The women offered tips for other Black women who work, or will work, in a Predominantly White Institution.
Set clear professional goals for yourself. Once you have achieved certain knowledge, skills, money, connections, or whatever the goal may be, leave and go do something that you love or find personally fulfilling. A common sentiment was to not be too loyal to the company, because they are not loyal to you.
Maintain high levels of confidence and self-worth. If you work for an employer, then remind yourself that you were hired for a reason and are fully capable of doing your job well. You have nothing to prove and deserve to be in every room. Chasing validation from others has a negative impact on our mental health.
Set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Although many of us have been living at work (often given the more palatable term of “working from home”), you have to identify ways to prevent the stressors of work from bleeding into your home life and impacting your mental and physical health. This is facilitated when you set boundaries within the workplace around how you want to be treated.
Be okay with walking away. Generations of Black people had limited opportunities and simply could not afford to place much value on personal desires and instead had to be happy to just have a job. That approach to survival is not required anymore so yes, be happy that you have a job, but don’t ever feel beholden to an employer. Meghan stated, “Don’t turn into anybody else that someone is expecting you to turn into. If the company … cannot accept you for who you are, that’s not a company you should be working for.”
Find your tribe. Try to build connections with your Black coworkers, looking across departments if necessary. K.T. shared, “They’re not the only ones, but they’re most likely to help you. If they’re there, then that means that they’ve learned how to be there and to be there successfully.” If you are the only Black person on staff, then explore professional or social groups that can offer you support and solidarity. You are not alone in your experience.
The women told me what their employers could have done to improve the workplace environment.
Educate yourselves. White employees and supervisors need to take the initiative and educate themselves about diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism. Black women do not want to manage the emotional labor of being the resident teacher for an entire workforce. One woman noted, “I think they could have listened. I think they could have done more work to understand implicit bias or microaggressions is nothing I can type in an email. It can’t be easily substantiated. It’s a feeling.”
Provide mentors and sponsors. Black women need mentors who can guide them through career development and sponsors who will advocate for them. Often, white people – specifically men – have relationships with other white people who are in powerful positions with resources to expend. Rarely are Black women the recipients of such resources. E.P. shared, “I never had anybody say to me, “Let me show you how to get here. This is what you need to do to get where you need to go.” So, the pathways aren’t there, right?”
Pay employees what they deserve. Across industries, acquiring a competitive salary is often a mix of Hunger Games and Survivor. Social politics, secret allegiances, wit, and perseverance all come into play when really, all employers have to do is create a transparent and equal payscale that reflects the experience and capabilities of employees regardless of race, gender, or personal relationships.
Stop maintaining silence. Egregious acts of racial injustice occur on an ongoing basis in our nation, yet employers fail to understand the impact that it has on their staff. Proceeding with business as usual indicates that you do not value your employees of color. Company-wide emails are a start, but implementing policies based in racial equity and gender equality creates a much less traumatizing workplace for your Black female employees.
Recognize high quality work. Black women’s ideas are regularly taken and re-packaged as the idea of a white coworker or supervisor. Stop doing that. Acknowledge the contributions that your Black female employees are making to the company by way of spoken or written recognition, a promotion, and/or a raise.