10 Career Tips for Black Women to Thrive in the Workplace

by Dalila Thomas

Let’s face it. These days, Black women are doing the damn thing–especially in the workplace. And whether you’re being brilliant in the boardroom or exceeding as an entrepreneur, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to getting the job done. Here are 10 Career Tips for Black Women that will help you keep it classy and cute and most importantly, respected, while bringing home the bacon.

1. Nix the Angry Black Women Stereotype.
There’s a stigma when it comes to black women, and being angry. We’ve all heard it before, being called “sassy” and other seemingly negative adjectives when coworkers confuse our assertiveness for being bitchy. While I don’t condone the “angry black women” phrase, I feel there are ways to address conflict without getting a negative reaction. I call it speaking Obama Style. Lord knows his buttons have been pressed throughout his presidency, but he has a special way of speaking that allows him to get his point across all while “checking” those who came incorrect. This involves speaking in a calm tone, stating the facts, and confirming that the information you delivered was received and understood. If this doesn’t work, take some time to slowly count to ten or read a bible verse. Sidenote: Speaking Obama Style can also be applied to your everyday life outside of the office.

2. Dress to Impress.
If you’re like me, you have a lot of pieces in your closet that are cute but borderline inappropriate for the workplace. So how you do you decide what is and isn’t suitable? Simple. Pull out an outfit, look at it, and if you begin contemplating about whether or not you can “get away with” the garments you’re looking at, put them back in the closet. It’s not appropriate. Move to the next ensemble and pencil in a trip to The Limited to re-up on some new duds.

3. Befriend Another Black Woman.
Find someone at your job that you can relate to. It makes for more pleasurable work experience knowing that you have someone that understands your day to day struggles and insecurities, and who you can share a giggle with for things you know your other co-workers won’t understand. But beware, if there are only a few of you in the building, you’re likely be mistaken for each other from time to time.

4. Don’t Befriend EVERYONE.
Yes, have a workmate that you can confide in. However, don’t confide in all of your workmates. It’s a recipe for disaster. The less people know about you and your personal life, the better.

5. Mind Your Media.
Social media, that is. By now you’ve heard stories of social media causing employees to lose their jobs. Don’t let that be you. Save your rants for a friend or significant other. And know that a private page doesn’t really mean much anymore. One of the main ways I keep it HR friendly on social media is by using the Grandma Rule: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.

6. Negotiate Your Pay.
This is something not enough women in general do, and studies show that not negotiating can have negative impacts on women. We can get so caught up in the excitement of getting a new job or a promotion that we lose our business mindset in the moment. Know your worth, and don’t be afraid to stick to it. You weren’t hand selected just for your company to just reach its quota. You are brilliant, and your check should reflect that.

7. Lean In.
A lot of times black women feel they need to mute their voices in meetings and group settings. Whether it’s because we don’t think our thoughts and ideas are valid, or we’re just shy about being in the spotlight, it needs to stop. Dimming our light to let others shine won’t get us to the top, where we belong.

8. Go the extra mile.
So you’re doing daily duties, and doing them well. Be sure to take on an additional assignment every now and then. Not only can you use this gesture as a way to earn some brownie points with your boss, but also as a resume builder. At the end of the day, it’s about working smarter. And working smarter allows you to critically think and find the best way to do your job without overexerting yourself. Any extra energy can be used to give a little more in other places, like fleshing out an idea or taking an assignment to the next level. All of which show your commitment to the company.

9. Schmooze.
As much as you may not want to, make it a note to participate in work functions. Be it a happy hour, company picnic, or co-worker’s birthday shindig, show up sometimes. It shows that you can be a team player. Hey, if this is too much of a stretch, at least stop the water cooler and give a semi-genuine chuckle or contribute to whatever is being discussed. It counts for something. These conversations and jokes can, and often do, lead to lasting relationships. And the right connection can get you to your next promotion or company.

10. Be True to You.
At the end of the day, be you. You were hired because of who you are. Don’t change that for an employer, or anyone else. Stay true to your values and your success will shine as much as the imaginary crown on your head.

Maybe you already use these tactics religiously, or maybe you can add two or three of these to your workplace toolbox. Either way, it’s important to consider these career tips whether you’ve been in your field for decades or if you’ve just entered. As Black women, we have to stay on top of our game and keep our eyes on the prize in the workplace. What are some tips you’d add to the list?

Photo: Shutterstock

Dalila Thomas is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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