Workplaces: 

Common Themes

Below, we discuss themes we saw often in the stories collected from Black women in Cleveland. 

"I worry for my daughters. At this point in my life and my career, I think about whether or not they should stay here. It's not the safest place for them. I wonder, will they be able to thrive here? The older I get the more likely I think it is that I will have to tell them they are better off finding a new home.

Key Theme: Heightened Criticism

Definition

Black women reported being subjected to discipline and criticism at alarming rates. They shared stories of being required to submit their credentials when others were not asked, having their names and nicknames questioned, being subjected to discipline  

The Tension

Many Black women discussed frustration with employers that say they are dedicated to inclusion, but then find reason after reason to avoid promoting Black women. 

Many women shared stories of matching or exceeding stated job descriptions and opportunities, only to be turned down for someone with qualifications that are different than the description or less directly related. 

Many Black Women are subjected to comments about their attitude or performance. 

For many women who participated in conversations, there was a great deal of stress. Women feared mistakes — as any one could be fatal, and committed themselves to being as perfect as possible to avoid danger.

This pressure leads to many women feeling real failure when they face critiques. The dichotomy of holding themselves to high standards while being subjected to more scrutiny leaves Black women with high stress and low support at work

IN HER WORDS...

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Self-Protective

Strategies

  • Keep a close eye on descriptions for goal jobs and curate your resume and skills to match

  • Keep in mind that organizations tend to downplay successes and play up challenges for Black Women. Stay committed to your value and point out uneven standards

  • Keep copies of your performance reviews and be sure to refer to them if your performance is questioned

  • Take time for self-care and reflection.

  • Keep a close eye on descriptions for goal jobs and curate your resume and skills to match

Organizational

Strategies

  • Keep in mind that organizations tend to downplay successes and play up challenges for Black Women. Stay committed to your value and point out uneven standards

  • Keep copies of your performance reviews and be sure to refer to them if your performance is questioned

  • Take time for self-care and reflection.

Theme: Compulsory Educator

                     After the death of George Floyd, I was really looking forward to hearing what the CEO of my organization had to say. I'm the only Black person in administration at my organization. So for me, knowing that leaders cared would go a long way to me feeling safe. 

But, when I came in the next day, they asked me to write a statement. They said I was "closest to the issue" even though I'm not in communications. I wrote a statement and the CEO signed his name to it. 

I felt really let down. 

Definition

Black people are often asked to explain sensitive concepts to their co-workers. A recent study found that 42% of Black women indicate that they are very uncomfortable expressing their thoughts on race.  Still, Black women are asked often asked to share their insights on race and gender, placing them in an awkward position of both educator and oppressed.

The Tension

When Black Women are asked to educate others on racial and gender based issues, it places her in a precarious position — if she advocates for inclusion, she is likely to have her personal experiences and perspective questioned. If she doesn't, she risks her own safety.

 

This is a frustrating experience, as people who do not share her experience treat her painful life experiences as a learning opportunity to dissect and often belittle her struggles. This can build resentment, open old wounds, and create additional tension inside organizations. 

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