Skip to content

Blog

Self-study: Becoming a Black Woman Leader

Dr. Amina Gilyard James

As I set out to complete my doctoral research I had some expectations about what I might find as I studied the professional identity construction of Black women executives at the intersection of their race and gender. I had chosen a study method that focused on storytelling with an emphasis on social, historical, and institutional context so I just knew I was going to get to the good stuff!!

What I did not expect was the emotional commitment of also having to study myself. The chosen method required me to answer hard-hitting questions just like my participants. Here, I share an excerpt from part one of my story which was written before interviewing study participants. I hope this piece inspires you to share your story—whether it be on paper or out loud. Raise your voice! You’ll learn so much about your journey, teach others how to persist in their journeys, and be even better prepared to blaze trails.

 

…I always knew I was Black and always knew I was a woman, but what I had to learn over the course of my life is what it meant and how to exist as a Black woman in this country in every domain from family to school to work and beyond. Intersectionality is not a concept that we are born knowing. It is something that is experienced, observed, and emergent in everyday, routine encounters. It is a matter of just being, no time for thinking and not much time for assessing. Over time I did begin to wonder whether, in the professional realm, I could be a Black woman professional or if I would always be a professional first, then a Black woman. And what any of it really meant when it came to real life and what I achieve in my career…

These questions triggered reflection on my own workplace encounters where I had to prove my competence because of [what I perceived as] predetermined notions about Black woman-ness. My experience tells me that I feel stuck in a system that discourages me from displaying my social identities in professional settings. For example, I’ve tended not to talk in the workplace about my early years growing up in the inner city because of comments I’ve heard others—usually non-Black individuals—say about people in the inner city. I have been socialized to believe that remaining professional means silencing my social identities to a degree that is comfortable to members of dominant groups. Consequently, these practices limit my potential to become my best self. I should not have to sacrifice some identities to effectively demonstrate others. I have unfortunately had to do so throughout my career (though not in every work context) and doing so has had adverse effects on my professional self- concept. Most notably it threatened the way I saw myself and my potential as a professional. Now I ponder how I kept going and got to a point where I view of my professional-self more positively. Or have I gotten there yet?

…the more I experience and the more I understand the importance of absorbing the stories told by others like me and like the possible me, I am reminded of the importance of this work. Through this study, I strive to co-construct participant narratives that will have a lasting impact on me, the women before me, and the women after me who ponder what opportunities lie at the grand intersection. With the spirit of embracing our social location, wherever it may be on the enormous grid of human existence, I hope you enjoy the journey.

Amina will be discussing her research findings around strategies for supporting women of color in the workspace at the Boston GLOW Career and Empowerment Conference on Saturday, March 23rd, 2019, at 1:45pm.  To register, please visit

Connect with Amina via her website, www.influencebyag.com, or on social media:

@Influence_by_AG

@InfluencebyAG
Influence by AG LLC

===================================

Think Less, Speak Up More

Today’s post comes from guest blogger, speaker, and author Stacey Shipman.  Stacey is the co-creator of Flourish & Thrive a unique mastermind experience for business owners and leaders and is the author of the forthcoming book Claim Your Voice: Move From Speaking Stress to Speaking Success.

Do you have a lot of things you want to say, yet something keeps you from speaking up? Maybe you feel uneasy in front of groups, have trouble expressing ideas clearly (or at all), or maybe you think no one cares about what you have to say.

Here is what I want you to know: Your ideas matter and your voice deserves to be heard.

Let me share a personal experience. Five years ago I attended a workshop at the Gestalt International Study Center (GISC) on Cape Cod. We were learning all sort of tools to be better people and professionals. One such concept is something GISC calls “well developed/less developed.”

Here’s how it works. In groups of three we were told to identify a trait or skill we don’t like about ourselves and turn it into a positive. Then, we would identify how that “negative” makes us an expert in something.  The problem I came up with: overthinking my ideas and rarely to never sharing them.

One of the group members asked me, “How does over-thinking serve you in a positive way?”

This question made me pause. I had never considered that over-thinking could be helpful.

See, big ideas and solving problems excite me. So, I spend a lot of time thinking. Sometimes my brain feels so full I imagine smoke billowing from my ears just before my head explodes. With the help of this peer group, I realized that over-thinking does in fact have an upside. It allows me to analyze problems from all angles and come up with solutions others might miss.  In that moment I became an expert at analyzing problems from all angles.

Finally, my group members presented me with a challenge for development: Turn some of the thinking into action even if the thought or idea isn’t fully formed.

Although my insides stirred a little, I accepted the challenge. After all, what good is attending a personal development workshop if you’re not going to do the work? So, I committed to share my ideas more during group interactions and social conversations. Each time my stomach turned less and less.

Thanks to my experience that day, I walked away with two big lessons and one reminder:

Lesson #1: Thinking too much is mentally exhausting!

I don’t need to stop thinking all together. Instead I need to press pause on thinking and share ideas more. What ideas are stirring in you? Can you take one small step to turn them into reality?

Lesson #2: Thoughts and ideas don’t need to be fully formed to put them into the world.

