Battling the Black Cinderella Syndrome: What Black women are NOT gonna do in the workplace in 2021 and beyond

 

Unlike the Cinderella Syndrome you’ve heard about where women unconsciously desire to be chosen, saved, and dependent on a man, the Black Cinderella Syndrome is rooted in sexism, racism, and being the perpetual underdog in the workplace (and world). She is the one who must work twice or thrice as hard to get half the opportunities, the one who does the heavy lifting and gets overlooked, the one who is seen first as a helpful asset and then as a threat to be envied and later, sabotaged. The one who is sought after and deserving, but her ticket to the ball never makes it to her, so she must make her own way. If there is anything the recent high-profile resignations and contested firings of competent Black women in academia, business, and technology have taught us, it’s that Black women are calling bulls@#! on what we used to let slide. Take heed, take action, take cover. Here are three things Black women are NOT gonna do in the workplace in 2021 and beyond:

1. Carrying other people’s water: Folks love to call on a Black woman to be the stereotypical sassy, aggressive, “tell it like it is” type to challenge injustice in the streets or even just a terrible idea at work that has negative consequences for everyone. The problem is, firstly, we are mischaracterized. Sassy is actually critical cynicism. Aggressive is really brave assertion. “Telling it like it is” is speaking truth to power. Contrary to popular belief, sometimes we are scared to speak up, but we power through it anyway, you’re welcome. Secondly, we’ve been fighting everyone’s battles along with our own; and, it is not often reciprocated. We have the right to rest, self-preservation, and to not uphold the burden of the “strong Black woman” myth. Follow our example, but do not ask us to do it for you. We will no longer carry your water.

2. Neglecting ourselves: We are done with “taking one for the team” and always being available. Not taking our breaks and eating lunches at our desk are a thing of the past. We are taking our vacations and using our weekends for true rest and self-care. I don’t mean, “call me if you really need me” time off, I mean “I’m off the grid, figure it out” time off. When our workplaces ignored our very real collective grief and trauma over the devaluing of Black humanity that became hashtags, adding insult to injury with admonishments to “remain professional and keep business going”, we learned then that it really is profit and productivity over people to many employers. Many of us were raised by parents who told us that we needed to never miss a day and always be available to help, even at the expense of our mental and physical health. This advice was rooted in fear from historic firing and demotions of Black people for doing the same things their non-Black counterparts could get away with. But no more, just like our colleagues are taking month-long vacations and are completely inaccessible to their employer that entire time, we are following suit and getting much-needed R & R instead of piling up our time off accruals out of fear of reprisal. 

3. Tolerating Disrespect: Much like young Black boys go from being cute as boys to being a threat as men, Black women go from being the exciting new asset to the envied threat in the workplace. The same ingenuity, emotional intelligence, resilience, and diverse networks that we were hired for becomes the pain point for mediocre colleagues and superiors who are lacking in one or all areas. The disrespect takes many insidious and just-below-the-EEO complaint threshold forms. Including, not inviting us to key meetings where we belong, making backdoor decisions about our work with others then blindsiding us with them, scaffolding our peers’ success and giving us the sink-or-swim treatment, undermining our efforts by not appropriately resourcing or elevating our projects, and holding us to unrealistic performance metrics in the context of the above-listed conditions. Yeah, all that stops now.  

Black women are poised to leave, litigate, and lift the veil on the untenable conditions they have been subjected to in the workplace. There is no prince to rescue us and we aren’t looking for one. When the clock strikes twelve, we carry on per usual with our own magic. Like we always do. But it does not have to be that way. What I advise and challenge organizational leaders to do is listen to Black women. Actively ask us what our experiences are in your organization. And, when we tell you, then do something about it. Move beyond the quantitative metrics of how many and where you have diverse employees positioned and ask us what it is really like to work for you. Ask all your employees for that matter, compare experiences by demographics to include satisfaction, access to opportunities, equity, safety, and pay parity. Now that you know what Black women are NOT gonna do in 2021 and beyond in the workplace, what is something you ARE gonna do to make your workplace equitable and enjoyable to all?

Happy New Year!