Picture: Tiffani Anderson
As black women, we are under no illusion about how hard we have to work to achieve success in life. The mere fact that we are black women, means that we have to work twice as hard- firstly because we are women and secondly because we are black. Within a largely patriarchal structure, we have to prove our worth as women or the so-called “weaker sex” capable of holding our own and worthy of a reputable job title, as well as someone who can bring value to the company. And we have the arduous and insurmountable task of debunking time and time again whatever prevalent racist stereotype that exits about black people within the institution. This is a really hard battle- debunking stereotypes. Because it is not a once off fight. No, it is a battle that is fought time and time again. Each time we meet a non-black person within the work environment, we have to revert to proving our worth. Our colleagues of other races may not experience- the proving your worth challenge- but as a black woman in the professional work environment, it is a game we know only too well. We have played it one time too many. We familiarise ourselves with the nuances of gaining the professional trust of people who are predisposed to judge us because of the colour of our skin. We may eventually succeed in ‘winning over’ our non-black colleagues and change their mindset with our impeccable work ethic and earn a well-standing reputation as a black professional woman. But the greater challenge is winning each other over. We as black women are sometimes the biggest obstacles to our own upliftment and enhancement within society. Instead of empowering and supporting each other, we choose not to. When we get access to a predominately white institution or structure, we serve as ‘gatekeepers’- preventing other black women from getting the opportunity we were so graciously given. It often feels like we are fighting a losing battle or taking one step forward only to take two steps back.
There is a tendency, especially among black women to view success as a zero-sum game (one person’s success comes at the cost of mine). Basically, if the next black girl succeeds, then I won’t because there are only x amount of spaces available. She would, therefore, be taking my ‘space’ in the universe’s quota of black women permitted to succeed in life. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a misconception that has gone on for far too long. It is a scarcity mindset that subscribes to the belief that there are insufficient resources in the world to go around. In actuality, there is more than enough wealth and resources in the world. According to recent statistics, the richest 1% of the world’s population own half of the world’s wealth. This is staggering! In the past year alone- between 2016 and 2017, the total wealth in the world grew by 6% to USD $280 trillion- which was the fastest year of wealth creation since 2012. These figures prove that despite popular misguided opinion, wealth creation is occurring on a constant basis. The world’s resources are growing and expanding faster than ever before. A good example of people who have acquired wealth side by side is Bill Gate and Mark Zuckerberg. They are both extremely rich entrepreneurs who have successfully created wealth for themselves, despite operating within a similar tech sector. They have not achieved this at the expense of each other. |On the contrary, they have done so side by side. Drawing from this analogy of Bill Gate and Mark Zuckerberg, every black woman can enjoy a piece of the wealth pie and have a seat on the table.
Many black women often rationalise their reasons for not being able to empower and uplift each other with comments like: “it is a very hard organisation to get into”, “I am the only black person there” or “they hardly hire women”. And even when it is within their ‘power’ to empower and uplift each other, they block the advancement of their fellow black woman by saying “she is not qualified for the job” and go on to choose the next non-black candidate. It is a warped mentality to view success as a zero-sum game. It is wrong to think that if the black woman down the road gets a job at the consultancy firm where we work, then there goes our chance of ever impressing our co-workers again or being the only black woman in the office. And as a result, refuse to share information that may potentially help her, or withhold knowledge about a job opening or a career fair taking place to reduce her chances of getting hired and becoming the second black person in the office – in essence ‘stealing our spotlight’. This is a misguided perception of success which has no place in our society. Each and every one of us has a Unique Selling Point (USP) which will appeal to a set audience. This is something that sets you apart in your workplace and in your business- something that your competitors don’t have. As an analogy, just look around you, you will notice different chains of grocery stores that coexist side by side. We as consumers patronise numerous outlets at any given time. And as a result of our purchasing habits, grocery stores like Tesco and Aldi may have similar profits at the end of a financial year. This is because each outlet caters to a particular type and need of the customer. Consumers will patronise both outlets concurrently despite the fact that one is significantly cheaper than the other. Some customers will prefer to buy certain products from one outlet and other products from another outlet. Drawing similarity from this analogy, we as black women need to understand the power of our USP and work to be the very best at marketing it. If you feel that a sector is over-saturated and there is no room to establish your USP, find a micro-niche- an expertise within an expertise, which will afford you a loyal exclusive clientele. Despite your profession, sector or expertise, there is always room for another black woman to sit at the table. We can all have seats at the table. There is more than enough resources in the world to go around. One woman’s success does not come at the expense of another. Look for your niche or area of expertise. Each of us has a USP which will appeal to a set audience. Work your USP and be the very best at it. Let’s work to empower and uplift each other.