The experience of being a woman in the workplace is unique, but the experience of being a professional woman of color is even more arduous. Apart from the imposter syndrome, which leeches itself onto many successful women, racial synergy is often detached. The intersection between being a woman, and a person of color, is an experience I know too well.
In 2020, during the height of the pandemic my husband and I had to navigate a reality where we existed around each other all-the-time. Picture a one-bedroom loft apartment in the heart of vibrant Newark, NJ. Naturally…tensions rose. In addition to our lives being threatened by an unknown virus, we also had to face the realities of police brutality simply because of the color of our skin. During this time I witnessed my affluent co-workers take advantage of virtual work from their vacation homes, personal offices, and rural locations where they had more than enough space to disconnect from work and the worries of the world.
I struggled a lot. I struggled at home, and in my personal relationship. My husband and I had a tough time adjusting to the new reality, and as a result it significantly impacted my performance at work. Being on video felt like a huge magnifying glass, and all of a sudden I had to represent the Black voice on my team of all White colleagues. On one occasion, I was transparent with my manager about how challenging it was to work from home with the personal battles I was experiencing. His response, “Oh, we all have things going on. I have to work from home with my two cats and it’s such a distraction sometimes too.” Picture an affluent White director under 30, living in a high rise apartment in NYC, comparing his plight with two cats to a woman of color, struggling in her marriage, facing racial injustice and did I mention I was using my ironing board as a desk?
After that conversation I felt even smaller. I didn’t expect him to understand, but I also didn’t expect such a lack of empathy. I don’t hold it against him, but if anything it reaffirmed to me the undoubtable truth that I did not belong there.
I am not alone in my experience. It is common for female professionals of color to face financial and social obstacles that their male counterparts don’t. In fact, research highlights how Black women are more likely to vocalize their desire to advance in their companies than their white women colleagues, however often cannot find mentors who will support and advocate for their advancement. In addition, Black women were paid 64%, and Hispanic women (of any race) were paid 57% of what white non-Hispanic men were paid in 2022. “The wage gaps represent the tangible consequences of sexism and white supremacy in the United States and how our country systematically devalues women of color and their labor.” The cards are deliberately stacked against us. It was no wonder that my colleagues were finding more ease with the pandemic than I was.
Ultimately, I left that company in search of something that aligned more closely with who I am. I’m grateful for my current position for many reasons. Where I now work, differences are celebrated because inclusion comes before diversity. It’s not simply about meeting diversity targets for the status quo but also about including diverse team members in strategic decisions and elevating them into positions of high impact. Employee well-being is advocated for through generous benefits. The flexible work model allows for true immersion into work-life integration where I don’t have to feel guilty about prioritizing my mental health and my marriage is significantly better for it. Not to mention, the bad-ass leaders who look just like me and create space for others behind them to advance. The people I work with are so genuine and don’t subscribe to the archaic, patriarchal version of work. I work on dynamic teams and am making true friendships where I can be transparent about my personal challenges and not ostracized for it. I belong here and I’m taking up space.
There is no question that women of color face daunting obstacles. We are often left in a system that undervalues, under pays, and sometimes undermines our paths to success. These are the realities that women of color face. In my case, I chose to stop the cycle and work for an employer who recognized and faced those realities. My hope is that all women of color will start to get the compensation and respect they deserve in the workplace.
Interested in learning more about negotiating your compensation as a professional of color? Join us on Tuesday, March 21st for Negotiating Your Salary as we celebrate Women's History Month with this virtual event on the actions we can take to close the gender pay gap. Negotiating Your Salary will breakdown the steps on how to negotiate your salary as a person of color in the workplace and modern approaches to best leverage your job offers to advance your career.