There was a time when Austin Channing Brown wanted white people to be afraid of her in the workplace. If they were, she thought, then they couldn’t walk all over her. They couldn’t hurt her with microaggressions.
But then she realized there was a better strategy that would better help maintain her dignity and focus on what she could control.
She has crystallized this strategy into three steps that she recommends to Black women in the workplace. They are:
- Have your exit strategy ready to go at all times.
- It is important that, as women of color, we always have a game plan, that we know that the workplaces where we are, are not the end of our story. They’re just the beginning or the middle of the next chapter, but there are more chapters to go. So, when you decide that you already have an exit strategy, your workplace becomes just one step on that journey instead of the end goal of your journey.
- Ask yourself:
- Who in your office place do you trust to be on your reference list?
- What skills do you need to develop before you can get to that next leadership position that you desire?
- How much money would you need if you wanted to start your own business? Who would your investors be? What would you do?
- The dreaming of women of color can never stop. It’s a fire that you always have to be stoking because if you don’t, you’ll get trapped into this deep belief that there is no other place for you to go and that you should only ever have gratitude for the place you are currently.
- Find your allies.
- As women of color, as humans, we’re not meant to do that work that we love alone. Your passion requires that you be in the community with other people. Is there someone at your job you can be in community with: someone who sees you, someone who will advocate for you, someone who will do more than just take you out to coffee? It’s important that you feel seen and that you feel heard, that you have a place to go when you are hurt, that you have someone who will advocate for you when you feel a sense of un-belonging.
- Know your own worth.
- If you are one of just a handful of women of color where you work, you are special. Your background is special. The way you speak is special. The way you give a presentation is special. The way you dress is special. The way your mind works is special. The experiences that you bring to the table are special. And you must be the one to never forget that.
Austin Channing Brown is the author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. She shared these comments at the 2021 Massachusetts Conference for Women.