s black women we are often told that no one expects us to be competent, therefore we have to work harder than everyone else to be noticed. Although research does show that man and white people are easily assumed to be competent than black people and women. Black women find themselves at the intersection between race and gender bias against assumed competence. Having said that though, there is danger in internalizing that bias for black women in the workplace.
Let us start by analyzing the statement of working harder than other everyone else in order to be noticed. How does one measure working harder than everyone else? How do you know when you have worked harder than everyone else and are now worthy of being noticed?
Research show that women tend to minimize their achievements based on their conditioned need to be liked. Girls are taught that they are liked for their attractiveness and ability to take care of others, not for their intelligence, ambition and competitiveness. LeanIn’s study on women in the workplace talks about the likability bias which is if a women is considered competent then she is not considered nice enough and if she is nice then she is not considered competent.
This can lead to women either minimizing their achievements or not talking about them at all. Women are more likely than men in performance assessments to rate themselves lower than their male colleagues who may work less than them. Due to their conditioning women may have a difficult time recognizing how hard they work and therefore how much recognition they are due. Therefore may never ask for what their work is worth or have the confidence to present themselves for roles that they do not think they are qualified for.
I realized that I had long held a subconscious belief that no matter how hard I worked, I could never expect to be compensated fairly, let alone generously for the work that I do. This finally hit me when I was approached for a position that I was well qualified. I was asked how much I expected to be paid per month for the position. I quoted a bit higher than I thought I could earn and even justified the amount I asked for in case they thought it was too high, using the fact that it was a temporary position. A day after I submitted this information I saw the actual advert for the post and noticed that the amount I asked for was R6000 less than the minimum and over R40000 less than the maximum advertised for the position.
If we as black women continue to hold and internalize such beliefs about what our work is worth, we may never close the gender pay gap and catch-up to our male counterparts. We may never have control over the gender stereotypes that still prevail in our workplaces but we do have control on the beliefs and attitudes that we internalize which influence how we show up and assert ourselves.
Author: Busisiwe Hlatswayo