Being a woman of color at work can be an isolating experience in and of itself. Being “the only one in the room” or one of only a few can have its challenges, from fitting in to being afforded opportunities. It’s also the reason why we need support as we face the obstacles we’re often confronted to.
However, very often as women of color, we’re socialized not to seek help outside of ourselves. We’re supposed to be strong, and to look the part too. We’re supposed to raise families on our own, hold multiple jobs, and withstand difficulties alone. Over time, there’s a pride that has quietly overtaken us as well, whereby we won’t even begin to admit we need help.
Add to this the fact that women of color are at the intersection of racism and sexism, and often the subject of a form of exclusionary brand of feminism excluding them. When you consider how the recent policies can also harm women in general, and women of color in particular, it goes without saying that much support is needed to create safer and more progressive environments for women of color at work.
Here are a few ways you, as a woman of color, can get the support you need to be safe and thriving at work:
Speak up and share your needs
I remember all the times when I failed to express what I really needed, for fear of being misjudged or worse, rejected. Truth is, an unexpressed need is as good as a non-existent one, especially when stemming from minority groups. This is exactly the reason why it’s important for women of color to speak up and express their needs, in a collaborative and professional way.
Most importantly, what you may need to develop and thrive at work may also be what countless other women of color, and women in general, also need. By expressing it, you’re also liberating others and giving them a voice.
Tap into your informal networks
It took me years to discover and start tapping into informal networks such as my church’s business network, neighborhood association or other women’s groups. I didn’t realize early enough how powerful sources of support and growth these could be. As I speak to other women of color around me, I’m also realizing that they too have been pleasantly surprised to discover how supportive their own informal networks are. A friend of mine scored multiple business deals through her church network. Another was able to find the job of her dreams through the power of word-of-mouth.
As women of color, we have access to countless informal networks around us. Leveraging these as sources of support, growth and development can provide us with the contacts and influence to grow in our careers.
Expand your network
Outside of informal networks, other networks are also great opportunities to garner professional and business support. We often underestimate the power of entering new circles, especially as women of color.
However, one of the best ways to overcome our fear of not fitting in is to actually face it head on. This means joining professional and business associations and networks we may not have considered before. It also means willfully committing to investing in our own growth and development though paid networks as well.
Ask for help
One of the most challenging hurdles I faced in my own career was to simply ask for help. Whether to better understand an unfamiliar area, be mentored or have access to opportunities we desire, having the humility to ask for help can go a long way in getting the support we need.
There may be people around willing to help and support your growth. However, it starts with simply asking. After all, the worst answer you can get is a “No”. When asking for help, remember to come prepared with a plan as to how this support will help you accomplish your goals.
Reach out to other women of color
One of the reasons why women of color are often isolated in professional settings is because of the lack of collaboration between us. There is a pervasive mindset according to which there is not enough room for all women of color in professional and business settings. As such, many believe that collaboration between us is not recommended.
However, we often overlook the fact that we can be each other’s strongest sources of support and advocates. After all, who better than another woman of color can fully understand their common challenges?
Reaching out to other women of color to create positive support and growth networks is a great opportunity to lessen the challenges we all face.
Be willing to change your circle
Sometimes, our own circles of influence, whether it be our friends or family members, fail to support us adequately. This also means that in order to grow and thrive professionally, we must be willing to change our environment.
As difficult as it may be, evolving from unsupportive circles to ones that provide you with the support you need may be the best career or business decision you can make.
Continuously develop yourself
Last but not least, the best way to support yourself as a woman of color at work is to continuously develop yourself. You must be committed to keep growing and educating yourself regardless of the circumstances you may be facing.
Whether it’s by furthering your education, meeting new people or working on your mindset, committing to self-development will always support your growth.
What’s your take on it?
To Your Success,
The Corporate Sister