• Tosh Patterson

Dealing with Racism + Sexism at Work? 5 Self-Care Tips

CONGRATS Madame Vice President -- I do like the sound of that!

The inauguration has me reflecting on my time in Corporate America. And I’m wondering if Kamala Harris will *REALLY* have a seat at the table?

For eight years I held a senior management position in an organization of 600 employees – the only Black woman among a leadership team of twelve.

Despite having a seat at the table, I often felt tokenized. I had the fancy title, but that was it.

The company would say, “we value diversity, unique perspectives, new ideas, blah-blah-blah” but when I showed up to represent that diversity, I was often shut down.

Have you ever experienced this?

And all of it makes you wonder if it’s happening:

(a) because you're a woman

(b) because you're a black woman

When you’re the only one or one of a few, isolation happens fast.

For me I didn’t feel fully valued, seen, or heard when...

...I’d be invited to attend meetings to “represent” our organization. It was tokenization at its finest.

...I’d make a suggestion at a meeting…crickets. Then my boss would offer my idea and it would promptly be added to the action list.

...I’d give a green light to my team then my boss would undo the directive.

...I’d direct staff to budget $13 a head for the lunch banquet, he would change it to $10 a head.

The micro-management became so extreme – he expected to be copied on all emails – so my staff actually started to ask “Did you talk to Bill?” whenever I attempted to lead.

In Other Words…

Despite a Masters degree and 15 years of industry experience, Everything had to be reviewed and approved by my boss, a white male. None of my decisions could stand with authority. Over time, his behavior signaled to the team that my voice, perspective, or opinion held no weight...they could save a step by skipping over me.

The environment was oppressive and exhausting - so much so I got out for my sanity.

The Bottom Line

So, to Kamala, I hope her experience isn’t like mine. I hope she’s able to use her power and authority to bring systemic change in America.

I hope she will be fully RECEIVED in her role and authority, especially as a Black woman.

I hope we’re turning a corner and entering a time when Black women can be respected and appreciated in their leadership roles.

If you’re a Black woman whose been dealing with the impact of sexism and racism at work, do this for your mental and emotional sanity:

1 | Keep documentation. Advocate for yourself until your concerns are resolved. Also, be prepared to leave or request a comparable assignment if you have to because chronic stress isn’t worth it.

2 | Consciously affirm yourself. When you find yourself in a toxic environment you will need to provide encouragement from within. I had Louise L. Hay affirmation cards on my desk and during my commute listened to Michael Bernard Beckwith’s music. Nurture and affirm yourself daily to keep self-doubt at bay.

3 | Seek additional support. Consider therapy to help maintain your mental health. A professional can help you quickly identify healthy coping strategies. It’s okay to ask for help -- let that strong Black woman sh*t go!

4 | Make daily self-care a priority. Allow at least 15 minutes daily to ground yourself with activities like meditation, yoga, or walks.

5 | Schedule regular time off. You’ve earned PTO so use it. Also, establish clear work boundaries; some examples include not checking work email in the evenings after 6pm so you can focus on family time. Another may be to let your manager know that you need advance notice of work-related travel, as well as evening or weekend work requests.

Tell me, how are you managing?