Surviving Corporate America: A Millennials Guide to Working While Black

It’s no secret that the fight for equality fails to end at the doorstep of police stations around the world. As millennials begin to pour into corporate America many black professionals find themselves in the same struggle as older generations.

In most respects, we are esteemed as being the most diverse generation in history, however, we still face limited economic opportunity due to racial bias that exists within the workplace. Today, less than 1% of Fortune 500 CEO positions are occupied by black professionals. In all, there are only three black CEOs who head up Fortune 500 companies and none of them are women of color.

Barriers to Advancement

While judgments of “professionalism” remain Europeanized, many black professionals find it difficult to advance due to cultural insensitivities that affect one’s ability to be authentic. Here’s what I mean.

Have you ever thought twice about a hairstyle, hair color, or your attire? Many of us have out of fear of being perceived as a negative racial stereotype. As a woman of color, with locs, I can tell you that I’ve read the news stories and understand how offensive I may look to corporate America.

Many black women and men in positions of leadership are cautious when it comes to displaying any emotion other than happy for fear of being deemed “the angry black woman” or “the rioting black man.”

It’s Too Much

According to the study Being Black In Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration thirty-eight percent of black millennials say they are considering leaving their jobs to start their own company. To some that may seem like a step in the right direction as it relates to black ingenuity, however, if the issue isn’t addressed we will be leaving more of the same for the next generation.

What’s the Solution

As you may know, our job is not to determine how to fix a problem we didn’t create, but here are a few tips to survive in corporate America:

  • Lift as you climb
    • If you’re in a leadership position, pass a qualified brotha or sistah a ladder
  • Do your research before you accept the position
    • It is not enough for a company to say they believe in diversity. It must be displayed at every level of leadership, senior, and executive as well. Look for it.
  • Address microaggressions
    • At the right time with grace and professionalism discuss the way the incident made you feel. Document the incident and if appropriate get HR involved.
  • Code-switch if necessary
    • This “performative expression” is sometimes viewed as “selling-out” however many view it as a survival technique/ necessary skill set for penetrating professional environments. Consider it a boundary for your personal and professional life.

Learn more here

As we all know electing the first black president and discovering Wakanda did not erase systematic racism. It only portrayed a false sense of arrival. There is still work to be done. My advice– remain authentic, continue to be brilliant, and always do business beautifully.

To read more on  Being Black In Corporate America: An Intersectional Exploration — was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago under the auspices of the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit research organization  The full study is available at www.talentinnovation.org.

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