Coined by Moya Bailey and unique to the Black woman’s experience, misogynoir is the intersection of where sexism and racism meet.
I have been part of The Xec. leadership course for just over 5 months and it has held a mirror up to my past, present and future. I have experienced a variety of emotions from disappointment and hurt about past experiences, to joy and empowerment about where I’m going.
Authentic leadership was an amazing masterclass facilitated by Ellie Thompson and Louie St Claire from Harvard PR Agency which had a positive impact on how I holistically look at leadership. Though the session was very positive, my thoughts on authentic leadership threw me into an existential crisis that led me to question if my leadership style truly reflects who I am. In the workplace, it’s essential to be a chameleon, different stakeholders require different things but how much of a chameleon do you have to be as a Black woman? I live it every day, but it dawned on me how much and how deeply misogynoir has impacted how I navigate the workplace, how others treated me and self-doubt.
Hypervisibility and Erasure
As I reflect on my own experience in leadership “in training” and generally the workplace, I think about the polarising experience of hypervisibility and erasure that is a direct causal effect of misogynoir.
Hypervisibility makes you feel like you’re under a microscope. From the way you speak, type or do things, there is an opinion or an overt reaction. However, in the same breath, you’re erased. You’re easily overlooked for promotions, people assume you’re a junior colleague, you’re talked over in meetings or commonly not considered. Speaking to Black women around me, sadly, these are shared and very common experiences.
Coqual, a global not-for-profit think tank quantifies the Black woman’s experience in the workplace via their examination of ‘Being Black in the UK.’ Their research explores how “Black professionals in the UK face a steeper climb than their colleagues recognise.” Coqual’s research highlights that Black women are 52% more likely to stay at their workplace for only two years or less due to unfair company practices (around hiring, performance reviews and promotions). This correlates with the lived experiences of microaggressions, invalidation, being underestimated and general discrimination as a direct causal effect of misogynoir.
The proof is in the data, hostile and unfair working environments breed a lack of representation. In the LSE blog post ‘Black women are missing from the top 1%,’ Teresa Almeida, Erika Brodnock, and Grace Lordan, evaluate the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) and noted, Black women have the lowest probability of being top earners and being represented in top jobs. ‘Green Park Business Leaders Index 2021 FTSE 100’ echoes this stating “for the first time since we began our analysis, there are no Black Chairs, CEOs, or CFOs in the FTSE 100.”
While I question my leadership style, look back on my experiences and explore ways I would like to grow and develop, I ask myself, how can growth happen in such difficult and unnurturing environments? To acknowledge my reality was key but being vocal and talking through my experiences was vital. The Xec. leadership course reinforces that it’s not my responsibility to make others feel comfortable in my Black womanhood, it’s for people and companies to do the diversity, equity and inclusion work. I feel at peace, it’s above me!
Assata Shakur, activist, writer and someone I admire, challenged the status quo, was fearless and fought for what she believed in. Yet, in the face of adversity, Assata remained tender and loving. My desire for Black women is for us not to be hardened or changed by our experiences but to be true to our authentic selves.
Thank you to the Black women who shared their stories and experiences with me for this piece.
Mahalia was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She is being mentored by Claire Quansah, Head of Client & Business Development, Social.