By Eliza Chisholm, ’16
As a Black woman in corporate America, I have had endless encounters when I was the only one in the room (or one of a select few), as so many people of color experience too often. With this reality comes along tendencies to overperform, strive for perfectionism, and always having to put my best foot forward, although I have to note – this has always been an individual characteristic I have embodied. As a person of color, especially as a Black person in America – you continually understand that you have to do twice as much, work twice as hard, and overachieve to even have an equal playing field with everyone else. And for me, as an extremely driven young woman by nature – the reality of my previous statement only adds fuel to my existing drive.
One particular instance stands out for me when I think of an experience where I was initially overlooked in a group due to my race. A newly formed women’s resource group launched at my company, and I expressed great interest in becoming involved. I approached one lead member for the group several times, however, I always received a very standoffish and non-receptive response in return. It didn’t sit well with me (and honestly, I did not take things personally) – however, I later found out that several other females of color had experienced very similar encounters after communicating their interest in involvement. Once I discovered such news, I recognized that we were clearly being overlooked by this individual because of our race. This realization propelled me to continue to push forth my involvement in the resource group because I knew that sitting back and letting things slide were not going to change things. I was not going to accept it. The fuel and fierceness in me wouldn’t allow it.
So what did I do: I became proactive. I often shared relevant information and valuable external sessions on women in corporate topics via the group’s messaging channel. If there was a local or external women’s event taking place, I would share it. Or, if there was a women’s networking event that I planned on attending, I would extend the invitation to members of group to join me via our company chat channel. Later, I even proactively developed a detailed proposal plan for a sponsored Women’s Breakfast idea to host at our annual user conference, and shared my strategy with the leaders of the group. Eventually, my efforts + work were clearly displayed – and subsequently, another member of the group invited me to join as a member of the core team for this women’s group. Shortly after, I was able to spearhead the group’s first Women’s Virtual Panel Session for the company, globally, across all regions – and was able to moderate the discussion for the America region. The event was an all-around success with positive feedback from colleagues, executives, and fellow members of this women’s resource group.
In retrospect, I realize that collective efforts with this group further reinforce the reality that Blacks and people of color too often have to go above-and-beyond to prove their value and be offered a seat at table in ways that others do not. I should not have had to take all of those steps to be invited into the core team, but the reality is that I did. I later shared my experiences and those experiences of my other Black colleagues who attempted to get involved and were not initially welcomed. Sometime later, I had a direct discussion with the particular member of group who rejected our initial attempts to become involved, along with other leads of the group, and even members of our company’s executive team.
My advice to other Blacks, people of color, and minorities is to use your voice and never be afraid to stand out. Often times, you will automatically stand out by default, and if you do – be bold! Be bold in your stance and be bold in who you are. Do not sit back and accept unfair treatment because you are a minority, but instead use your voice to speak and use your talents to take actions. If there is no space for you, make room for yourself. The outcome will result in great impact and will help you advance as you navigate your career.
Eventually, I helped lead and spearhead the creation of a broader Diversity & Inclusion Council at the company – which has made many milestones to-date and is still continuing to evolve. I will discuss this further in my next series, so stay tuned!