Four sisters reflect on their professional experiences to provide four ways to successfully navigate the workplace as a Black Woman
Define your core values
Felicia: I have worked in college athletic for 16 years at Division I, II and III. During my time in athletics I have seen a lot of the good, bad and ugly. In addition, as an African American female my experience is unique in that I am oftentimes the only woman of color in many meetings, forums and conversation centered our young black youth. I carry these opportunities with great care because I know that my actions and words not only affect those who I currently serve but they will impact those who are yet to come. With that being said I believe that knowing your core values are important when navigating not only your personal life but professional as well.
Simply put core values are the qualities that define you as a person, how you live your life and ultimately make decisions. An example of one’s core values are faith, family, integrity, honesty and the list goes on and on. One of my core values is family. As an athletic trainer we work many long hours during the week and weekend. When my husband and I started our family I knew that I would have to choose between my career and my family. I knew that I would not be able to balance the two in way that I felt would benefit my family and employer. As I began to ponder what I wanted to know I immediately thought about my core value: family. If it was in fact one of my core values then I needed to make the hard decision to take a step back from career for the sake of my family. At the time I knew and still believe that I did what was best for our family. It gave me more time to be with my children during their crucial years of development and early education. In addition, it allowed my husband the time and space to pursue his passions.
So……think about, define and write down your core values. Sooner or later you will need to rely on them as you navigate your professional space.
Build Authentic Relationships
Danielle: This August will make years 16 for me in the field of Education and as a Black Woman and what some may consider a veteran, I have learned the importance of building authentic relationships. This doesn’t have to be complicated but somehow we tend to over complicate this process. Relationship building has sustained me in situations that were very challenging. Relationship building has also created opportunities for me that would not exist without someone being able to say, “Yes, I KNOW Danielle and I can speak to her work.”
Building authentic relationships requires time and vulnerability. Personally I am not the most outgoing person. When I’m at work I purpose to remain as professional as possible, be as effective and efficient as I can be, and “keep my nose clean.” However, being and Educator requires me to collaborate with others even when I’m not interested. In most cases Educators in a similar setting, organization, or system are working towards a common goal so working on an island isn’t an option. Over the years I have been thrust into situations, and I don’t believe by chance, where I had to be vulnerable and literally on display. Talk about character development! And let’s be honest, as women we aren’t always opened to widening our circle especially when it comes to getting to know other females. We can all do better especially as Black Women because you never know when you’ll be the “new kid on the block” and in need of a colleague to lean on. Relationship building, in my opinion, has more to do with you and the intent of your heart than the other person.
I am encouraging you, no I am urging you to reach out. Don’t be so consumed with the day-to-day that you devalue the necessity of building authentic relationships in the workplace. I am still very close and in constant communication with people ,both women or men, that I’ve worked with over the years and I appreciate the space that each of them occupy in my life. Don’t be paranoid and approach relationship building with skepticism. Pray and trust that God will order your steps so that you can build authentic relationships with ease.
Chloe’: I’ve learned a lot throughout my professional career. I personally believe those lessons intensify as a Black woman, regardless of your choice of industry. On any given day, my audience can range from Senior Leaders to clients. In those moments, I’ve learned that this can be make me extremely susceptible to any and all opinions of my work, presence and being. It can be daunting and exhausting. Each lesson can bring a shift in your personal ideology, confidence and motivations.If I had one piece of advice for Black women from my own personal journey, in their respective careers, I would encourage them to understand the importance of and strengthen your self-awareness. It’s your secret weapon.
I’ve learned that with a heightened state of self-awareness, I’m in more control of my perspective and emotions regardless of the work, environment or the individuals that inhabit those spaces. My mental capacity and self-esteem is not at the mercy of those unwarranted and sometimes warranted opinions. When you’re more aware of yourself, you have a clearer understanding of your “why” and when you’re sure of your “why”, your focus becomes crystal clear. When you’re more aware of yourself, you have a better hold on your emotional state and a fuller understanding of how you present yourself to the world. And most importantly, when you’re aware of yourself, you become more confident in being your truest and most authentic self.
This is key as a Black woman. Not hiding and editing who you are in these spaces, but refining those amazing unique qualities only we can bring and showcasing them in the most undeniable way.
If you’d like to know how to hone in on this skill more, check out the How Does She Do It podcast. Career Coach & Lawyer, Tiffany F. Southerland digs deep into a 3-part series focusing on Self-Awareness. Do yourself a favor and listen. It’s Great!!
Kirsten: “My professional career is quite new but I’ve learned lots of things along the way. Being new in any type of career can be nerve wrecking. So many questions, yet so little time. However, what I’ve found to be helpful is seeking a mentor. Mentorship is needed to get through hard times and or difficult adjustments to work. They can even help with seeking other career pathways that can push you into the right direction of your professional future.
Wrapping up I’m always reminded by the scripture from Proverbs 27:17 which states “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
If you are interested in additional Career related content, check out this blog post from Chloe’: