I’ve spent the past 6 months working at a small consulting company. Like really small. It’s an awesome place to work, especially compared to what I’ve heard about other companies. I’m the youngest person, the only black female consultant, and the only one with my job title (small company)-all the other consultants are in more senior roles. My company is quite unique and inclusive. I definitely work with a great group of people! I really have no reason to feel left out or awkward but listen to the story I’m about to tell you. Or read it. Whatever.
We had an important meeting today with about 75% of the company. I was looking for opportunities to contribute to the conversation, but I found myself scared to do so. Why? The voices in my head. (Stick with me, I’m not crazy!). Throughout the meeting there was a conversation going on in my head. It went something like this:
You’re young. What do you have to say that they don’t know? You’re black. Don’t say something stupid that will make black people look stupid. You’re a woman. Sit back.
Then the voice of Sheryl Sandberg joins the conversation and she tells me to lean in and speak up! My boss’ voice pops in as well (from a conversation a while back) and he tells me he’s happy to have the younger generation in the office, and we make valuable contributions. I hear the male black consultant say something (out loud, not in my head this time 😊), who also happens to be fairly new. Yes, he’s older and has more work experience, but his contribution was encouraging to me.
But what’s a conversation in head without my own voice? So the voice of Adebosoye (that’s me in case you’re not following this craziness) chimes in and says “Yes, you’re a young, black female but you’re not solely defined by your age, race, and gender. You’re you. The company saw something when they hired YOU.” Or something like that.
So I spoke up.
My first contribution was simply supporting someone else’s point. My second contribution was bringing up an idea that got shot down. But even though it got shot down, something I said drove the next part of the conversation. It didn’t feel good to get shot down, but it did feel good to step out of the box I was confining myself too.
When I first started my job I had a hard time settling down. I don’t exactly know why, but I was mildly depressed, anxious, and had trouble sleeping. I think a part of it was the enemy trying to come for your girl because you know I prayed fasted to get this job! Another part of it was me comparing myself to others, setting unrealistic expectations for myself, and being acutely aware of my differences. I compared myself to my senior colleagues. Even though they all have more work experience than I do, I was expecting myself to be just as good as them. I was so keenly aware about being a young black female that I made myself feel unnecessarily awkward compared to my slightly older white male colleagues. There were days some of the guys would ask me if I wanted to go with them to Chick-fil-A (I live in the south y’all) and I’d say no. Although I knew they were asking out of courtesy, I said no because of my age, race, and gender. Yes, being a young black female in my workplace separates me, but there are times I’ve definitely separated myself.
I’ve overcome the anxiety, depression, and insomnia these days. I’m also good acquaintances with my colleagues. I would totally take up a Chick-fil-A invite. But I haven’t quite dealt with the voices in my head. I constantly over analyze my work and tell myself I’m stupid, and doing a terrible job, even though I’ve been told the opposite. There are many time I still see myself negatively as a young black female as I did in the meeting today.
But I’m learning to fight the voices back. I’m overcoming the negative self-talk by telling myself I’m meticulously created by God and I have a purpose and calling that goes beyond my job. He loves me and what He has to say about me is what I live by. I tell myself that my worth isn’t tied to my job but who I am in Christ. God sees me as more than my race, age, and gender. I should too.
The workplace separates young people, black people, and women. But there are times we might get the narrative so ingrained in us that we separate ourselves. We shouldn’t get so caught up in systemic treatment that we limit ourselves in spaces we’re not limited. We shouldn’t get so caught up in how we see ourselves that we forget how God sees us. There definitely needs to be systemic change to increase representation in the work place, but we also have power to change the narrative where were at.