Why We Need to Stop Hiding as Women of Color at Work
As women of color, we often happen to be the only ones in the room in our workplaces. Which makes us more noticeable, but interestingly enough, also more prone to hiding at work. As double minorities, being women and being of color, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t belong or don’t fit in to professional environments mostly made of white males.
I know I did for a long time. As a Black woman and an immigrant, I would take a look around and be intimidated at being the only one, or one of the only ones, in the room. It also didn’t help that as an introvert, I wasn’t always used to voicing my opinion. Yet the fact of the matter is, when we’re outnumbered, we tend to shrink and diminish our valuable contributions. We tend to hide, conform and seek not to stand apart. If you add to this the false myth of the “angry black woman” and other falsities about what it means to be a woman of color, it’s no wonder that revealing ourselves at work is far from being easy.
I was talking to a fellow corporate sister a while ago, and the conversation happened to be around her leaving multiple positions because she wasn’t accepted as who she was. This is also the dilemma of many women of color in corporate and other professional environments: “Do I bring all of myself to work, or do I hide and only show the parts of myself which are acceptable enough not to damage my career?”
In an attempt to be careful not to be perceived as “too aggressive,” or not fitting in well enough, we may tend to conform to the status quo. As a result, we may tend to bury the wealth of experiences, insight and knowledge we’ve acquired over the years, just so that we may avoid the sting of opposition and judgment.
The thing is, we don’t just bring our diplomas and resume to our careers or businesses. Every time you step into a room, you bring all of you, from your mindset to your unique perceptions and competence. Trying to suppress any of it not only comes at the pricey cost of restricting your skills and talents. It also deprives the world of all you have to offer.
Let’s keep it real. As a woman of color, at work or in any other setting, you may be judged and perceived differently. This is what happens with anything or anyone different, at least at first. Yet, how can we change perceptions, judgments and opinions if we’re only showing part of who we are? How can we effect change, real change, if we don’t use all the tools we’ve been given to shift the conversation?
For instance, being an immigrant may also mean that you’re brining multiple languages, cultures and an uncanny ability to adapt to changing environments to the table. And can we talk about the invaluable informal networks we have in our churches and communities?
I understood it was time to stop hiding when I realized that I was only showing up partially at work. If we want to achieve the careers and lives of our dreams, we must dare to show up as who we are. This may also mean risk more judgment, yet not bringing our whole selves to the table is also not an option.
The power of authenticity is real. If you can muster the courage to be authentic, it will help you identify the places and people who are not for you. On the positive side, it will help you pinpoint those places and people where you not only fit in, but where you can reach your full potential without compromising who you are.
Every time I see a woman of color authentically pushing through and achieving the seemingly impossible in her career, it inspires me to push harder.
Solange Lopes is an author, CPA and writer/blogger. She blogs about career and lifestyle for professional women in her blog The Corporate Sister. She’s passionate about writing and women’s issues.
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Professor, Writer and Founder of The Corporate Sister
I'm a working mom, professor, writer, author and consultant, as well as founder of The Corporate Sister platform. I'm currently working on gender diversity research as well as on my second book. Outside of work, I love hanging out with my little ones, family and friends, and am an avid reader and writer. Continue Reading
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