Who am I? I am many things; a millennial, a first-generation college graduate, a feminist, and a Trekkie (this one is really important to me, okay?). I can keep going, but for the sake of this article, let’s focus on me being a young black woman professional trying to navigate the minefields of corporate America.
Minefields? Does it seem like I am exaggerating? Trust me, I wish I was. While everyone has potential traps and hazards at work, for black women the mines are more common and privy to explode for any reason, no matter how innocuous. Avoiding them is like playing a game of Twister, every single day.
Despite the common trend to believe black women are emotional mules, able to absorb all the stress and problems of the world, this B.S. is in indeed stressful and can impact our success in the workplace. In 2017, a viral Twitter hashtag aptly named #BlackWomenAtWork gained popularity among black women regardless of age, education, and profession. These women disclosed embarrassing and demeaning examples of how their managers, co-workers, and even customers disrespected them at work.
For me, sharing through #BlackWomenAtWork allowed me to release pent up anger in a new and creative while connecting with other black women. Their comparable stories served as a sad reminder of the sometimes-seemingly universal the black woman experience. These women’s stories inspired me to start sharing my journey as I navigate corporate America existing in my duality as black and as a woman, subject to the stereotypes attached to each.
When I first started my career, my steps resulted in the explosion of many mines. At the risk of sounding like a Republican, I was surprised at the “snowflakes,” fragile and plentiful, working in corporate America.
One notable example of such a “snowflake” occurred recently when I was accused of having a “curt” tone in my emails with co-workers. In fact, many black women have complained about this, especially among each other online. A Twitter user wrote, “I make sure I go overboard with exclamations and pleasantries. It’s exhausting.” "You already know if you’re not extra you’re rude on emails,” said another user. The moral of the story is for black women to always include smiley faces and say “please” and “of course.” I also like to type “awesome” no matter if the email is the seventh in a chain or I am just trying to communicate the simplest of things. If you don’t, then you’re a bully.
While managing my “tone” to avoid hurting someone’s feelings is one thing, the minefield I really dread is being labeled as “defensive.” Is it a crime to stand up for yourself? To be honest, I always believe this label is just a roundabout way of accusing black women of being angry when someone lacks the guts to say it. It’s one of the easiest minefields to detonate as it’s often used to undermine and invalidate our concerns in the workplace. Whenever I’m accused of being defensive, I take a step back to reflect on the situation to avoid detonation and even try to moderate my tone in the hope my message comes through clearer. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, I’m working in a minefield.
I can go on, but the truth is that being a black woman professional is exhausting as hell. It takes the mental discipline of a Jedi to get through it on a daily basis. Sometimes, I find myself tackling these situations with humor by venting online or with friends and family. Other times, I watch my back and affirm my rights by speaking with my manager and keeping receipts (oh yes, I believe in those) to protect my professional reputation because your self-respect can survive only for so long when dealing with corporate minefields and falseness.