At the workshop, one group member suggested that sharing thoughts when not fully formed provides a starting point for others to brainstorm and contribute. What an incredible benefit to everyone. How can your voice become a catalyst for others to brainstorm and contribute?

Lesson #3: The Right Support Matters

Having the right people around to question assumptions and provide feedback can make life and work challenges more manageable. What support do you need to think less and share ideas more?

The Bottom Line:

Thinking less and sharing ideas more requires deliberate effort. When you have the courage to get ideas out of your head and into the world you open yourself up to opportunity.

Your voice can make a difference. The question for you today is, do you have the courage to use it?

***

About the Author

Stacey Shipman brings out the best in people. As a communication coach and facilitator she specializes in helping number focused professionals power up their people and presentation skills. In addition, Stacey is the co-creator of Flourish & Thrive a unique mastermind experience for business owners and leaders and is the author of the forthcoming book Claim Your Voice: Move From Speaking Stress to Speaking Success.

Stacey will be speaking on this topic at the Boston GLOW Career and Empowerment Conference on Saturday, April 21st, 2017, at 10:15am. To register, please visit https://bostonglowcareerandempowerm2018.sched.com/

========================================================================================

3 Superpowers of Introverted Women

This blog is a guest post from Amma Marfo. Amma is the author of two books on introversion. The first, THE I’S HAVE IT, demystifies introversion, identifies its hallmarks, and instructs on how to best embrace their introversion in a variety of professional scenarios (the office, interviews, conferences, graduate programs, etc). The second advises professionals on how to create opportunities in 5 areas of the student leader experience- recruitment, selection, advising, assessment, and recognition.

The first time I talked about wanting to research introversion in leadership, I remember being told by a professor I worked with, “I don’t think you’ll find anything.” Indeed, myths persist that introversion and leadership capacity are fundamentally incompatible. But after years of research, interaction with introverts defying these stereotypes, and cataloguing the best qualities that introversion has to offer, I can refute those assertions with hard evidence.

Sharing this research with women always feels reassuring. Whether it’s because there’s one fewerthing standing in their way, or because any form of affirmation in a world that doesn’t always listen to women is welcomed, it is important to recognize that introversion presents several “superpowers” for effective leadership. Today, I want to share three.

Superpower #1: Marvelous Meeting Mavens

A few weeks ago, I saw a colleague I had worked with on a remote team. She shared appreciation for how our meetings were conducted: focused, timely, and productive. In truth, I’m wholly comfortable with “she ran a good meeting” being my epitaph. But as it happens, the skills that it takes to run an effective meeting and to lead people come relatively naturally to introverts.

Because they value time to prepare ahead of the rapid-fire exchange of ideas that takes place in these environments, introverts tend to be quite respectful when preparing for meetings. Requesting input when building agendas, sharing said agendas in advance of the meeting itself, and creating additional opportunities to contribute before and after, are all courtesies that introverts benefit from- and can therefore also manifest themselves in what introverted leaders extend to their direct reports.

Superpowers, Activate! If you’re in charge of conducting meetings, consider sending agendas out 48 hours before you convene, labeling items you’d like people to think about in advance.

Superpower #2: Wonderful Writing Warriors

A bit of science: the introverted brain thrives on a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, which explains the comfort we feel when we hit “a groove,” or “flow,” on a project. It runs on a longer neural pathway than the more commonly known dopamine- which explains why we so often have those “tip of the tongue moments”- because the thought literally hasn’t made it from your brain to your mouth.

Creating an organization that welcomes contributions from its employees in many forms – not just spoken, but also in writing or through multimedia contributions – will enrich the quality of ideas shared. Can decision making be extended to allow those with thoughts after a meeting, to send a follow up email with additional ideas or questions? How are those who prefer to read from notes when reporting out, perceived? Recognizing that deliberation and composition is important to some communication styles, and then honoring that difference in practice, could change the face of your organization.

Superpowers, Activate! If you conduct 1:1 meetings with direct reports, consider providing prompts for reflection ahead of your time together, so that individuals have time to write out answers to questions or ideas to guide problem solving.

Superpower #3: Deliberate Decision Making Divas

Too often, we recognize a problem and then rush to solve it, eager to shed the discomfort of knowing something is “wrong.” When we rush, we can miss important details: available resources, efforts from other departments, or even blind spots that will make our solutions insensitive or ineffective. But because many introverts value information gathering and thrive when allowed to deliberate, introverted leaders excel at making measured decisions.

In leadership roles, introverted leaders will ask thought-provoking questions, share information freely, and recommend resources that can round out decision making processes. Team members feel less rushed and better informed when these skills are engaged, which can also lead to a greater sense of belonging and engagement for those under your leadership.

These are far from the only superpowers that introverted women have in their arsenal. This April, I’m so excited to dispel common myths about introversion, address the parallels between the marginalization of introverts and that of women, and unlocking more assets that introverts can bring to a productive and prosperous team.

Amma will be speaking on this topic at the Boston GLOW Career and Empowerment Conference on Saturday, April 21st, 2017, at 10:15am.  To register, please visit https://bostonglowcareerandempowerm2018.sched.com/