Being a woman of color in the workplace comes with many challenges. One of these is the almost constant tendency to be uncomfortable at work. When you’re the only woman of color in the room, when others may not give you the credit you deserve or you may be overlooked entirely, it can be easy to shy away from being your best self at work.
Remember the scene in Something New, when Sanaa Lathan, who works as a corporate finance manager at a top Fortune 500 company, gets overlooked by rich, white clients because she happens to be a Black woman? This scene is one that many women of color face, and live, on a daily or at least frequent basis at work. As a result, we may start internalizing this fear of putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations by speaking up or even being noticed in the workplace.
It takes tremendous effort to keep showing up as our best selves in environments in which we may not be valued or overlooked, especially in professional ones. We may want to go above and beyond to prove our worth, or on the very contrary, recede in the confines of our cubicles or offices and remain quiet. Many times, I chose the latter. I know I’m not the only one…
Instead of beating ourselves up, accept the status quo or burn ourselves out to prove our worth, here are a few ways we can beat our fear of being uncomfortable as women of color at work:
Acknowledge the fear
The struggle is real, and so is the fear! The first step to challenge your fears is to acknowledge them. You’re not imagining things, neither do you need to beat yourself up for feeling the fear of facing uncomfortable professional situations. Recognize how you’re feeling and make peace with where you’re at professionally, mentally and emotionally at the moment. Instead of putting yourself down for it, accept it and be open to challenge it!
Stop taking it personal!
Taking things personal at work doesn’t help solve them, in the very contrary. Your career is more important than personal considerations, so resist the temptation to take uncomfortable settings and situations personal. Instead, take your focus off of the people involved and start asking yourself what YOU can do to go beyond your own fears and turn the pain into lessons.
Every challenge we face is meant to teach us something about ourselves, and help provide us with the inspiration to create solutions. How are your professional challenges motivating you to beat the fear of being uncomfortable? Once you start answering this question, you’ll be on your way to turning your fear into progress.
Do one “small” thing every day to challenge it!
The concrete walls we tend to face as women of color at work can make us feel powerless. One of the reasons for this, is that we may try to solve all the issues we’re facing all at once. There are too many existing systemic and organizational challenges for us to be able to address them all.
Rather, it’s a matter of asking ourselves how we can chip at these issues, one day at a time, starting with ourselves. You know what they say about eating an elephant, one bite at a time, right? What is the smallest thing you can do to address your fear? Can you speak up once during the meeting today? Can you volunteer for a challenging opportunity in the next 30 days? Identify the smallest step you can take today, tomorrow and in the future and act on it!
Speak up and Tell your truth
It can be hard to face your truth as a woman of color at work, let alone sharing it with others in the workplace. Yet without telling our stories and letting our truths be known, others around us may not be able to understand what we’re going through. In order for better communication to take place around the challenges faced by women of color at work, there must be a conversation taking place.
This is not about making a litany of complaints to whoever wants to hear. Neither is it about confronting every issue at work. What this is about is being willing to clearly articulate, in a constructive yet firm way, our desire to understand and minimize the obstacles in our way.
It’s about saying that you wanted the promotion and do not understand why you didn’t get it. Are you following up with your management to obtain the feedback you need in order to advance? Are you clearly sharing your expectations, even when they’re being overlooked over and over again? Are you asking the difficult questions rather than shrinking back out of fear?
Is the fear of being uncomfortable as a woman of color at work keeping you hidden in your cubicle or office? Are you avoiding strategic meetings or shrinking in the back of the room for fear of being judged? Are you not making your voice being heard because the cost may outweigh the benefits?
If you’re invisible, silent or both, then your power to effect change for yourself and others is seriously diminished. Overcoming your fear as a woman of color at work also means coming out of hiding. It means making your contributions known, advocating for yourself as you ask others to advocate for you.
Keep showing up
Don’t just show up once or twice, keep showing up each and every day! This means sitting at the front of the meeting room at every meeting. It also means asking for opportunities over and over, long after you’ve been told no the first time. The more you keep showing up, the less fear you feel, and the more you can start turning the tables around you.
This is about persistence and continued effort, at all levels of your career. It’s also about making sure you have the right mindset and stamina to keep showing renewed effort and vigor on a daily basis.
Encourage another woman of color
Sometimes, the best way to address a fear we have is to help someone who may be experiencing the same fear. Encourage another woman of color who may be going through the same issues silently. This is not about creating a new “complaint department”, but rather using each other as a source of inspiration, strength and motivation.
How do you overcome your fear of being uncomfortable as a woman of color at work?
To Your Success,
The Corporate Sis
Author: Solange Lopes
Solange is the founder of The Corporate Sister, as well as an author, entrepreneur and CPA. She’s passionate about helping women do work they love, build fulfilling careers and living life on their own terms.