The dynamics of being a Black woman in the workplace
by Ciji Townsend
Black Lives Matter is more than a moment, it’s a movement. WICT Southeast is committed to ongoing conversations that generate awareness for Black women in our industry. Our recent panel discussion and interactive session, attended by more than 350 industry professionals, focused on the impact of the heightened race awakening on Black women in the telecommunications industry.
It’s been a few weeks since the panel discussion and member, Ciji Townsend has had time to digest the stories and information. In the post below, she shares her thoughts and perspective.
Black women in the workplace need your empathy, not sympathy.
The conversation kicked off with a powerful response from Dawn Douglass, Vice President Programming at Bounce TV, “When you see a news story, you sympathize. When I see a news story, I see people that look like my loved ones.” Dawn immediately set the tone and struck a chord with me. It was in that moment, that I thought about the countless times that I’ve watched a news segment and immediately thought to myself that the incident being covered could include my brother, cousin, husband or even me. Yet, when I arrived at work, the same new story was simply just a story discussed briefly at the water cooler. It’s in those moments that empathy is needed to break down the walls of understanding that accompany the cycle of systemic racism.
Code-switching is real for Black women in the workplace.
After a brief explanation of code-switching, moderator Kenya Brock, Director of Digital Operations and Marketing at Katz Networks/E.W. Scripps, asked panelists to share a time they had to code-switch at work. “I’ve been doing it my whole life,” exclaimed Andrea Bibbs, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy at WarnerMedia News & Media. And I could sense the head nods from the other black women in the audience. Our experiences of worrying more about our hairstyles, tone of voice, posture and good manners in the workplace have an uncanny resemblance. Even worse than the worry, we all know that the time and effort put into code-switching can affect our performance and productivity.
But where do we start? Who carries the responsibility for change?
It was mentioned by the panelist that change starts with leadership. And I couldn’t agree more. But I don’t think that change starts and stops with a company’s hierarchy. Change starts with everyone the minute that they are made aware. My hope would be that each of the attendees that were not familiar with the challenges that black women face in the workplace would take the newfound information and adjust their behavior and way of thinking.
And just to be clear, Black women aren’t asking for a handout.
What I loved most about the conversation rooted in “invisible work,” is the reminder that Black women work hard, many Black women work longer and harder than most of their peers. So, a handout is not the answer. The ask is that where credit is due, it’s appropriately applied. So many Black women are completing stretch projects and added tasks with ease and often don’t receive credit. Sonya King, Founder and CEO of Creator’s Architect said it best, “We’re given the work because we can do it, not because we should do it.”
Much of injustice stems from access to privilege
In the second half of the event, Sonya provided data for a deeper dive on the impact of privilege. She touched on access, education, earning power, mortality and home ownership. Seeing data explaining the path of privilege was beyond eye opening. Access to education leads to higher earning power which leads to easier access to home ownership. And learning that Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police was shocking but perhaps not a surprise.
Dana Dawson, Lead Project Manager at Cox Enterprises, ended the presentation highlighting the countless women who have been killed by police, many names people hadn’t heard of. It was sad, painful and continues to be our reality.
Stay tuned and stay engaged
It’s clear this discussion was insightful, meaningful and needed for our WICT Southeast members and advocates. And we’re not stopping the conversation. Stay tuned for how we’ll keep the momentum going and for how you can be part of it.
We want to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment letting us know the most impactful part of the presentation for you.
Ciji Townsend is a Pure Barre enthusiast, book club fanatic and the host of the being BALANCED podcast. When she’s not sharing her perspective with WICT SE members, she keeps her plate full as a Senior Manager of Internal Communications at Cox Communications.