As is true in many fields, there is a lack of diversity in leadership, especially when it comes to African American women. Still, some women of color are overcoming the barriers to leadership. These women know what it takes to succeed in today’s employment environment, and they share their unique insights.
Developing High Emotional Intelligence
Minority groups face a higher number of obstacles and barriers, so their resilience often becomes a driving force to succeed. This entails developing high emotional intelligence. When constantly judged by gender or skin color, it’s natural to feel anger and animosity. The key is to learn how to control your reactions and establish a strong understanding of who you are.
The women who are overcoming barriers learned to convey self-assurance even when people doubted them. In addition, when facing adversity, it starts to become easier to read people and situations. They learn to distinguish people who are prejudicial or close-minded from those who want to see them succeed. One leader who serves as chief financial officer says, “You have to seek out messages and people who affirm your identity.”
Society expects strong leaders to be autonomous, confident, capable, resolute, and ambitious. These are all traits stereotypically associated with men. Even though leadership styles can take many forms and gender stereotypes are inaccurate, these stereotypes create a bias that often works against women in the workplace. African American women have an even greater challenge because they also have to contend with stereotypes and biases associated with race. Once you understand the biases you face, you are in a much better position to counteract them.
Many professionals may be the only African American employee at their company, so they have an added attention put on them. The vice chair of an investment firm put it this way, “There are so many rooms I’ve gone into in my life where I was the only black person, and I immediately started to see that as an advantage. Because they’re going to look, they’re going to listen….They’re wondering how I got into the room, so I have an opportunity to get their attention. All I have to do is deliver into that space.”
One trait that most women and African American leaders share is sincerity. They know who they are and embrace it. They don’t change to please other people. It is systemically even more difficult for African American women to be honest about their professional and education background, because they are often judged more sharply than their peers. Despite this difficulty, it is always important to be candid about who you are and what you want. People respect honesty and frankness.
Overcoming barriers to leadership starts with establishing a strong sense of identity. At the C-suite level, women of color often make some of the best leaders. Even though they face more challenges than their competitors, their demonstrated resilience, high emotional intelligence, confidence, decisiveness, and sincerity drive them to succeed. As we slowly move into an era of more diversity in leadership positions, expect to see more women of color rise to the top.
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