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When You Are Feeling Undervalued As A Black Woman In The Workplace

Workin' Girl

Nothing stings at your confidence quite like being underestimated, underserved and cast out in work spaces you thought you'd grow in and acknowledged your worth. And there's no formal education or amount of money that makes this hard truth any less real for black women.

I remember the moment I first experienced this during my last year of college at my internship in features news writing with a notable media company. I was elated for the position and worked 9 AM-4 PM without a lunch break and after hours as needed. Despite my excitement on the inside, I quickly learned to contain it on the outside. No one talked to each other – or at least to me.

I said "good morning" to my supervisor and cube neighbor, but no one else even made eye contact with me unless it was necessary.

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A month into my internship, an editor finally acknowledged me to write an article. She introduced herself but stared at me, confused by my presence as the only black woman on the floor. She immediately asked if I had any writing experience (duh, that's how I landed this internship), where I was originally from and what school I went to. When I proudly said my HBCU of Morgan State University, she curled her lips as a sign of the official "aha, there's the deficit I was looking for" and said, "Yeah, I was there the other day to talk to a few students, it seems like no one really knows how to read or write, like there's not a lot of education on communications there."

I let her comment roll off my shoulder and went to WORK on my writing assignment to show my value.

And it worked – I landed on the web cover page and received compliments throughout the department. But this didn't last long. One of the interviewees called and complained that I mixed up a location venue she was at. I had the actual interview recording to prove that the location was correct, however the editor said to not worry about it and she'd "clean up" the situation.

I went on to write other stories, but on my last week at the internship, I overheard the editor talking to another staff writer that she couldn't see me working long-term with the company if I was already having issues fact-checking. And just like that, any chance I had of staying in the department was tarnished. I never returned, but the effects this experience had on my self-esteem were lasting. I wondered why I was being punished so harshly for a misunderstanding, and why one single incident trumped all the other work I'd done.

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Unfortunately, this was not my last encounter of implicit bias. I continued to have work projects overlooked or called out on for their errors, was left out of social conversations and viewed as "not enough," and I soon learned of its commonality. A 2018 Women in The Workplace report from LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Co. found that 40% of black women stated that they've had their judgement questioned in their area of expertise. Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect an individual's understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious matter.

We know we're the office outliers, but despite this, a 2019 Catalyst report found that 88% of black women wanted to remain in the same organization, 87% wanted to be an influential leader and 81% were working towards a high ranking position.

So, what do we do when we still want a piece of the pie?

Know That Nothing Is Wrong With You

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Someone else's misperception of you does not define who you are and the value you add. Do not doubt your work and your capabilities.

It can be difficult to believe in yourself when no one else does, but it's at this time you need to douse yourself in love from within. Start your morning with daily affirmations that speak to your soul. Set daily reminders on your phone with uplifting quotes to remind yourself of all that you are.

Still Use Your Voice – With A Nice Nasty!

Reports show that 35% black women feel like their managers create opportunities to showcase their work compared to 43% of white women. Furthermore, 22% of black women reported they often had their work contributions ignored.

Your voice and thoughts are still powerful, so continue to empower yourself to address issues in your office.

And, don't be too humble to be what I call the "nice nasty". Trust, when you "unconsciously" do to people what they're "unconsciously" doing to you, they get the picture. If someone asks if you need help on an assignment that is clearly in your expertise already, ask them if they need help with something they're doing. You'll both be surprised by their reaction.

Get Involved In Employee Resource Groups Or Create One

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Diversity isn't just about checking the box, but providing tools and opportunities for inclusion to really include everyone. Employee resource groups (ERG's) are employer-recognized groups of employees who share the concerns of common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation. These groups are intended to enhance the employee experience and when done right, should lead to developmental opportunities for your group.

If diversity and inclusion and ERG's are not being properly recognized at your job, there's bound to be someone you can connect with for social support.

Plan Your Next Move

The realism is your work culture of implicit bias may not change. If you recognize this and find yourself unhappy, unsatisfied and underserved, then it's time to move on. While it may be frustrating to get back up in the saddle, you deserve to be in a space that uplifts, encourages and values what you bring to the table. Your voice matters!

Featured image by Getty Images

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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