few things I’ve learned along my journey to help us be successful in the corporate arena:

  1. Be you. Don’t be the stereotype. – We don’t have to completely change who we are because of where we work. We have to find a way to still be ourselves, but at the same time we can’t give people a reason to believe every stereotype out there. A single interaction and relationship with one of us has the potential to totally change the perception of all of us. So, whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert or we choose to wear our hair natural or flat ironed, we can’t be afraid to be ourselves.
  2. Dress and look the part. – What we wear to work shouldn’t match what we wear to the club, a party or even the bed. Attire of course will vary based on our industry and/or position, but being appropriate, I think, is a requirement for everyone no matter what our job entails. As someone once said (paraphrase), “dress for where you want to go, not for where you are.”
  3. Don’t limit ourselves when it comes to networking. – Developing genuine relationships with fellow co-workers, employees and even executives can sometimes be the difference between our current position and our promotion. We can learn a lot from those around us, so color shouldn’t limit our ability to network with other people. Note: there is a difference between brown-nosing and creating genuine relationships.
  4. Find a confidant/like-minded co-worker. Sometimes, we have those moments when we need to take a minute and collect our thoughts or even share them to prevent going from 0 to 10! My hubby definitely listens when I come home after work, but sometimes it’s also good to know that there’s someone at work – like a gal pal – who can totally empathize and relate to my situation. The most important thing is to make sure they’re trustworthy and can keep things confidential.
  5. Go above and beyond. If we have a project due a week from Friday, try getting it done a few days before that. If we have a presentation on “Jeans” day, dress for the occasion anyway. If a project requires a few extra hours during the week or over the weekend, then sacrifice some time and put in the extra hours if we can. If there’s a workshop, class or degree we want, then we should go for it! Ultimately, it shows that we’re committed to delivering exceptional performance and we know how to get the job done.
  6. Don’t be afraid to take the lead and be firm. Whether it’s taking the lead for a project, stepping up to lead the rest of the team, speaking up for what is right or simply leading by example, we can’t let fear stop us. Moreover, sometimes we have to put ourselves out there to get noticed if we want to really move ahead in this competitive environment. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to do what we’ve never done before, but it’s all worth it knowing that we can potentially inspire someone else to do the same.
  7. Expand your interests and be open to new experiences. Simply put, sometimes we have to be open and willing to try new things – new foods, new shows, new hobbies, etc. – especially if it helps to develop professional, and sometimes even personal, relationships.
  8. Keep our cool. Stay focused. “Yeah, my black friends wear weaves too (even though you’re not wearing a weave).” “They’re a good example of marriage…for your community.” “What are you?” “Can I touch your hair (but someone’s already touching it)?” “Don’t get all sassy (but your tone is the same as his or hers)” – just a few common statements some of us have heard before. As someone who can be pretty vocal about things, I’m learning when to speak up and when to let it go because sometimes it’s not worth the fight. It’s not fair that sometimes we’re judged based on our appearance, but at the end of the day we have to remain focused on the bigger picture and our goals as it relates to our careers.

For all my “black girls in the corporate world,” keep grinding hard and making moves, even if that means owning your own business. On your toughest days, always remember that our ancestors fought 1000 times harder just for us to sit where we sit and hold the positions we hold today. For that and more, we are forever indebted for all that they endured and sacrificed for us.

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