Finding Belonging in the Workplace for Women of Color
By: Kamaljit "Sonya" Virdi, Ph.D. | March 25, 2022
Recognizing the experience and contribution of women of color in our society is important. This is especially true in honor of Women’s History Month. Many women of color, especially those from historically marginalized groups, don’t see professionals from their backgrounds represented in their respective career fields. This lack of representation leads to feeling inadequate, a lack of belonging, and a negative impact on performance. This article provides strategies for women of color to believe in themselves and thrive in their professional careers.
Below are tips to help women of color feel empowered in the workplace:
1. Find Your Voice
Women of color worry most about speaking too strongly or sharing an unpopular viewpoint because oftentimes they may be misperceived as aggressive rather than assertive. This worry is more pronounced in male dominated fields. You shouldn’t have to censor yourself to be heard. Do not silence yourself after a negative experience. Instead, talk to your support system about what happened. This will help remind you that your experience is real and valid. Next, use good problem-solving skills to determine your next steps. For example, ask for direct feedback about why you were perceived the way you were and consider reporting your concerns (more on this below).
2. Seek Mentorship
Search for a mentor of color to help you feel less alone in your experience. Working with someone successful who has a similar background helps you feel more confident in your abilities. Depending on your context, you may have to get creative with finding someone, and they may not be from your exact race/ethnicity. Try asking a professor from a class that you are not enrolled in or a colleague who doesn’t directly work on the same project as you. It may take several attempts before finding the right person for you.
3. Ask Questions
Make a conscious effort to ask more questions to professors, supervisors, managers, and whoever else is available. Women of color who identify as being first-generation college educated may feel self-conscious about asking questions because they don’t want to appear uninformed or worry that their questions are seen as “stupid.” Ask anyway, sometimes not asking questions can come off like you are less engaged or interested.
Remember you earned a seat at whatever table you are sitting! You deserve to take up space and have access to knowledge.
4 . Positively Affirm
Be positive with yourself. When you are not hearing positive feedback from others, it can make you question your worth and progress. Remind yourself daily that you belong, that your mistakes don’t define you, and that you are enough. Use affirmations that speak to you. You can create them yourself or find affirmations others have used online. You may not initially believe the affirmations and that’s okay. Keep up with them and you may find that eventually you do.
5. Source Community
There is great power in community. Join an academic or professional organization tailored for women, or women of color whenever possible. If the cost to join is a barrier, find out if there are any free resources available through your employer. Many large companies have committees devoted to the professional development of employees of color. If these kinds of resources are unavailable at your workplace, ask your employer to pay for the membership to your professional organization of choice. It never hurts to ask.
6. Report Issues
If you feel that you have been treated unfairly because of your race or gender, consider reporting it to your manager. This can be a difficult, and intimidating decision. If you have an unsupportive manager, seek additional information and guidance from human resources. It is important to know your rights.
There are historic and systemic obstacles that continue to make it challenging for women of color in the workplace. Employers and academic leaders also need to continue to do their part if real change is going to be made.
I hope that these suggestions are helpful. I wrote this article to remind you that you matter, you have value, and you deserve to be seen. Happy Women’s History Month!