Women in the workplace face all sorts of stereotypes. Black women in the workplace face twice as many. A recent study explored the impossible tightrope Black women in the workplace – particularly those in managerial positions – must walk, navigating and pushing back on the stereotypes of being a double minority. Being a woman can mean that people expect you to be extremely cooperative, pleasant, and possibly even a pushover. Being a Black woman in the workplace can mean, as one study found, that people expect you to be assertive.
With all of these expectations and projections, it can be incredibly difficult to just focus on the work you’re doing and bringing your best self to the table. It can be especially difficult to determine what it means to come off as confident at work, without overdoing it and coming off as conceited, or underdoing it and coming off as insecure. Women of all races deal with that, but Black women deal with it in a more complex way. I spoke to career and life coach Dr. Keita Joy, who has appeared on “Iyanla: Fix My Life” and who is soon putting out her first TED Talk on the mental health of Black women in America about this issue. She gave actionable insight on how women can address the confidence dilemma in the workplace.
You know where your heart is
Dr. Joy is a proponent of listening to female intuition, and says, in terms of fearing you may come off as conceited, “We have to know that, if your heart is not in that space, then you’re being confident…What does it mean to be confident? It means, any room you show up in, you add value to that space.”
Focusing on servitude
We spoke a bit about how, worrying about coming off one way or another means one is not even in the right headspace – they’re thinking about how they’re perceived, rather than what they’re bringing to the table. Rather than being concerned with that outside perception, Dr. Joy says the key is, “Taking an introspective look at what do I have to offer the people I’m in the same room with? I want to make sure I give them all of that and be bold in that.”
Scared people struggle to add value
If you approach business from the mindset of I am here for the betterment of everyone, not just for my own ego, then you can focus on what matters. But if you’re too concerned with the ego, you’ll be too scared to do your work. “I want to make sure I show up and add value,” says Dr. Joy. “I can’t do that if I’m scared. I have to lead with confidence.”
Keep your strengths in the forefront
Dr. Joy mentioned her success formula, which is: Do you + do it well + do it consistently. “Doing you means understanding, what are your talents? What are your strengths. Think of the impact that would make in life if every person entered a space leading with their strengths, not for selfish gain, but in servitude.”
Keep the big picture in mind
When those insecurities creep up Dr. Joy says “Get back to ‘what is my intent?’ So now the focus isn’t on ‘what are people thinking about me?’ But rather ‘what do I think about myself, and how do I get ready to add value to the people around me.’ If we have a growth mindset, we know it’s so much bigger than this. I’m here to make a difference. I can’t make a difference if I don’t show up.”
Your confidence is a gift to others
Rather than seeing confidence as something that serves the ego, Dr. Joy suggests seeing it as something that serves others. “Confidence is the gateway to be able to transmit your message to the receiver so they can hear you. People can’t believe in something if you don’t believe in it yourself. That means I have to be articulate. I have to have confidence. I need to clearly explain my points. I have to make sure that I know what I’m talking about.”
Some days, you’ll “fake it”
“Once you train your mind to operate in that space [of confidence], it gets a little easier,” assures Dr. Joy. But she understands that even overall confident people don’t feel confident, every day, and every hour. “You won’t always feel confident but you can still do those things that help people see what you are.”
What are those confident indicators?
“You stand up tall. Pay attention to your posture. Articulate,” says Dr. Joy. It’s a fake it ‘til you make it mentality, but there’s nothing actually fake about it, as you do know what you’re talking about. You know those strengths are there. You just don’t happen to feel confident that day, but the talent will speak for itself.
Get out of your emotions
Touching on the topic of how women can be hard on themselves, particularly for not feeling naturally bold or confident every day, Dr. Joy says, “Women have to get out of our feelings…every day you may not feel confident…but that doesn’t mean you aren’t confident.” Women can’t judge themselves, overall, for the way they feel for just an hour.
How our childhoods impact confidence
Dr. Joy mentioned that confidence may be taught in some households, but not in others. I asked her to elaborate on how someone’s childhood may still be impacting their career confidence. “Be self-aware,” says Dr. Joy. “Have the courage to think about your childhood. Think about how you were raised. Think ‘what kind of relationship do I have with my parents right now?’ or if they aren’t around, how was that relationship?”
What will you pass on?
Understanding which of our parents’ lessons and behaviors we find helpful versus damaging can be difficult at first, but it becomes easier when you bring the focus to what you’d like to pass on to your kids. “What are some things from your past experiences with your family, that you would want to carry on, and teach your children? And what would you prefer to leave in the past?” Even if you don’t or won’t have children, Dr. Joy still sees this as a useful exercise for understanding your childhood.
Now you can see clearly
Once you identify some things your parents taught you or ways they influenced you, that you know you don’t want to pass onto others, Dr. Joy says, “That opens your eyes up to ‘wait what do I internalize that I don’t want to pass on?’ You realize ‘wait a minute, I have those traits.’ You have that a-ha moment, that’s [childhood] where that came from.”
It’s okay to release learned habits
For some, consciously rejecting certain lessons our parents tried to teach us, or recognizing the flaws in some of our parents’ behaviors, may bring feelings of guilt, because our parents do so much for us. But, Dr. Joy reminds us to think “We are the CEOs of our lives, and we can make a decision that ‘I don’t think this really serves me.’”
Find your support group
The journey to confidence can’t be traveled alone. Learning and understanding oneself, just from that inside perspective, can only take you so far. “You have to have a safe listening ear,” says Dr. Joy. “You can’t go through this journey of self -awareness alone. You need people from the outside looking in.”
Ask for feedback
Dr. Joy encourages you to ask your loved ones – friends and family who you know want the best for you – for constructive feedback. “Be humble enough to ask your friends what they see in you. ‘Are there things that you see that I can work on?’ Maybe you don’t want to hear the answer but that answer is where you unlock freedom.”