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Speaking Up At Work As A Black Woman

A common assumption and misconception follow us into the workplace every day. Here's how to rise above it.

Workin' Girl

You've heard about this stereotype before. Black women are always "angry", and we come across as unapproachable. We're the ones who are never happy; we always appear to have a bad attitude or an axe to grind. Particularly if we show any emotions or react to situations, we are seen as more aggressive and hostile than our non-Black counterparts, and our demeanor is "intimidating". This perception causes our behavior and actions to be judged differently than our peers, i.e. Serena Williams showing emotion at the 2018 US Open, and being docked a game and subsequently fined, whereas other (non-Black women) players at the highest levels of tennis do not receive such harsh penalties after exhibiting similar behavior.

These assumptions or misconceptions about Black women follow us into the workplace and can hinder us from having our voices heard, limit our opportunities, and prevent us from being our authentic selves at work every day.

But what can we actually do about it?

1. Know that if you are angry, that’s perfectly OK.

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Should you be facing difficult, frustrating situations or mistreatment, know that you have a right to be angry. Just because others in the workplace may draw conclusions about you, that doesn't mean you should hide your feelings. You are entitled to feel. Furthermore, suppressing your emotions will only cause them to manifest later with an adverse effect on your work product, performance, and interactions with your peers. So go ahead, give yourself the green light to be mad!

2. …But Be Willing to “Articulate Your Anger”.

It's not just enough to be upset. Be open to speaking up in a manner that will help others understand the specific reasons for your irritation or rage. You aren't just angry for the sake of it. Highlighting the root causes not only builds immediate awareness, but it can also drive a broader discussion about the problems you have faced and if there are solutions that can eliminate these concerns for not just you, but other Black women coming behind you.

3. Do Your Due Diligence.

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Are there other Black women in your organization? Seek them out to gain some insight into the experiences they have had in facing these stereotypes and the methods they have used to navigate such sensitive situations with management and coworkers. Not all organizations are the same, and therefore learning the specific nuances of your environment provides you a better chance of being successful in getting the right attention on the problems you raise as well as the adequate support you need. "It's not just what you say. It's HOW you say it and WHO you say it to."

4. Make the Effort. 

Before you drag me, hear me out. While you can't control the beliefs or perceptions of others or force them to change, you can control your own actions. And if we are being completely honest, for many of us, once we sense that we are perceived a certain way, we are seemingly less motivated to prove it wrong and are willing to allow others to maintain their inaccurate beliefs. However, if we are committed to driving our own career success, we do have the opportunity to instead show our organizations that we are valuable and positive members of the team.

Don't skip the after-work events with the team, try attending a few. Engage in conversations with colleagues and management and begin building organic relationships. Those relaxed environments allow you to start forming bonds with the team that can then translate to the office.

Also, don't be afraid to offer your expertise. If you have a wealth of knowledge and experience in a particular area, take steps to share it with others on the team.

Develop a solid working relationship with your supervisor. Outside of formal meetings, spend time sharing ideas with them as well as requesting their input and perspective on your work. Given this is the person who is helping to manage your career on your behalf and therefore may be involved in conversations about you (WITHOUT you), helping to shape their perception of you can go a long way in setting the organization's opinion of you.

Making the effort in these areas helps you to build rapport with your workgroup, shows the value that you bring, and can give a glimpse into your personality. When people have a chance to get to know you, they are far less likely to assume the worst or view your initial reactions to situations negatively.

Now will you completely eliminate the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype from your workplace if you follow these steps? No. But you can give yourself a better opportunity to have your voice heard and still thrive even in spite of it.

For more information about Julia Rock, check out Rock Career Development or follow her on Instagram.

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