What I Learned as a Triple Minority in the Workplace
What I Learned as a Triple Minority in the Workplace
For the first ten years of my career, I reminded myself, daily that I was a triple minority. Young. Black. Female. I was a triple minority so don’t expect things to come easy. Expect to have three hurdles to jump just to start the race. Expect to have your words questioned, your expertise doubted and your power undervalued because you’re a triple minority. Expect to put in three times the effort to get to everyone’s par but hold firm to your goal – to become a Director before 30.
I suppose I’ve always had this vision of myself. I recall being in elementary school, looking around the classroom and counting others like me. If I was lucky, there was one other black girl but it really didn’t matter. I still came home asking my mom, “why can’t I have hair like Jennifer”. Jennifer had long, straight blonde hair down to her butt. Her ponytails were more playful than mine – they swung when she walked while mine my stood at attention. It just didn’t make any sense to me.
High school was no different. Although National Geographic did a full report on our high school being the most diverse in the nation, I only remember about ten black people in my graduating class. Who can relate to my interest in African-American culture when I’m in my International Baccalaureate (IB) History class? Who will I date, that won’t have my family whispering? What’s happening to my “blackness”? Am I becoming color-blind?
Yes, color-blind. The beautiful effects of living such a culturally diverse childhood that you begin to embrace humans for simply being humans. It is such a freeing experience that I learned to love until college.
I was assigned to a triple dorm room with Mary and Alice – highly probable that they were white but it didn’t make a difference to me, I was color-blind. A few weeks prior to moving in, we all got on the phone to sort out who was bringing what to the dorm room. All was going great until one final question from Mary.
“Queirra, can I ask you a question?” Mary says excitedly.
“Sure!” I reply a bit hesitantly but open for anything… so I thought.
“Are you black?” Mary asks. I could hear Alice’s mouth drop to the floor through the phone.
“Um… yes” I answered awaiting to hear what was next to come out of this privileged girl’s mouth.
“I knew it! My friends and I knew you were black because of your name! I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE” Mary yells with excitement. “This summer I volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club and I had so much fun with them!” Silence fell over the phone. The call was over. The journey as a triple minority had begun.
Mary learned a lot about black women during her first semester living with me. Yes, we wear scarves around our heads when we sleep. No, we are not all lactose intolerant. Yes, your old panties will get thrown in the trash if I find them stuck to my clothes by the crotch because you can’t seem to put your dirty laundry in the hamper. No, it’s NEVER acceptable to call a black women a b*tch (or any woman).
The “black b*tch” stigma is one of the key pillars of the triple minority philosophy us ambitious, young women face throughout our careers. Along with the famous other “truths” our mentors like to share.
“You’re going to have to work much harder than most”
“The only way to advance is to stick together”
“It’s all about perception”
So I went through my first ten years of my marketing career with these truths at the forefront of my mind. If I was going to become a Director before I was 30 years old, then the following rules applied:
- Watch your facial expressions or you’ll be labeled a “black b*tch”
- Dress the part even in a casual environment or you’ll be looked down upon
- Work as hard as you can regardless of burnout or you’ll never have enough to prove yourself worthy
- Make nice with your black co-workers or you won’t have a place to turn on your bad days
All the while, my friends and family were optimistically afraid for me. They knew what I was capable of producing but they also feared what it would take to reach my goal. The long days. The office politics. The power struggles. The stress. The work/life imbalance. The heartache and triumph.
Triumph. That glorious day in May of 2011 when I got promoted to Director. All the pressure had paid off, or did it?
My self-care was in shambles. My relationship with my fiancé was distant. My self-worth was deeply connected to my work. My love was lost.
I spent the next four years chasing it the only way I knew how – work harder than most because you are a triple minority. I ran, I worked and I lost. I lost what I thought was my dream job. I lost because of the very thing I was trying to prevent, having my opinion being misconstrued as a “black b*tch” move. While there’s so much more to that story (another post for another day), I learned the true gift of authenticity. Without that moment, I would never be the powerful coach I am today.
God delivered me through many of my triple minority experiences to be a gift to all of the young, black women with a purpose in this world. We will rewrite those truths for ourselves and our sisters, daughters, nieces, cousins and friends. I am committed to being that beacon of light that releases us from the pressure and delivers us into our essence. Who we are is more than enough. I’m living proof.
I invite you to join me on our journey to be the face for the young women that will come after us.
Queirra Fenderson coaches ambitious women leaders to go from burnout to breakthrough. After transforming her own relationship with her ambition in life and work, she became an ICF certified coach to support women in creating their “impossible” life. Her clients experience huge shifts in their leadership, self-worth, balance and results in their careers and businesses. Ultimately, Queirra’s mission is to show women how to have more authentic achievements. To learn more, please visit www.theambitionstudio.co.
CEO & Founder
My clients hire me when they’re overwhelmed, burned out and exhausted from burning the midnight oil without the results to show for it. They realize that wearing busy as a badge of honor didn’t work for them in the corporate world and still doesn’t work as an entrepreneur. I coach my clients and their teams on how to develop their intuitive leadership to make quicker decisions, take bolder actions and shift into a leadership style of authenticity.