How to Handle Being the Only Black Woman in the Board Room


Having received both my degrees from a PWI (predominantly white institution), I know a thing or two about being the only black woman anywhere. I was frequently the only black woman in my communications classes during undergrad and the only black person in my graduate degree program. I was sometimes the only black woman in my dorm, and the only black woman working at any particular time. Most recently, I've found myself being the only black person at networking events, after-work mixers and at high-end restaurants. Although honored, it's also a bit bothersome that more of my sisters [read: sistas] aren't at these events with me. It's a bit uncomfortable being the only brown-skinned woman in a room with 100+ other professionals. However, this doesn't mean that other brown-skinned beauties aren't at events themselves - as the only black woman in the room - either.

So let's talk about how to get through those sometimes awkward moments of being the only black woman in the board room.

Be confident.
You're there for a reason. You have knowledge, expertise, wisdom, ideas and poise that allows you to be there. Stop letting your race make you feel inferior and start recognizing that you deserve that seat just as much as your melanin-deficient counterparts. Recognize the elegance and resilience that is your blackness and acknowledge your fight. Being welcomed into the board room was a task in itself, now that you're there, walk with your head high and show them why you're there! 

Be unapologetic.
They say that black women have to work twice as hard to get to the same place their white counterparts are. This can often be seen as a disadvantage, but in this space it can certainly be used to your benefit. You worked two times as hard to get where you are. Which means, you're two times as dedicated and two times as qualified as the others working the same room you're working. Never apologize for being you in those situations. Never apologize for going against the grain the majority may be going with. Never apologize for having the darkest skin and the most textured hair in the crowd. Instead, bask in that glory. Understand that not only has your hard work been noticed, but your presence is as well. Be yourself in these situations. Be that beautiful, bold, black you that won the heart of those who put you there. Be the woman you've always been and be unashamed. Never allow anyone to dim your light, and certainly never apologize for being so brightly lit. 

Work the room. 
Work that room in your stilettos and high bun - or in your flats and additional 24". While it may admittedly be easier to relate to those who have similar cultural experiences, find a connecting point with the room and make those connections. Let them see why your black is so beautiful. Instead of being intimidated because you're the only of your kind, show them why you're there. Meet new people. Smile. Start conversations. State your opinions. Participate in friendly debate. And if you can't find anything to relate to, talking about the work you do is always a great start. You deserve to be among the high-bidders; show them why. Don't overdo it, but don't give them the chance to question your presence. Show them before they ask. Be confident. Be memorable. Be breathtaking. Work that room!

Being welcomed in the board room gives you amazing opportunities to advance your career. Being able to break from the awkward black girl to the qualified professional you truly are, is the most important part of growing from the board room experience. Being the only black girl isn't always all bad, in fact it could be the one moment you need to standout and catapult to the next level, professionally. Always attend. Always be attentive. But, no matter what, never let them touch your hair - you know how we feel about that! 

This is a very vague list; what are some other tips you'd give to the only black woman in the board room? Share!

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