Hiding Talent: Women of Color
“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any.”
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations....I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
~Madam C. J. Walker
The cape weighs heavy for today’s successful woman. Women seem to have to perform on a level as close to perfection as un-humanly possible, and are still at risk to be harshly judged by others when expectations are not met. Somehow, women are expected to seek education, land a promising career, marry the perfect partner, figure out family planning, help to manage family finances, be an emotional support for her entire network of family and friends, maintain her physical appearance to look like some sort of beauty queen, be sexually thrilling, AND excel in her career. It starts to make it clear why Superwoman, Batwoman, Catwoman, and Wonder Woman were all single.
Women tend to suffer an inordinate amount of guilt and shame when struggling to be everything for everyone. Now add in the heavier burden of not feeling satisfied, supported, promoted, and/or visible at work. Professional women have grappled with the negative impact of sexism and gender microaggressions for many years. However, Women of Color have the additional, magnified emotional tax of racism and racial microaggressions. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson tirelessly devoted their minds to calculating how to perform one of the greatest operations in history, which set in motion a number of motivating, precipitating events. As if their work task wasn’t tremendous enough, they had to also overcome challenges related to race and gender, and have only just recently had their story become known.Based on stereotypes, people are culturally conditioned to ignore WOC in certain ways. For example, when thinking of a black executive, often a black male comes to mind. When thinking of a female executive, a white female often comes to mind. WOC in Corporate America tend to be virtually invisible, even though research shows that WOC are more likely to aspire to be influential leaders, obtain high-ranking positions, and engage in challenging & intellectually stimulating work. Yet, white males still greatly dominate tenured positions in higher education, branches of government, Forbes 400 executive CEO-level positions, athletic team owners, and of course, as recently reminded, US presidents.
Bay Area residents are proud to experience a level of acceptance and diversity that is special and unique to this area. And yet, there is still significant resentment and criticism when it comes to experiencing microaggressions, especially in the workplace. I recently watched a fascinating documentary by HNTT Productions, “Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America,” that highlights some of the injustices of subtle sexism and subtle racism that black women encounter on a regular basis, in Silicon Valley. WOC feel pressure to work much harder to impress managers and colleagues, and to be overprepared and accurate to the point of 0% error. Not to mention the added tension of feeling on guard, watching her tone of voice, toning down her wardrobe, or straightening her hair to fit in better. Some WOC often feel compelled to adjust their own personal interests to increase social engagement with colleagues to avoid feeling socially alienated at work. At the opposite end, some not only tone down their appearance and tone of voice, but also eat lunch at their desks to avoid socializing for fear of how they may be perceived by others that look different from them. It begins to feel safer in accepting the misguided notion that hard work alone will pay off in the pursuit of greatness. Unfortunately, keeping your head down only worsens the likelihood of being noticed and acknowledged for exceptional efforts…. Colluding with being invisible.
These challenges negatively impact productivity and motivation, the ability to be vocal about important or difficult issues at work, and the ability to feel psychologically safe at work. Most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families. These stressors tend to wreak havoc on a woman’s body, mind, and spirit. Imagine the strain of questioning your own abilities and how that negatively impacts self-esteem. How are WOC tolerating this stress? Too many women over-rely on poor coping strategies, such as drinking, eating, smoking, vegging out, and others. Internalizing this level of distress causes physical and emotional health concerns related to stress, such as high blood pressure, hypertension, weight gain, weight loss, headaches/migraines, muscle tension, chest pains, stomach problems, depression, anxiety, etc. Research suggests that stress can bring on or worsen certain health conditions.
Inclusion in workplaces allow employees to feel psychologically safe. Managers and leaders would benefit their business to notice and acknowledge the WOC that do aspire to powerful positions, create initiatives that effectively identify and retain highly skilled WOC, and create space to acknowledge concerns that are specific to WOC in a safe manner. Too often, minority employees don’t feel safe seeking out Human Resources for fear of rejection due previously established alliances. WOC can take care of their own emotional needs by learning effective coping strategies to better tolerate distress, seeking out mentors, minimizing differences by engaging with different groups, and finding a therapist to help work through the trauma that has already been experienced.
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Is your workplace hiding your talent? If you are finding it difficult to manage self-esteem, anger, sadness, work creativity, or motivation, please give us a call.