It’s been three years since I graduated college, with a bachelor’s degree in English and Communications. In 2015, I applied for about 30 jobs or so over the course of two months and landed my first “real” job as an academic library assistant, where I was both the youngest and one of the few Black employees.
In the time since, I have attended graduate school and dropped out, submitted countless job applications and gone on multiple interviews in an attempt to establish some sort of job longevity. All the while, I've accepted the fact that my job search was always going to be more difficult as a Black woman.
From birth, Black women are pressured to be doubly as good as their white counterparts, at everything that they do. And yet, Black women still receive less recognition and pay for their talents and hard work. A report from the the National Domestic Workers alliance, “The Status of Black Women In The United States,” found that despite Black women having one of the highest labor force participation rates, their earnings lag behind most women’s and men’s. This, despite the fact that between 2004 and 2014, the share of Black women with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 23.9 percent — meaning that Black women have seen the second-largest improvement in the attainment of higher education in the past decade.
Regardless of their education level and work ethic, Black women still face battles in securing full-time employment. Ahead, here are five ways that job searching is harder for Black women.
A close friend and I have often joked about Black women getting more positive responses from potential jobs if they "whiten their applications." In other words, this means erasing one's resume and cover letter of any signs pointing to one's race. This practice is largely built from the fear that being easily identified as a Black female applicant could incite immediate rejection by hiring managers.
Throughout our history the image of Black women as hot-tempered and defensive has persisted. And as a result, I’ve often found myself actively working not to skew my face or tone in a way that might be perceived as threatening. Many Black women are constantly contorting themselves into smaller, more silent versions of their personalities in high-stakes situations like job interviews, so as not to perpetuate the damaging stereotypes that have been assigned to us.
Imagine having to worry about your braids being too colorful or your curls being too "unruly." In 2016, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a company’s policy that banned dreadlocks in the workplace. And countless other stories of workplace discrimination against Black women for wearing their natural hair still persist.
Out of all of the jobs I’ve held since graduating college, all of them have been administrative roles, none of which required more than a two-year degree. If a degree was required at all. In 2014, the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that “55.9 % of employed black recent college graduates were working in an occupation that did not require a four-year college degree compared with 45% of all recent college graduates.” And as a result, Black women are getting hired less for full-time positions and secure executive roles at a lower rate.
Microaggressions rear their ugly head in various ways throughout the workplace, but can also show up before you even make it to your first round of interviews. If you’re a Black woman, chances are you’ve heard that you are “very articulate” or “well-spoken,” from an interviewer before, and it is a form of bias. Comments like these or other ones that question our competence or ability to adapt to an organization’s culture keep Black women a step behind when pursuing job opportunities.