How to Successfully Navigate Corporate America While Black

How to Successfully Navigate Corporate America While Black

I’ve worked in corporate America for the last nine years, prior to doing so I’ve worked for various local universities/colleges. Working in the academic world is extremely different in comparison to corporate America.

Diversity is not as big an issue (it’s an issue, but that is determined by the type of institution i.e., ivy league, state college, community college or not for profit/religious based university/colleges), given you’ll find a ton of people of color working in this environment, if the university/college isn’t an HBCU (historically black college or university) they are typically going to be working in the facilities or food service departments.

I’ve found that there a few key ideals needed in order to successfully navigate corporate America.

  1. Perception is key, some people have a preconceived notion of what they think your blackness is and it doesn’t matter if they too are black, white or other (I did some temporary work years ago for a company whose workforce was predominantly black, and I was hated by majority of the women, because I knew that you bring your professional representative to work and leave the “real” you at the door or at least find a happy medium between two). If you have an open mind and other black people to vent to on or off the job you can successfully get through working with people who have only existed in their cultural/race specific “bubbles”.
  2. Know that your emotions are NEVER allowed to make an appearance in the work place. Because you’re black you’re automatically perceived by some as aggressive, angry and combative. You better find your calm the best way you know how otherwise you will become the angry black woman/man of the office.
  3. Accept the fact that as a person of color you WILL have to work twice as hard as your non POC counterparts to be considered equal. You have to be exceptional even though your non POC peers may be mediocre at best.
  4. You are NOT allowed EVER (in my Outkast voice, EVAH EVAH, EVAH EVAH) to give what can be perceived as attitude, even though you wonder how some of your non POC peers within the workplace are still employed after throwing bitch fits and telling their supervisors what they will and or won’t do. If you even think about behaving in that manner, best believe YO black ass will be in the unemployment line.
  5. Know your shit, because your intellect will constantly be challenged. The moment you slip up that one person who believes there is no way for a black woman or man to be in a position of power without the help of affirmative action will jump out of the closet and shout “Gotcha Bitch!” (Chappelle Show)
  6. Know that a conversation with the only other black person in your office will be perceived as a professional uprising of sorts or at the minimum make some of the non POC peers extremely uncomfortable. (I’ve had an individual walk in on myself and a black co-worker exchanging pleasantries and the person uttered the words “oh no this looks like trouble”, say word son)
  7. Have a sense of humor, because you’ll need it depending on where you work. There will be days where you have two choices, smile/laugh or cry. Believe me smiling/laughing is always the best choice. You better internalize that shit until you get home ,no weak sauce allowed, you’re representing an entire race of people!
  8. Don’t get too excited when another POC is hired, just don’t because people are watching and they may decide not to hire another one for ten or twenty years.
  9. Don’t forget to ALWAYS enunciate, the moment you’re caught cutting that “ing” off of a word you have now become… “ghetto”. Why? you may ask, because ghetto people are the only people who have “issues” with the syntax of a sentence.
  10. Be as authentically you as possible, confusing? yes, if your black ass is caught doing black ass shit while being black in corporate America you might as well start looking for a new job. Honestly, work is never the place to “represent” instead send an authentic version of your professional representative. If you do it long enough you might not ever slip out of representative mode into real you mode. If you give zero fucks, do you, but know that in “doing you”, you now become an island of one (if you have an abundance of black folk within your workplace) you will be immediately alienated by every last person of color in your office.

In all seriousness, if you’re confident, intelligent and open-minded you’ll be fine. Corporate America isn’t all that bad, it has its moments but all in all working with other people will have challenging moments.

Any of you guys working in a corporate environment? How has your experiences been? Tell me in the comments section.



6 thoughts on “How to Successfully Navigate Corporate America While Black

  1. I think you’re right – (I don’t know if they count as corporate environments, but) in the office jobs I’ve had, confidence, intelligence, and open-mindedness have definitely been important! I can really relate on numbers 3 and 5! I was surprised by how lazy some of my non POC coworkers were, and that said laziness not only went unpunished, but was actually sometimes rewarded (or even allowed to become a sort of running gag around the office, instead of being addressed as a real problem). And I definitely found my intelligence falling under constant question for seemingly no reason. I think the weirdest thing I ever encountered in an office environment was one place where the manager always seemed to be grouping us by skin color to do specific tasks… and when everyone (inevitably) asked why he’d been doing this, he said, “Oh, I just thought you guys would get along better this way.”

      1. Lmao! Yeah, I’ve noticed that. I’ve met so many people who don’t seem to feel comfortable around black women unless they can stereotype us somehow. And even though we get mad at the exact same stuff that other people do, we’ve got “an attitude”.

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