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Tips For Black Women To Exit Survival Mode In The Workplace

Written by: Twanna Carter, PhD, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


The Corporate Workspace

Today's major corporations are mostly led by people in managerial positions. And a majority of the corporate leaders in those positions are white males. On the other hand, statistics have shown that Black women made advances in education at a higher rate than any other racial or gender groups. Even so, they still deal with various types of discrimination, more specifically higher incidences of sexual harassment, microaggressions, under compensation, and glass ceilings in the corporate workspace.

Existing in such workplaces with these conditions mean that Black women experience increased fear, anxiety, and psychological stress. And little support from corporate leaders. Leaving them open to subtle, but pervasive doubts that can be observed in negative self-talk, such as 'Who am I to think I can do this?' or 'I don't know what she sees in me.’ Or wanting to leave corporate all together (in 2020, a massive 50% of women of color expressed a desire to exit the corporate workspace).

The Effects of Unfriendly Work Environments

Being in an unfriendly work environment means that Black women will spend more time in survival mode as they experience fear, anxiety, and stress. That’s on top of the stress that is inherent in many jobs. More time spent in surviving mode means less time spent in thriving mode.

Fear, anxiety, and stress also causes the brain to pay more attention to negative consequences. You get caught up in worst casing everything and miss out on vital cues and conversations in the workplace.

Yes, your supervisor or coworkers may be committing microaggressions in the workplace. Are they as bad as you think? Should you say something? Who should you report to? Or, should you let it slide and stuff it down just to keep the peace? You don’t want to look like the troublemaker. What if it was your imagination? If it wasn’t your imagination, how angry should you be, if at all? Who is on your side? Who is low key racist? Who is a great ally?

It can be absolutely exhausting trying to figure out the best way to move forward every day when you work and engage in these unfriendly environments.

So, when it feels like work is all crashing down around you. And you are finding it difficult to make decisions. Like the stress is suffocating you, and you are just fed up. You feel dread every day going into work. There’s a reason. Living with this kind of fear, anxiety and stress daily takes its toll on the body and mind. As well, when our survival brain is engaged, we are less apt to make the best career or life decisions that move us forward. Your decision-making is short-circuited.

Here’s How Fear, Anxiety, Stress Short Circuits Overall Decision-making

1. Calculating options. Reduced ability to make better decisions because we reduce options and solutions to binary choices. Reducing decisions to binary choices limits the ability to make better ones. Instead of reviewing the range of multiple solutions available that may fit the situation, we limit ourselves. And even unconsciously take away options by always thinking in terms of black or white, yes or no, problem or solution.

2. Critical problem-solving. More prone to pick the quick option. Rather than employing definitive considerations and deliberations necessary for business, personal, and financial decisions. Conversely, you can also become so caught up in considering every single option and all the things that can go wrong that you get bogged down in indecision. This is referred to as analysis paralysis.

3. Risk-taking. Constrained brain function which reduces risk-taking. This results in conservative thought patterns and choosing safe options. But if you always choose safe options, you might miss out on the thrill of pursuing career opportunities that stretch your skills, sharpen your abilities, and set you up for the next promotion.

Some Black women have been told they are not a good leader, not decisive enough, don’t consider all the options, not trusting or friendly, and don’t take stretch assignments.

Well, when you’re in survival mode because of fear, anxiety, and stress due to microaggressions, feeling isolated, and unfair expectations. Sometimes caused by the very folks you are depending on to lead, guide, and work with you, seems like a huge catch 22, doesn’t it?

What can you do to back out of surviving mode so you can spend more time operating in thriving mode? Therefore, allowing your brain capacity to make the best decisions for your career and life. Tips to Exit Survival Mode

Here are my suggestions to help you take care of yourself, as well as your career.

1. Document, document, document. It’s easy to think this isn’t happening to me. Or this is my fault. I’m not prepared for the role. Writing things down creates a record that’s now on paper. Instead of staying in your head where you can reason everything away. Or worse, blame yourself for everything.

2. Communicate to your supervisor what you are observing, how it makes you feel, how your work can be even better with the possible solutions to correct the issues (never present an issue without some possible solutions).

3. Establish support circles/networks. I’d love to say in your workplace. But sometimes, you are the only woman of color and allies are not present in your workplace (not yet anyway). When that is the case, it’s even more important to build those support circles or networks outside of the workplace. While taking time to build allies in the workplace. You may be surprised at the allies you can find in the workplace.

4. Find a sponsor. It’s great if it’s someone at your job. This isn’t always possible, for the same reason mentioned above. Do spend time developing relationships so that you eventually find a sponsor. In most cases, getting promoted to executive levels without a sponsor to advocate for you is an uphill battle.

5. Get a mentor. Or two. Again, it’s ideal to have a mentor inside your organization. But this is not necessary. Some women find it helpful to have two: one inside the organization, and one outside. Make sure your mentors click with you. Mentorship should be a trusting relationship that guides you and provides the knowledge and experience that’s best for you and your career. It’s possible for mentorship to develop, and the mentor goes on to become the sponsor.

6. Hire a coach. Hire a therapist. You can have both simultaneously. They are additional support outside of your network. It takes a village, right? The coach will assist you with accountability, problem-solving, and goal attainment. The therapist will help you maintain balance in mental and emotional health. And many times, your physical and spiritual health as well.

7. Give yourself some TLC. Good health consists of your mental health, emotional health, physical health, and spiritual health. If one of those falters you suffer as a whole.

It’s important to be aware that over time, when situations are continuously triggering for Black women in the workplace each day, the rise in cortisol levels can affect your overall health and weight gain.

Your plan should include exercising. As well, spend time doing things that make you feel good and/or help you relax. EVERY single week.

Think of yourself as a product. As with any product, the key is to invest in it. Care for it, nurture it, protect it against hazards and threats. If you do this well — as with all things — your career will take care of itself. And you will live thriving, instead of just surviving from day to day.

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Twanna Carter, PhD, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

A Career Transition Coach, Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Anger Management Specialist II, and Certified Resilience Coach who helps high achieving professional women overcome the fear and doubt that comes with transitioning into a new career. Twanna is passionate about helping women understand their unique value and leveraging it to find their best fit career. She is a veteran who started coaching while she was a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. She has a special spot for those with anxiety, as she overcame social anxiety to find the careers of her dream. Twanna considers herself a lifelong learner and has earned a BS in Zoology, MA in Rehabilitation Counseling, and PhD in Human Services. Recognized as an Office of Personnel Management Presidential Management Fellow, Twanna left full-time employment to be an entrepreneur. She is currently the CEO of Twanna Carter Professional & Personal Coaching, LLC and JBC Counseling & Consulting, LLC.



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