What does it mean to you personally to be supported at work? Support looks different to everybody, but most can probably agree that feeling their hard work is acknowledged, that they’re given the opportunity to move upward, and that their grievances are taken seriously all fall under the umbrella of being supported at work. Unfortunately, not everybody does feel that way. While a significant number of Black women strive to make it to top positions in their company, they’re also one of the groups who experience the most micro-aggressions at work, making it particularly difficult to focus on those higher-level goals.
Companies should be conscious of the work cultures they’re cultivating. They should work closely with their human resources department to make sure that employees feel safe putting the spotlight on injustices. But, like with anything worth having in life – whether it’s a promotion, better treatment, or both – getting there is a combination of seeking outside help and advocating for oneself. We spoke to success coach Dr. Keita Joy, who has been on the OWN network, has a popular online course called Success 101, and does private and corporate training, about how women can advocate for themselves more in the workplace.
Seek clarity first
Dr. Joy brought up the important point that, in a workplace, and especially one that is diverse, you have people of different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, sexualities, experience levels, etc. which can make the environment be ripe for confusion and misunderstandings.
Dr. Joy actually touches on this in an article she wrote for Forbes, in which she notes we shouldn’t assume bad intent if we have an awkward encounter with a coworker. “If you feel any sort of mistreatment, it’s very important early on, to seek clarification. Sometimes things can be a misunderstanding… You say ‘this is what I’m hearing from you…’ it gives the other person an opportunity to see themselves before you have to take things to the next level.”
Have a talk with yourself, first
Before speaking to the problematic party, Dr. Joy says you should get clear on what you want to say. “Take time for reflection. You should always be able to articulate…how did you feel? What contributed to that? So when you’re able to talk to someone else, they understand.”
Don’t wait to speak up
In addressing why women don’t always seek clarity right away or speak up when they feel mistreated, Dr. Joy says, “Often women wait too long to speak up about something because they think they’re making it a big deal. [They say] ‘I don’t want to ruffle feathers.’ But, if you felt a way, it has become a thing. Brushing things off is toxic, and harmful for a woman’s mental health.”
Your feelings are valid
Dr. Joy reminds us that women are very fortunate, in that our gut checks us all of the time. Don’t ignore it. “Women have an amazing sense of intuition. Our gut is powerful. And we don’t listen to it. Tap into your gut. If it says ‘I’m not feeling respected’ take time and evaluate that,” says Dr. Joy. She added that, if we ignore it, it often won’t go away.
Resentment causes a fog
In addition to it being bad for a woman’s mental health to hold onto those grudges at work, Dr. Joy warns that it also interferes with the ability to see things clearly. “If you’re on the defense, letting stuff fester, you’re seeing everything through that lens. Not just the lens of being mistreated, but also not being dealt with [by your bosses].”
Use the same method of communication
Dr. Joy recommends, in seeking clarity, using the same method of communication in which the conversation was started. So if you didn’t like what you heard through email, you respond via email. If it was a phone call, you respond via phone call. “Ask ‘Is this what I’m hearing?’ Then you know how to move forward.”
Don’t wait for the leaders
Dr. Joy suggests not waiting for the managers or bosses to create spaces to discuss issues in the workplace. She says that having those listening circles is important, but sometimes, you must create them yourself. “Don’t wait for your boss to spearhead these conversations…. Rally around the rest of the staff members, you spearhead that.”
This is the time to have those conversations
Touching on the current climate which is ripe with conversation about equality and proper treatment in the workplace, Dr. Joy encourages women to know that, right now, it’s unlikely your bosses will say “No” to having these conversations. They can’t say no. “It’s a great time to advocate for yourself.”
Don’t get stuck on titles
Dr. Joy discourages relying on the official leaders at your job to do something if mistreatment is occurring. “Thinking ‘This is their title, so they should do this’ …that thinking doesn’t help. A leader is someone who sees a need, and they fill it.” You can be that leader.
Push for the entire group
In addition to righting wrongs happening today, Dr. Joy says that you should also be pushing for initiatives that will make things better for everyone in the long run. “Push for more diversity training as well as growth plans and action plans that will directly impact women getting promotions and people of color receiving promotions. Now you have more people being enlightened and being held accountable for their actions.”
The particular concerns of women
Dr. Joy acknowledges there are certain realities that can make women in particular frightened to speak up in the workplace. “Women are often scared because they may have single-parent homes where they’re the provider. They’re scared to ruffle feathers because they don’t want to lose their jobs.”
How to combat that fear
“The same way that resume got you that job, that resume will open other opportunities,” is a reality Dr. Joy says should make women confident speaking their needs in the workplace. She admits, “It takes a risk to stand up for yourself but if you cower away from uncomfortable conversations you’ll miss out on bigger opportunities.”
What about moving forward?
Advocating for oneself in the workplace isn’t just about dealing with conflict; it can be about the positive element of moving forward via promotions and similar changes. On that front, Dr. Joy says, “When it comes to promotions, have a mentor and a sponsor—a mentor is someone there to offer advice and guidance. A sponsor offers guidance too, but they will also have a significant hand in helping you get to the next level.”
Do your own scouting
Early on at a job, Dr. Joy recommends getting a lay of the land and discovering who would make good mentors and sponsors for you. “It’s important that, whatever job you’re a part of, you start your own internalized scouting. Ask ‘Who are my potential mentors? Who are my potential sponsors?’ We don’t get ahead on our own. Men know that well. That’s why they do most of their meetings on the golf course. It’s about those relationships. We need to know, who are the best people fit to be my mentor, based on my future goals and my personality?”
Don’t just ask for money; add money to the table
When it comes to those negotiations, Dr. Joy advises, “You have to show how you add that value. Be able to articulate your value. Value turns into profit. Money talks. Make sure when you’re articulating your value, they [your boss] can see numbers. They want to see more money they’ll get, not just more money they need to give you. Once you know the value, and you can share that with others, that’s what seals the deal.”