Four Assumptions that Cause Stress for Working Women of Color

Afro American Woman Calling 911 In New York City. Concept About

She stood right next to me and ignored me. I was explaining my point of view when I realized that she had tuned me out as soon as I opened my mouth. Her actions put her supervisor, another colleague and me at risk for loss of job, certification or licensure. By ignoring me, she caused me to feel unheard, unimportant and marginalized. She put me in my place without saying a word. I am sure she felt empowered. I was obligated to complete the task because at that point the risk was solely mine.

Her actions violated procedure, protocol, and policy, but to whom would I complain. When I have voiced my concerns regarding procedural matters, I have been labeled and treated like an “angry black woman.” Others have been quick to deflect their responsibility in procedural matters by feigning ignorance saying “I don’t know” or I didn’t know.” Some invalidated my concerns declaring my statements to be a personal attack. I have been told “don’t be mad” or “I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

To squelch these concerns, I have resorted to apologetically prefacing statements with “I am not mad, I am just explaining.” I will also avoid saying anything for fear that my intentions, tone, and facial expressions will be misinterpreted. If I say nothing, however, I feel as if I compromise my own professional integrity.

Women of color struggle with the need to be their authentic selves in work situations that provide little opportunity to do so. Assertive tones and mannerisms are viewed as aggressive and threatening. Passivity and caution are interpreted to mean that we are lazy, unmotivated or unknowledgeable. We are stressed beyond the responsibilities of the work. We have to interpret the interpretation of our actions to prevent misinterpretations.

The frustrations I have felt in various workplaces are shared by many women of color. These frustrations were outlined in a study conducted by Working Mother Media. Survey results delineate the disparities within the female gender. For example, white women overwhelmingly believe that people see them as talented when they enter a room. Women of color believe that others initially see their race, gender and then maybe their talent. We constantly fight stereotypes regarding our culture, race, and gender. We are also confronted with pre-conceived notions about our personal lives and professional abilities on a daily basis.

At what point will our knowledge, experience and talent be valued? When will we be treated like an integral part of the team? How can we speak out without causing our colleagues to fear us? How do your assumptions about us marginalize and limit our career growth?

I do not have an answer to those questions. I can, however, name and explain the assumptions that cause constant ongoing stress.

Assumptions about our home life:
I will always remember a conversation I had with a white secretary. We were talking about our children and the activities we each enjoyed. She said “well, you know how it is being a single parent raising children on your own.” I was not a single parent. As a matter of fact, my husband and I married when we were in our mid-30s. Neither one of us had been married and neither one of us had children prior to our marriage. The secretary did not know that about me. She assumed that I was a single parent.

Assumptions about our work ethic:
A former colleague often called me for my “opinion” and asked the same question every time she called. “Are you busy?” Every time she called, I had to decide how to answer that question. I was at work, I answered the phone professionally, and my work required me to service four locations. What made her think that I was not busy when she called? You may believe that the question was innocent and logical. As a woman of color, I felt compelled to fight the stereotype that people of color are lazy and do not want to work. As a professional, I wondered if she believed that I was just sitting at my desk twiddling my thumbs or at Starbucks enjoying a latte expectantly waiting for her phone call.

Assumptions about our intelligence, knowledge, and ability:
In a scene from the television drama Scandal as Papa Pope lectured and scolded his daughter Olivia he reminded her of a key tenet that was prevalent in the African-American community. “You have to be twice as good as them!” By the time women of color ascend to key positions, we are well prepared and have exceptional credentials. Because of the nature of the workplace, we often work alongside individuals whose credentials may not match ours.

A reality that many women of color face is that although we are well prepared, preparedness does not always translate into opportunity. We see opportunities for advancement go to others with or without similar credentials. Opportunities to advance, to influence the direction of the organization, or to be recognized for achievements beyond the organization’s expectations often elude us regardless of the skill set we bring to the table.

Assumptions about our associations:
My husband and I attended a wedding and reception for a friend we have known for years. Our children went to the same daycare and continue to be friends. A woman, who works for the same company as I, was shocked to see me at the reception. The event was a private affair and attendees were close friends or relatives of the couple. The woman asked vehemently “What are you doing here?” Actually, I was thinking the same about her.

Before answering her, I asked “are you friends with the couple?” She explained that her husband worked with the groom. I then explained that we lived in the same neighborhood as the couple and had known the bride since our children were toddlers in daycare. She was surprised.

The “what are you doing here” question arises when women of color attend professional events as well. This is significant because we can never be sure of how we will be received in certain settings. In order to advance in our careers, we are required to socialize in certain professional and social circles.

These assumptions may never be totally dispelled. Women of color can limit the stress they pose in the workplace by using them as teaching moments; taking them with a grain of salt and most importantly developing supportive networks with like-minded professionals.

Working women will also find help in Stress is Personal: Your Personal Starter Guide to Stress Relief. The starter guide, which was written by a working woman, contains real life scenarios and solutions for relieving stress.

Download your free copy today by following this link Stress is Personal: Your Personal Starter Guide to Stress Relief. The print version is also available through MagCloud Publishing.

I would love to hear from you. You may join the conversation by commenting on this post on our Facebook fan page REAL Social Workers Online Magazine, or connecting with me on LinkedIn.

Real Social Workers Online Magazine Copyright ©2017 Marcyline L. Bailey All Rights Reserved

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1 Response

  1. Tiffany Thompson, MSW, CSW says:

    Amen and thank you Marcyline. As a woman of color who has been working since the age of 11 years old, I have been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt a hundred times over. Thankfully, I currently work in an environment where the majority of folks live the misson and are mindful of diversity. However, I have worked in many situations where I have been invisible and where racism, sexism, ageism, and general chaos was daily fare. In an article by Dr. Erlene Grise-Owens called, “Self-Care, A-to-Z: Designing a Hazmat Suit of Self-Care in Toxic Environments” she gives us tips on how to deal with these tough environments. However, as a woman of color, I have had to spend more time and energy than my contemporaries justifying my points or making my voice heard. It also helps to have a mentor who can give you sound wisdom and advice. Thank you!

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