Job Search In The Shoes of A Black Woman
After recently attending an event hosted by Rania El Mugammar & the Social Innovation Institute called How To Be An Ally: Anti-Blackness At The Intersections and hearing fellow members of the black community speak on their experiences in Canada, I felt the need to put together a post mutually relevant to the conversation and the theme of The Working Millennial.
When I first started this website, I was thinking to keep it pretty traditional in regards to job search and career development advice but after the event I had an awakening... what's the point of having a platform and a voice if you're not going to use it to speak up? Saying that, I'm going to briefly touch on the job seeking experience of a black woman in the job search process that non-people of colour may not understand. Some people may relate and snap their fingers in agreement and for others I hope this puts things into perspective.
1. Having a non-conventional name
Pulling up job applications and seeing the name Brandesha I'm sure you don't think of a blonde haired blue eyed woman. Knowing discrimination is still alive and well, I know that my name puts me at a disadvantage. There were so many times that I've applied for positions that I was qualified for where I couldn't help but think my name alone put my resume in the rejection pile. I will admit that there was a point in time when I felt the need to put my short-form name, Brandy, down in hopes of making my blackness less obvious to employers. This was especially doable because my last name made this a little easier to get away with. For others, my sisters with true African last names this probably wouldn't be the case.
Don't get me wrong, many employers look past this which is great! However, we also have to deal with the following:
"How do you pronounce your name?"
"Wow so different! Sooo interesting! What does it mean?"
"How about I just call you ___ instead?"
Disclaimer, I proudly go by my full first name now with so much pride. You'll know my name, you'll get it right and you'll remember it forever.
2. The look of surprise walking in
"Surprise! I'm black!"
Not all of us have to deal with the previous point and majority of us have mastered what I like to call the customer service voice. Saying that, you get past the application process, you exchange a few emails or do a phone interview and then the big day comes... The face-to-face interview. You walk in and you see an interesting look of surprise. Some of you know exactly what look I'm talking about. This is more of a rare occurrence but when it happens you can't help but question yourself about whether or not the colour of your skin will stop you from getting the job.
3. Stressing about your hair
For the ladies who wear more natural hairstyles whether its a kinky-curly fro or waist length single braids, once you get that invite for an interview you quickly start worry about your hair situation and whether or not it will be seen as "professional" or "appropriate". To think finding interview clothes wasn't stressful enough. You know how some men would feel the need to get a quick trim? Some of us feel the need to slap on a wig or straighten our hair.
It doesn't end there though! Once you do get the job, your hair inevitably becomes a topic of conversation. Can you believe in the year 2017, people still don't understand the concept of extensions and wigs? I mean, it's not like they've been around for decades or that women from all ethnicities wear them (really hoping you're picking up o my sarcasm here). Unfortunately, having been one of the few (sometimes only) black women at work I have to continuously educate people on this as if it's part of my job description.
4. Walking into a space and not seeing a reflection of yourself
I'm not speaking about mirrors here. In this situation I'm speaking on representation.
As a minority we naturally evaluate our surroundings and make a tally regarding diversity. I remember walking into places to apply for jobs, seeing the existing staff and/or clientele and already knowing I won't get the job because I'm not a "good fit". This is true in industries such as retail, hospitality and tourism but it's especially true in every industry as it relates to management positions. I feel as if I can count how many black women I've seen as hostesses and servers at restaurants but this number is even more scarce when it comes to higher positions across the board.
For illustration in the hospitality & food services, my best friend is a beautiful biracial woman with full curly hair. She's hospitable, intelligent, skilled and educated. Even though she's lighter in shade (this can sometimes be an advantage) she is living proof of this experience. For example, she would go to a group interview and will sell herself and her knowledge in hospitality, food services and the company itself (the girl does serious research!) but 9 times out of 10, although more than qualified with great interpersonal skills, she won't hear back. What sets her apart from the other candidates you ask? You guessed it.
5. Dealing with employers who think they have something to prove
"Brandy? Like the artist? Oh! I love 90's rap!"
I wish I was making this up. I actually had a manager say this to me during an interview. I don't know about those of you reading this but I can always tell when people are trying to signal to me that they're "down". For those who can relate, you'll agree that there is an array a feelings that come up which includes discomfort, annoyance and confusion and you're just hoping none of this is showing on your face (I am the queen of facial expressions so this takes a prayer and the forces of the universe to keep me in check). Non-people of colour won't necessarily relate to this so they probably won't understand and to be quiet frank they've probably done this at some point in their lives... whether they want to accept it or not.
Black women, as if job searching wasn't a struggle enough, embrace all that you are in the process. Own your name and ensure people pronounce it correctly. Don't hide your kinks and curls and wear your styles freely - If an employer makes you feel ashamed of your hair it's probably not the environment you want to be in anyway. The points listed here are fairly subtle and general, however if you truly sense discrimination from an employer I validate your experience and encourage you to speak up.
Good luck and be great!