Black Women in the workplace.

Negative work-based experiences that are exclusive to us. Let’s talk.

1. Hair

Any change in our hair becomes the trending topic between co-workers. Suddenly, your new hairstyle is the only thing about you that stands out.

A non-black co-worker at my sister’s old workplace would often bother her with ignorant and invasive questions regarding her natural hair. This was quite frequent as every time they worked together he would make unnecessary remarks. My sister had enough self-control to calmly ask him to refrain from making anymore. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he took it too far when he deemed it acceptable to put staples in her hair a few days later. Did my sister contact HR? Yes. How did they handle it? They told her the matter isn’t serious enough. The constant harassment from her ignorant colleague was apparently not serious enough for action to be taken.

2. Nails

“How can you possibly manage to work in nails that long?”

I don’t know babe. I just can. What I’ve felt most, as a black woman in the work atmosphere, is that limitations can be placed on us because of little things like our nails and how ‘unprofessional’ they may look. I’ve noticed that people within your workplace or customers may take you less seriously for such things.

The quality of your service may even come as a shock to some people because they, most probably, assumed that you’d be the ratchet chick that showed them no respect. For simply having some acrylics on, we find ourselves proving that we’re just as capable as our more ‘professional looking’ peers.

3. Microaggressions

Microaggressions are derogatory, or negative messages that target a person’s particular race, gender, social class etc. These microaggressions are hidden in everyday verbal or nonverbal actions.

i.e When someone may ask, “Can I speak to the manager?” it’s a perfectly normal request but it is obvious to you that the underlying message is that they don’t trust what you’re saying.

I work in Technology Retail. I’ve sat down with many customers – older men in particular – who need a male employee to confirm what I’ve said to them. This is a regular occurrence in male-dominated industries, like Tech, and it’s disappointing to learn that we aren’t looked at as reliable sources of information in those spaces. Both men and women have access to the same information – not too sure they know that though?

What’s worse is that most of the men on your team cannot understand nor can they relate. I raised the concern to my team and was told that I’m taking it too personally. Sigh.

4. Objects of sexual desire

When I was 16 my employer revealed that he hired me because they needed some “eye candy” on the shop floor. Yep. Believe me, I wish I knew then what I know now. Black females can be victims to harassment in their place of work as a result of their curvaceous figures.

In fact, I’ll have a post dedicated to the Sexualisation of Black Women up soon.

Can any of you attest to experiencing these things at your place of work?

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