The Olivia Pope Syndrome: Do Black Women Need to Be Twice as Good to Get Half As Much?

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This post is part of a Race & Work series featured on The Corporate Sister in honor of Black History Month.

The advice from Papa Pope to his daughter on Scandal to be twice as good in order to have half of what her white peers have rings true to many Black women (and men) in the workplace…

If there’s one quote in Scandal that struck and stayed with me to this day, it’s embedded in these words from Papa Pope to his overachieving, far-from-mediocre daughter: “You have to be twice as good to get half as much” (read the recap of the episode here).  At the time, this racially charged motto uttered smack down in the middle of prime time television had many, if not most, Black and minority families, and women, nod in approval…

The exchange went something like this:

Rowan: Did I not raise you for better? How many times have I told you? You have to be what?

Olivia: Twice as good.

Rowan: You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.


If you’re the kid who’s ever brought home a bad grade, or missed an opportunity because you didn’t study hard enough, the feeling is all too familiar. I mean, just read Twice As Good: Condoleezza Rice and her Path to Power

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Many may disagree with this assertion, holding up merit as the only balance of power to measure ourselves against. Yet, if you’ve ver been denied a promotion without exactly knowing why, or have been held accountable for small mistakes that others seem to get away with, then you know…Then you know that, as my mother used to say, “you must be the absolute best when you don’t look like the majority“.

Yes, being Black shouldn’t mean having to be twice as good, but the reality is often not what we’d all like to see. When speaking to the Tuskegee University graduates back in May 2015, Michelle Obama’s words were as wise as they were piercing: “The road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me. Because while we’ve come so far, the truth is that those age-old problems are stubborn and they haven’t fully gone away”.

In an October 2015 report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, research suggests that even when Black employees are hired, there’s a tendency to consider them as less skilled and competent. Despite the recent advances made in business hiring practices, a long-standing history of prejudice may cause more scrutiny towards employees of color. And you know what they say, the more you’re being told you’re not smart or good enough, the more you may tend to believe it…

And for Black women, in the words of activist and author Malcolm X and as Beyonce beautifully pulled in her record-breaking, generation-changing album Lemonade:

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.


Very few of us, if any, escaped this pain. Yet we find strength in being the best we can be, and making lemonade out of lemons no one else would really want to deal with…And every now and then, we look back and remind ourselves that it was never a waste of time if we learnt so much through the journey…

Do you think the Olivia Pope Syndrome is a myth?


To Your Success,

The Corporate Sis.


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