The Token Black Woman in the Workplace

By Raven Young

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized as a non-POC coworker greeted you, “Hey homegirl” or some other cringe-y, over-the-top way. How many times have people in the workplace sought you out to ask what a slang word that they had heard over the weekend meant? Well, you are not alone. I started right out of college with a service industry job. I was one of three black women there. It didn’t take long for the three of us to realize our coworkers were excited by the prospect of having a “close” relationship with melanin queens. From questions about our hair to grilled about AAVE, it was the beginning of something I would constantly face, working in a white, male-dominated industry.

Fast forward to my current role. I am the only black and only woman in management in my center. I am also the only black woman in a management role in my area, which encompasses all of Alabama and Georgia. For a while, I definitely tried to put it out of my head. It wasn’t until the code-switching and the “bro talk” that it became something I couldn’t ignore. I knew I had to approach the subject delicately to my boss. I didn’t want to come off as “the angry black woman” or like I was being sensitive. I work in the service industry! My skin is supposed to be thick, right? Luckily, happily and fortunately for me, my boss is one of THOSE. And by that, I mean he is an ally. When I would come to him with race/gender issues, he would actively listen, learn and seek a solution to where I was comfortable without making me feel like a victim or bully.

I know we can’t all get that lucky. I’m honestly still shocked that I got that lucky, at least this time around. So I’ve compiled a few tips for my black girls looking to climb that corporate ladder or move up in their career:

  • FIND A BLACK WOMAN MENTOR. If this isn’t doable within your company, use those networking skills to seek one out in a similar field. This woman will be the one you vent to, share moments, and support and uplift you.
  • Set boundaries. The first time someone tries you, politely but firmly correct them. If it continues, partner with your boss or HR to find a solution.
  • Document, document, document. This would’ve helped me so much at the start of my career. But every time you have to have uncomfortable conversations, document them. Have a witness is possible.
  • Never be afraid to be yourself. The right job, career, company is going to want the AUTHENTIC you. Don’t shrink yourself, quiet yourself or become someone that isn’t you. You are the only that suffers.

Demand your seat at the table. You are there based on your merit, talent, intelligence, and skills. Get what you deserve and accept nothing less!

Raven Young is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project LLC. Raven is a spiritually driven individual navigating corporate America. Follow her journey and connect on Instagram @raebeyy.

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