You’ve heard about that glass ceiling for a long time. Equal pay for equal work, dismantling sexism in the workplace, and women rising to CEO status at a higher rate than ever before all sound like great headlines — and to some degree, it’s all true. However, just like racism, sexism will never truly dissipate. It’s not just a systemic problem, but one steeped in our very DNA. As long as men and women are different, there will be obstacles when chasing equality in the workplace, especially for Black women.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the pursuit, or that you can’t make great strides and achieve success. However, it’s just as important now as it was sixty years ago to prepare women to enter a workforce where sexism is still at play — especially for young women starting their first real job for moms re-entering the workforce. Here are a few tips from your friends at Black Women’s Voices to make the transition smoother:
Know the rules, regulations, SOPs, and codes of conduct.
This is a must for anyone, regardless of sex or gender. However, women, especially, should be aware of the language of their employer and what employer-given rights are on their side, in addition to federal and state laws. It’s also possible to catch some very deep-seated sexism built into the company structure this way. For example, is requiring women to wear high heels legal?
Remember that a company’s cultural fit is extremely important.
Again, this goes for everyone. The hiring process is a two-way street where both the employer and the candidate are trying to decide if this relationship is a good match. If you’re entering a space where sexism is strong, you feel uncomfortable, and there are other similar opportunities that might not be as hostile, carefully assess your choice to join such a company. It’s certainly noble to take on an outdated old boys’ club environment, but not at the risk of your own safety and overall well-being.
Practice ways of handling potential sexism.
Unfortunately, this is a precautionary measure that many women find themselves wishing they’d undertaken before it was too late. Most people can recall a time when they thought of what they should have said to someone after an awkward incident. Do you know what you’d do and say if you were faced with a sexist remark or unwanted advance? Tuck some actions and words away, and know that they’ll evolve as you get to know your environment better.
Also, keep a flawless record of any worrisome actions or words from others. If someone you work with says or does something that might be inappropriate, record exactly what happened, when, and where. If there are any witnesses, make note of that as well. It’s very difficult to remember such details just hours later, let alone months or even years.
Avoid common female submissive tactics.
There are a variety of habits women adopt to seem more docile. From saying “um” to vocal fry to making your voice appear higher and more feminine, these habits are formed for numerous reasons. It can be a defense mechanism because of how you were raised or because you really are unsure of yourself. Rest easy knowing everyone is unsure of themselves. The more professional and upfront you are, the more seriously you’ll be taken.
Reinforce your value to the company, again and again and again.
Women have always reported having to work much harder than men to get promoted and/or for the same (or even lesser) treatment and salary. It’s an uphill battle, but one with very sweet rewards for those who brave it. As a rule, work hard, stay professional, and follow the lead of a higher-up you admire. If you’re also juggling motherhood duties like homeschooling your children, use the tools available to you, such as time management apps and enriching activities to occupy your kids for a time.
Create your own opportunities.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many women have lost their jobs or had to leave the workforce for at least a few months. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in this situation — or maybe you’re simply frustrated with your employer or your workplace culture and you’re wondering if leaving is the best choice.
Know that sometimes, we can create our own opportunities — and if these scenarios sound familiar to you, you might want to consider starting your own business. Once you’ve laid out your business idea and chosen a company name, you can file for an LLC to qualify for beneficial tax breaks, personal asset protection, and other perks. Keep in mind that you’ll need to register your business under a name that isn’t already in use in your state by another company. If you’re unable to get the business name you want, you may want to consider creating a DBA, or doing business as, name for your business, which would allow your LLC to conduct business matters under your first-choice company name. Connecting with an online formation service to file for an LLC and DBA will make this process stress free.
Navigating the workforce is always a challenge and a big learning experience. However, for women, it can be exceptionally tricky. Practice putting yourself first from time to time — it’s an unnatural stance for many women, but one that can help them climb to the next rung of success.
Sarah Bull runs the blog Economy Mom, which helps women to start their own businesses. She writes frequently about a wide range of topics on entrepreneurship and small business. This is her first contribution to Black Women’s Voices.