Being someone who has always been interested in the idea of leadership and climbing the corporate ladder, I have noticed a rising trend in public discussion around authenticity in corporate spaces. This concept of authenticity crosses an array of themes including corporate brands and identities, leadership etc. The one I find most interesting is the one of creating spaces where employees are free to bring the most authentic versions of themselves to work every day.
Being someone who is still in the relatively early stages of their career, I have often found this concept of authenticity, much like most concepts in corporate, incredibly narrow in its definition. While I understand and respect the need to maintain some kind of professionalism (another definition we need to question), there is a lack of honesty about what kind of authenticity is welcomed. Being a black woman, I have found that for most of us there are significant parts of ourselves we have to leave at the door, the minute we get to the office. I laugh too loud, I’m too abrasive in my delivery in discussions, I feel too much and my personal favourite, wearing my natural hair is often viewed as some kind of political statement as opposed to what it is, THE HAIR THAT GROWS OUT OF MY HEAD.
I cannot deny that the world has come a long way from the days when there were literally no women in decision-making spaces in corporate, however, we still have a long way to go. In reality, black women who are still trying to make their way up the ladder, walk around with tongues that are swollen from the number of times we have to bite our tongues. We still have to work twice as hard to receive the same recognition that is given to white men. Over time what I have learned the painful art of balancing using my voice without compromising my professional ambitions. This is not easy when you are often the only dissenting voice in the room. I hate that I have to think deeply about how I position my opinions, lest I be dubbed, “the angry black woman”, but I have found that there are very few things that beat a well-structured argument, especially in profit-making businesses.
In finding and expanding my lane, I have learnt that I do not have to present myself to every ideological debate that presents itself to me, I have a job to do, if I did that I would never get anything done because I am triggered every day. I have learned that sometimes all I need is a cup of tea with an ally (I could write a book on the importance of allies in corporate). I have chosen to focus my attention on being a master at what I do and being a voice of reason on topics that matter most to me.
Staying in your lane is not easy especially in a world where none of the lanes were designed with you in mind. So be patient with yourself, find your voice and be strategic in howand where you use it. Most of all, it may be hard, but create your lane if one does not exist for you!
Written by: Liziwe Ntshweza