Workplaces Were Not Designed For Black Women

Jun 15, 2022

Do you feel like you are thriving at work?

When the Black Women Thriving research team posed this question to nearly 1,500 cisgender and transgender black women and gender-expansive professionals working in the public sector, private sector, and non-profit organizations across the United States, the majority said:

 

 “No one’s ever asked.” 

 

They didn’t know what it looks like to thrive at work, but they intuitively knew the answer, was NO — they are not thriving. And it isn’t because they aren’t making every effort to do so.

 

Here at Every Level Leadership, our focus is on equipping organizations to be more inclusive and equitable. But, through this work over the past 10 years or so, Ericka Hines, Principal of Every Level Leadership, found a significant gap: The workplace is in no way designed to help Black women thrive, which should be one of the goals for an organization DEI work.

 

So, we decided to dive in and try to figure out what it means for Black women to thrive in the workplace. We wanted to know what it is that is needed for them to find joy, success, and stability in their chosen profession and what their employers should be doing to support that goal.

 

Because we knew that by examining and identifying these processes and structures, we would understand how to support the care and healing of professional Black women and move this powerful population from surviving to thriving.

The Results Are In: What The Typical Black Women Experiences in The Workplace

 

Through the Black Women Thriving Research project, we first wanted to affirm existing knowledge about Black women in the workplace.

Our focus groups gave women the opportunity to openly speak in a supportive space on topics like promotion, compensation & earning potential, support, and their current perspective on access to opportunities.

 

We touched on workplace satisfaction, belonging, connectedness & trust among colleagues, burnout, and more. We were honest and open and everyone who participated was ready for some serious change in the workplace.

Focus Group Findings That Struck A Chord

 

The results of the study will be released this Spring but we want to share some of what we heard that really struck us from our focus groups.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT

One participant shared that she does not have a flight instinct.

 

“I’m always on fight. I don’t freeze. I have been told I have a very good resting B face where people can’t read me, and so that leads them to ask me these crazy questions or give me feedback that is pointless. Give me actionable feedback. Don’t just give me things that I can’t do anything with. And so, for me, I don’t freeze. I’m not going to fly where we’re going to fight it out.”

-BWT focus group participant

CODE-SWITCHING

Having to censor the very nature of how they speak in the workplace.

“I hate the term code-switching, but there was just a way in which you speak at work that was different than what you spoke at home.”

-BWT focus group participant

FEELING UNSAFE SPEAKING UP ABOUT  ANTI-BLACKNESS

 

Feeling anxious in the workplace and fearing negative consequences for talking about anti-blackness was another theme woven throughout our time with the focus groups.

“I’m thinking of just even like within the past year, especially around like now this heightened conversation within the workplace and white people are very comfortable talking about race now and being advocates and their outrage and everything. I still feel the need to show restraint because I think if I express my true thoughts, you know, I don’t feel safe in the workplace.  So controlling myself, restraint is where my head is first going. I definitely can relate to the anxiety because I think having to temper yourself does create a sense of anxiety within the workplace too.”

-BWT focus group participant

The Tip of The Iceberg

These are just a select few key takeaways of the realities of Black women in the workplace that have been revealed through this study. In order to change the way these systems and processes operate, we must first understand the current state of affairs.

This work is about giving voice to the realities and experiences of Black women in the workplace so we are able to uphold organizations to support this community of women in a way that helps them thrive, not just survive.

How do you think we are doing?

To receive the full Black Women Thriving Report & Findings, head to https://everylevelleads.com/bwt.

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