Being a woman in any industry is a challenge, but when you add being a Black woman, it feels like we're at the bottom of the totem pole sometimes; especially if you're one of the youngest people in the office.
My work environment went from a very urban culture to a very traditional one, where I found myself to be the minority. It didn't take me long to realize that I had to up my game for my peers to take me seriously. But once you recognize that you have to make moves for your coworkers to see you as a deserving colleague, you already have the tough part out of the way.
Here are a few of the approaches I took:
1. Be Early
When I first started at this new job, it wasn't unusual to see people strolling in 5, 10, and even 15 minutes late. So of course, when I saw that, I thought it was okay to finish my face or hair, even if that meant being a few minutes late.
I quickly realized that those rules didn't necessarily apply to me because I got the side eye. I was almost offended when they seemed surprised that I was on time, and even early. The petty part of me didn't want to give them the satisfaction of saying I did anything wrong, but God is still working on me.
When you show up early, as difficult as it might be, it proves that you not only wanted the job, but that you're dedicated to it and deserve to be there just like everyone else.
2. Dress The Part
I pretty much live in t-shirts and jeans, so I'm all for a casual work environment. This is why I was so happy to know that everyone dressed casually at my job, and some people didn't even iron their clothes.
While I was tempted to toe the line and rock my distressed jeans, especially on Fridays when hardly anyone was there, I realized that there was no way I would be taken seriously if I dressed like I was going to the mall. If you work in a casual environment, don't be afraid of jeans, just make sure they're appropriate and think about pairing them with a blazer and heels.
On the other hand, you don't always have to dress casually just because you can. In fact, not doing so could help you stand out in an even better way. Either way, go above and beyond and dress for what you want, not for where you are currently. If your boss or the VP is rocking suits every day, you might want to think about doing the same.
3. Get To Know Your Coworkers
Small talk with coworkers can help build working relationships. Try asking about their kids and family life, or even how their day is going. Getting to know the people you work with allows them get to know you, and ultimately take you more seriously. Something about realizing that your coworkers have a life outside of the building is ike when you're little and you see your teacher outside of school.
If you can, invite some of them to lunch or to hang out after work. When you get back into the office, you might notice how the demeanor and interactions completely change for the better.
4. Stand Up For Yourself
There were so many times when my colleagues didn't think I knew what I was doing or what I was talking about. This was even the case when it came to tasks that I specifically was hired to do, and it made me wonder why they brought me on board to begin with.
If you also have moments like that at work, it's imperative that you don't hull over and just let it pass by. You have to prove that you're knowledgeable about what you're doing, even if there are those who question why you're there in the first place. Not standing up for yourself indicates that they're right about you and your alleged lack of skills.
For someone like me who is typically soft spoken, this is a tough lesson to learn. But it's also a very necessary one. Whether it's your first job out of college, your first job in a new career, or one that you've been doing for years, there's a reason that they chose you. You just can't be afraid to keep proving it and showing it (in a respectful way of course).
5. Keep It Professional
If you have a lot of friends at work, it's really important to make sure that you're still taken seriously. That's a really tough balance to achieve, but once you do, it's actually a pretty great work experience. If you don't have a lot of friends at work, you might be taken seriously but you might not be respected. Both of these extremes can be resolved with how you conduct yourself.
It's really all about setting boundaries and letting your colleagues know, whether they're friends, frenemies, or just associates, that you take your work seriously. There are some amazing work environments that are really fun and give you permission to let loose. Even in those situations, you just have to remember to draw the line somewhere.
Having fun at work definitely means you love what you do, but at the end of the day, make it understood that you want to be taken seriously.
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