The Truth About Being Labeled as a 'Difficult' Black Woman

On being misunderstood and unappreciated

Be less difficult.

I have had two performance reviews in my career where this was the dominant piece of critical feedback. 

I am a Black woman. 

I grew up in musical theater and became a marketer and a yoga teacher. My favorite activities growing up involved singing, acting, dancing and otherwise making people smile. Some of the greatest joys of my life are building and fostering community, and empowering others. Both times I was criticized, I felt like I did not know myself. I felt misunderstood, and stereotyped. 

2020 has been a year when we have all been forced not only to face, but to live in discomfort. It has also been a time when we have all been given a mirror to reflect on how what we think, say and do affects others. 

In Lean In and McKinsey’s report in August 2020, “49% of Black women feel that their race or ethnicity will make it harder for them to get a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead, compared to just 3% of white women and 11% of women overall.” Black women must work an additional eight months to close the pay gap with their white male colleagues. It is well known that it’s more difficult for Black women to get ahead in business and elsewhere. 

What is lesser known is how often microaggressions occur in the workplace. 

Ask any BIPOC, and I guarantee they can give you an example. I was also told on one occasion that I should smile more, and to sandwich bad news with upbeat fluff, especially in writing. Yes, I was also told this in a performance review tied to decisions about my compensation. 

So, what can we do to stop this, to stop stereotyping Black women as angry and demanding, womxn as being best in supporting roles instead of leadership roles, and men as lacking emotional intelligence? We can strive to be more conscious of biases we have and to hold ourselves accountable for inquiring about where we learned them and how we can correct them. A great case study is Citi, not only conscious of biases in the organization but also publicly holding itself accountable for correcting them when it comes to pay gaps.

Let’s follow Citi’s lead and, as organizations and individuals, be more willing to recognize and address what’s difficult. Instead of calling Black women difficult, call them what they are: determined, persistent, committed, curious, etc. The more we have honest conversations and work to address and correct disparities, the more we will all be seen and heard.

No one wants to feel misunderstood.