It's no secret that Black women see less of a return on their hard work in terms of both financial gain and career-advancement. The majority of factors responsible for Black women receiving less than their white peers for the same work are things outside of their control, like racial discrimination and a higher vulnerability to poverty, unemployment and underemployment. These systemic barriers do more than just limit career and societal progress for Black women and other women of color; they impact how some women are treated in the workplace and the types of work they are asked to do.
Even so, being aware of these systemic barriers can sometimes cause Black women to unintentionally knock themselves out of potential opportunities — because it can feel like having talent and qualifications isn't enough. Unfortunately, when you assume the chips are stacked too high against you to warrant trying, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy — and one that only gives those systemic forms of oppression more power. Below, here are five toxic thought patterns that we as Black women must banish in order to unleash our full potential.
1. "I have to sound humble."
It's okay to brag sometimes. Women are told to be non-confrontational, humble and agreeable, which comes out of fear of being seen as bossy or overbearing. A lot of Black women, especially, spend their professional careers trying to combat the stereotype that we're loud or unprofessional. As a result, we may sell ourselves short when it matters most, like in job interviews and when going after promotions. It's time for Black women to become skilled in the art of the humble brag.
2. "I don't want to ask for too much."
While there are very real systems in place that can minimize opportunities for Black women, sometimes opportunities don't become available because we're be too afraid to ask for what we want, as well. Want a raise? Title change? A leadership role? Ask for it.
3. "I have to do this on my own."
There is often a crabs-in-a-barrel mentality in the Black community, and it can creep into the workplace. But it's important for Black women to support and intentionally uplift other Black women. Not only does it help cultivate a sense of camaraderie, but routing for the success of other Black women as much as your own is just as important.
4. "I don't need a mentor."
It's important to find a mentor in almost every industry. Black women often deal with being underrepresented across most industries. So if there is another woman in a role that you admire, reach out to her. There are plenty of reasons to seek out female mentorship, and to networking with other women. Other women can offer empathy and understanding that extends to other life areas.
5. "I'll practice self-care later, when there's time."
It's not easy to be a Black woman in workplaces that can be rife with microaggressions and a lack of diversity. The implementation of a routine self-care practice can help to maintain a sense of balance and calm. Whether it be confiding in other women, a therapist or setting aside daily time to relax. self-care is essential in order to avoid extreme burnout.
Tiffany Curtis is a Philly-based freelance writer, podcaster, and sex positivist whose work focuses on empowerment for women of color, race and culture, and sex positivity. She has written for sites like Blavity, Refinery29, and Hello Giggles.