Though I realize some of these points may make the world of work seem a bit daunting, I wrote this post as though I were writing to my younger self. These are my experiences and those of the women around me. You may experience things in a completely different way. I think it’s important to highlight this point.
In saying that, I have no doubts that many young women will experience many of the following things, so I believe it is even more important to highlight this point.
Here are 10 things many black women experience when stepping into the world of work :
- This will probably be the first time you truly realize how much of a minority you are, unless, of course, this was your reality growing up. Be prepared to possibly be the only black girl, or to form an unspoken coalition with the very few black colleagues you will have. Diversity will start to mean so much more to you. Use this as your fuel.
- When you get a new hairstyle, whether it be you simply washing your hair and unleashing the fro, or if you get braids, you will be quizzed and questioned repeatedly about your new choice. Though it is very nice for people to be so intrigued by you, it starts to feel odd when you feel like a spectacle, whilst the fourth person of the day strokes your hair without permission. This may cause a little anxiety the night before you debut your new look. You may even reconsider the hair styles society have always taught us are “too black.” Reach out to your friends and tell them how you feel. Their shared experience will reassure you.
- You are likely to develop your “work” voice even more than you did at your interview stage. Your tone, your delivery, your choice of language will be adapted. I guess everybody does this as a means to be more professional. However, you may found yourself in the cluster of black people who have an underlying insecurity about saying something that sounds “too black.” Though sadly you probably won’t get very far unless you adjust to a new work persona, never change who you really are!
- People will celebrate black culture regularly in your presence, but will lack the basic knowledge of Black History. You may find yourself talking to somebody about their evening at a Kendrick Lamar show, and find they know not what he means when he says “we gon' be alright.” This will frustrate you, but use it as a tool to enlighten them.
- If you are ever ill treated, you will likely have the uncomfortable worry that this may have something to do with your race. Of course it’s very plausible that it could be something else. However, I have heard too many saddening stories to not include this as a possibility. Be sensible about how you conduct yourself, but if this is what you truly feel, be it covert or overt, take it to HR before it gets out of hand.
- You will undoubtedly meet many people who stereotype you. They will assume you have an attitude, that you’re poor and that all you listen to is hip-hop. Remember that there is nothing wrong with any of the things mentioned. The problem is the completely one-dimensional life this person has lived to cause them to absorb such stereotypes. Their problem, not yours.
- In the race of life, black women usually fall short of the head starts our counterparts have. Somewhere in your career, this frustration may set in. It may be fleeting or it may fester, but remain calm and be reassured that even without the head starts in life, here you are sitting in the same seats as your counterparts. In reality, knowing you got to the end of the race with twice the strain isn’t very reassuring, but please take something from it and use it to grow.
- Politics in the workplace will be sensitive. Race relations will be difficult to discuss. If ever these topics come up, you may feel a little offended by people’s opinions. You may feel obliged to jump on your desk and scream "BLACK LIVES MATTER" for no apparent reason. My advice, from personal experience, is to avoid delving too deep into these topics.
- The older you get, the more your career progresses, you will realise that there is a disproportionate representation of minorities the higher up you get. If ever you feel discouraged, outraged or even somewhat bitter, remember that this reality is fast changing! Make yourself a part of that change.
- Being black is beautiful, but many have lived in a “color-free” bubble. They do not understand because they do not know. Be great, be kind, not to prove that we as a people are great and kind, but just because.
There are many amazing things you will experience in the world of work, however, these are the key things I’d wished I had been warned of before I made the leap.