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.


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.


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


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


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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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