Although some of us may never get comfortable with the “bring your whole self to work” expression, I think we can get closer when we start working and speaking more unapologetically. Racism and microaggressions shouldn’t be tolerated, full stop. I’m talking about how we can be proactive and upfront with our work colleagues and ourselves. Creating our own space and taking charge and care of that space. More importantly, how we can protect our peace through the struggles of being young Black professionals. We cannot change ignorance, especially ignorance unwilling to change. I apologize in advance that this post is all over this place. I’ve had many thoughts about this lately. Getting them out here has been cathartic for me in a somewhat structured way.
Setting Precedents – Create Space to Protect Your Peace
I’ve set a precedent with my team at work that if something is going on in the world, I will speak on it when I’m ready. Still, they need to ask me first before diving into a deep 1:1 conversation like being Black in America. Being proactive in letting my team members know this and actively taking myself out of these conversations in group chats has been detrimental to my mental and emotional peace. I’ve been glad that my non-Black teammates are aware of what’s going on. And equally pleased they would like to have hard conversations surrounding these topics, even if I wasn’t active or ready to engage in them personally. I have to admit this wouldn’t be beneficial to you if you don’t have a supportive and understanding team.
My team is wonderful at the human level and because it’s relatively small, it’s been easy to cultivate genuine relationships with each teammate. You might not know how supportive your team will be until you have a discussion with them. If your team isn’t as supportive, I’m working on ways to help you navigate that and am currently talking to a few friends to see how they’ve worked through it.
Acknowledge Equity Does Not Exist Yet
Yes, we may have more freedom than our ancestors. Still, the socio-economic norms are not equitable, and that is where we’ll need to band together. Equity is a misunderstood concept. It’s evident whenever you look online and see people, usually White, complaining about diverse hires taking away jobs from them or unfairly skewing hiring practices. This is where your voice can make an impact. You can correct coworkers that incorrectly make those assumptions and advocate for more Black candidates, hires, and leaders.
I know in the corporate world, specifically in the financial and tech industries, competition is cutthroat. It can be hard to be supportive of other Black men and women doing well. It’s tough when you see them doing better than you, and you haven’t checked your ego at the door.
Your blackness matters in the office and out; at the end of the day we live in a society with no regard for us; no regard for our bodies, our contributions, or our future. I get that it feels like no matter where we go, we can’t breathe. But I urge you to hang in there. I implore you to set boundaries with your coworkers, boss, and peers. The space you hold is sacred and should be safeguarded with the same tenacity you use at work to keep climbing the corporate ladder.
Be Kind and Get Out of the Crabs in a Barrel Mindset
Please, be kind to your fellow Black coworkers. We’re all struggling, and though we don’t have the same struggles, we can look at each other earnestly and mentally say, “I acknowledge you, and I see you.” Just say hi, even if you’re not the best of friends. Be intentional about building up your network of other influential Black business people and advocating for more people that look like you as leaders and employees. We are so much stronger together than individually.
It May Be Time to Think About Leaving
So, your company hasn’t acknowledged the myriad inequities in how White people are treated in this country versus the way Black people are. Then you might need to consider how to best start protecting your space and peace. Additionally, it might be time to consider taking your talent elsewhere.
As Marshawn Lynch once said, “cook yo chicken.” Set yourself up financially, so you’re not living in constant fear of losing your job because you want to speak up and are unsure how management will take it. If you want to freelance or open your own business, set yourself up to be in a position to do that! Prepare to leave when you feel the time is right and have no remorse about doing what’s best for you.
On Being a Workaholic – Take Time for Yourself
It’s hard when as a Black person, you’ve been told as a child that you have to be 2, 3, and 4x better than your White counterparts to get close to the same opportunities as them. Over time, it’s becomes part of your mindset. It’s genuinely one of the most challenging habits and mindsets to break, being a workaholic.
Kim Foster of For Harriet hosted a great webinar about recovering workaholics. In it, she and Dr. Ebony Butler discussed the effects of being a workaholic, how many hours ambitious women tend to work, coping mechanisms for the stress of the business world and life in general, and not fully defining yourself by the job function you perform. It led me to reflect on how much more I need to give myself grace and care for myself and that it wasn’t exclusive to me as a Black woman. Tons of other Black women were in the chat and following discussion about how being workaholics and continuously striving to be the best negatively affected their mental health. While it’s not something to celebrate, it definitely helps you feel less alone. If you’ve been burnt out like me, it gives you a sense of validation.
Take time for yourself and know that your job isn’t everything. Use the time you take to form a more holistic view of yourself and how you’d like to define yourself. I’m not going to go in-depth here. I know there’s a high possibility that burnout disproportionately affects Black women, but there isn’t much data to support that. Remember to protect your peace. Nobody cares about you or your career as much as you. Take care of yourself.
Although it’s not easy being Black, especially not in the office, I wouldn’t dream of changing anything about myself, my culture, my Blackness, and neither should you. These were just some of the many ways I protect my peace as a Black employee. What are some ways you protect your peace? Do you want to see more of this topic? I’d love to expand on more of my methods, bring some friends for discussion, and talk about defensive methods as well so let me know.
Until next time,