Dating and Relationships

Conflicting Black Women in the Workplace: How to Combat an Undermining B*tch

Let's not let the title of this blog turn you away from reading what I have concluded about black women as well as myself when working with other women of color. The fact of the matter is many POC especially young women in managerial positions have "something to prove" or feel the need to exsert they're an authority, education, or overall knowledge of whatever field they are in. But why is that?

Let’s not let the title of this blog turn you away from reading what I have concluded about black women as well as myself when working with other women of color. The fact of the matter is many POC especially young women in managerial positions have “something to prove” or feel the need to exsert they’re an authority, education, or overall knowledge of whatever field they are in.

But why is that?

The “Emotional Tax” as explained by Dnika J. Travis an executive researcher at the Catalyst Research Center for Corporate Practice is real in the case of work-life balance and health. Travis describes, “Emotional Tax is the heightened experience of being different from peers at work because of your gender and/or race/ethnicity and the associated detrimental effects on health, well-being, and the ability to thrive at work”.

Catalyst also found that this ‘Emotional Tax’ can negatively impact overall health and success: about 45% of Black women and men who felt different due to their race and gender had sleep problems, and 54% of those who felt different on both felt that they had to be “on guard” for potential discrimination and bias amongst their white counterparts.

Which brings me to the issue that I have with feeling “on guard” or “threatened” when working with other women of color (WOC), not just around white people.

Why do BLACK Women Bully Each Other at Work?

Sure, it is a common thread to hear and or see how women bully and undermine one another in the workplace, but I am not talking about #ALLWOMENMATTER, in this particular context. I am more interested in understanding why more times than not it is the black woman who is constantly bullying, batteling or berating the other sista in the room.

black_woman_at_work

In a recent Atlantic article, which I suggest everyone read, author Olga Khazan examined the findings that the longer a woman has been in the workforce, the less likely she is to want her boss to be a woman.

One possible explanation Khazan brings forth is that women fear their female superiors will cut them down in the workplace because, the thinking goes, female higher-ups are eager to distance themselves from other women in male-dominated workplaces, where their gender might seem like an impediment to career advancement. The existence of these “queen bees,” as cited in Khazan’s article, seems to be driven by a lack of female representation in the workplace.

However, the “queen bee’s” that Khazan speaks of pertains more to white women and the positions that they have within a company, not to blacks.

Looking at the numbers, black women ascend to the upper echelons of corporations less frequently than their white counterparts. Whereas white women hold 4.4 percent of CEO positions, black women hold only 0.2 percent. However, A recent study conducted by Robert Livingston, Ashley Rosette, and Ella Washington showed that black women who exhibit dominant, assertive behavior are conferred higher leadership status than white women and black men who behave similarly.

From my experience, one reason as to why women of color bully or “undermine” one another in the workplace is the mere feeling or thought of superiority. Being as though black women specifically receive fewer promotions or leadership roles within an organization, many including myself, tend to prove that we are qualified through touch and go assertion, counter-intuitive manipulation, and simply coming across as being a b*tch! amongst

The Pink Elephant in the Room

pink-elephant-leah-saulnier-the-painting-maniac The fact of the matter is that bullying does exist amongst black women, not just in the workplace. We live in a society full of sugar coating and fake comradery when it comes to woman’s empowerment and so forth. We don’t like to talk about it because it’s like ripping off a band-aid that we so desperately wanted to hide.

But we have to call attention to the pink elephant in the room.

Ask the black women around you about their run-ins with other women at work, and many will respond in instant recognization and recall vivid examples of how another female “tried” her during working hours. These stories are not just to pass the time on work-life balance gossip, but instead a glimpse of what takes place when women of self-entitled power are in the same place.

Calling out the elephant also means aiming attention to undermining and manipulative tactics as I spoke about earlier.

In her book Liberate Leadership, Suzanne Mercier explains that some of the difficulties faced by women in the workplace can be attributed to the different criteria by which we are judged. So much is expected of us both at home and at work which creates a fear of failure or, a fear of our own success.

There are several ways that women react to this type of pressure. Some of us don’t bother applying for promotions because of this preconceived fear of failure. Others adopt male characteristics as a way of getting ahead. Then, there are those of us who choose to undermine one another by bullying, withholding support, and engaging in covert behavior.

How to Combat an Undermining B*tch

As an African American woman who has experienced some of these things throughout my growing career, I am here to say that bullying other women especially those of color is not the way to go when climbing the latter to success.

A few examples of undermining/bullying and ways W.O.C do so include:

  • Not considering the other woman’s opinion, point of view, or innovative idea
  • Withholding pertinent informative (deadlines, revisions, decisions) on projects/campaigns to appear more “put together” amongst peers
  • Rejecting criticism from you, but open to other non-P.O.C feedback
  • Overstepping obligatory boundaries if both women hold a leadership position
  • Using personal information and or details as leverage for personal gain (ie: blackmailing, IOU’s,etc.)

conflicting black women

If you’re a woman of color striving to get ahead in business but are sabotaged by colleagues of the same gender, here are a few suggestions to help you win the battle:

  • Develop your confidence by understanding your strengths and successes
  • Stop comparing yourself to others because that undermines your self-esteem
  • Learn to have crucial and honest conversations, without being condescending or disrespectful
  • Rather than becoming defensive or aggressive, choose instead to embrace vulnerability as part of the process of being authentic
  • “Develop a strong internal compass” by recognizing who you really are and by being clear on your values

Although this issue can affect all women, not just those of color, this form of aggression has been one from experience for me and many of the women that I know in my life. Instead of competing with one another, we can all use our powers of intelligence and skill to help one another to the top,

One sista at a time…


What are your some of your experiences and observations?  Are black women holding each other back?

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