No time like the present to think strategically about how to choose the best advice to help you move forward in your career. Black women, not all advice is good advice for you. Here are a few tips that can help you navigate challenges that could delay or stall your career progression.
CAREER TIP #1: Bust the Myth of the Angry Black Woman in the Workplace
Project what you expect. Start all interactions the way you want them to continue. The “angry black woman” stereotype propels the image of someone rude, insensitive and defensive – a diva with an attitude. An easy smile conveys interest and collaboration. Do not take the behavior and communication of others personally. Seek to understand! If you are new to the workplace, your co-workers could be feeling you out to see if you can be trusted or gauge if you are a threat or how adaptable you will be to the workplace culture. If you are a tenured employee, keep in mind that your behavior and how you treat everyone should be the same and consistent. Therefore, no one can speak differently of their experience with you. If you do have a genuine conflict in personality with a co-worker, get your manager to help you work through the relationship to keep the perceptions neutral and show that you are a problem solver instead of contributing to the tension in the workplace. Keep things professional and positive!
CAREER TIP #2: Keep your Professional Image Polished, Tight, and Right!
Your image is comprised of a total package that contains how you speak, communicate, your attitude, how you treat others and yes, how well groomed you are. Whether you like it or not you are judged by your appearance. You'll be surprised how many women will say, “I've got a degree so my looks don’t matter.” Well, girlfriend, you are disillusioned! The reality is black women are often stereotyped in the workplace and need to strategically consider how our professional image is being perceived vs. how we want to be perceived on the job. I've seen some awesome natural hairstyles rocked in the workplace with a chic style of clothing. Although natural hair styles are accepted in some workplaces, other companies accept it with resistance and hidden discrimination. A young woman shared with me recently that her manager explained the reason why she could not attend an offsite conference was because of her natural hair, keep in mind this company promotes diversity and inclusion within their environment the nerve of corporate America, right? Doesn't get any more stereotypical than that. Clothing should be considered based on the industry you work in and should follow your company’s dress code. Keep in mind that your attire should also reflect the kind of image your employer may want to project in addition to your own. Therefore, try combining the two. Create a signature style that will meet both you and your company’s standards. If you are teaching people how to dress for job interviews, your attire should reflect the part and set the example, not reflect an image of someone who is dressed and ready to hit the club right after work. The bottom line is image does count and you should stay mindful of your physical appearance. After all, it is also part of your overall image.
CAREER TIP #3: Find a Mentor and Be a Mentor
Searching for a mentor is not easy to find for black women, so when you do find one; make sure they can be both a mentor and sponsor. If not, find one of each. Your mentor or sponsor should be someone that can relate to the challenges and complexities during your career journey. As the saying goes, “it takes a village,” therefore consider having a mentor, sponsor, and peers to be your village. Each has unique benefits that you can leverage. A peer can offer direct “in the moment” support, a mentor can share experiences, give feedback, advice, share leads and connections. Although a sponsor can do those things as well, they typically are a person of influence within your workplace or industry that can be a spokesperson or cheerleader on your behalf and talk you up to their circle of influence. Cultivating a relationship with a sponsor can put you on the fast track to reaching your career goals. Don’t get so busy with your own success that you forget to give back. Black women need each other. Therefore, offer to share your lessons and experiences by mentoring a peer or a young black woman in your industry. Passing your knowledge on to others is how we build strong black career women. When you know better, you do better!
CAREER TIP # 4: Cultivate Key Relationships
Believe it or not, everyone is not out to get us in the workplace. However, if we feel like we don't fit in, or if it feels like we've been mistreated or left out, we begin to isolate ourselves. It becomes easier to just do the work and go home. Sometimes you have to play the game to win if you want your career to flourish especially in Corporate America. I’m not saying be an ass kisser! But playing the game at some point is critically important to survive your workplace culture and the hidden rules that apply. So, how do you do it? You can start by developing relationships with your peers as well as persons of influence. Get to know your teammates by being a great listener. Ask natural questions and remember the small personal details that will show you are not all about you. Solicit the opinions of others and always give credit where credit is due. Someone else’s success is not the same as your failure. Developing these key relationships can help make for a better place to work. When your work-family likes you and trusts you, they will want to be around you. That goes a long way during performance reviews and receiving support with career development.
CAREER TIP #5: Know Your Worth, Do Good Work and Get Yourself Noticed Regardless of the Office Politics.
Scandal fans! We were all watching when Olivia’s dad asked her the question, “What did I teach you?” Her answer, “Be twice as good.” Most of us either grew up being told we had to work harder than our Caucasian co-workers in order for us to get ahead. Some people still believe this. Do you? Do we have to be twice as good? Or is it all just politics? I remember in my early 20’s working my tail off in a retail position so I could be considered for a promotion only to be looked over for the role. It was offered to another employee with less tenure and experience because she was friends with the District Manager. That same employee told me two days later that she threatened to quit if she didn't get the position because she wanted the title of being a manager. Go figure! Despite the obvious BS and politics involved, I continued to produce quality work, remained confident and tried my best not show the angry black woman demeanor. It was a challenge at times because I felt slated for a while but got over it. Eventually, I moved on to a better position with another company and received stellar references from that employer. Know your worth even when an employer does not see your value, and continue to do good work until you're able to move on.
The journey to career success can sometimes come with its own set of challenges specifically if you plan on climbing the corporate ladder to success. It doesn't have to be a difficult process to achieve your goals, you just need to be equipped and ready to use the tools provided as situations and opportunities arise which could be at any time.