Project Description

Black Women at Work: How We Shape Our Identities on the Job

In our November issue, we revealed part one of an exclusive study with research consultants Added Value Cheskin. In it we found that Black women are increasingly concerned with how they’re perceived by their peers and superiors on the job. Now, in part two, we discover that the tactics we’ve been using to appear a certain way to our colleagues may actually be holding us back. Read on to find out how to get out of your own way.

If you’ve ever straightened your natural hair before an important meeting or code-switched on a conference call, you’re not alone. But a groundbreaking ESSENCE study about Black women’s experiences in White-dominated workplaces shows that altering key aspects of our identities in order to blend in is not only psychologically damaging, but it could also be keeping us from scoring the promotions we deserve.

What we found is that scores of us are so worried about being perceived negatively that we hide our authentic selves in the workplace, choosing instead to tone down our appearance, soften our demeanor and hold back in our conversations. More than 70 percent of the 650 African-American women we surveyed fear being labeled an Angry Black Woman by their coworkers, and 40 percent believe others see them as the Acculturated Girl Next Door, a professional woman who is unthreatening, safe and adaptable.

Switching between “work me” and “personal me” is exhausting and doing us more harm than good. When you hide your true self behind a mask at work, it’s like walking around with your hands tied, says Kym Harris, Ed.D., president of Your SweetSpot Coaching and Consulting in Atlanta. “When you use so much energy being something you’re not, you don’t have enough left to be the best you can be.” Read more here..