Fit In vs. Lean In: Challenges of the Afro, Attire and Attitude for Black Women

Fit In vs. Lean In: Challenges of the Afro, Attire and Attitude for Black Women


Hi, I’m Dr. Denise O’Neil Green, and I’m the Executive Editor The Institutional
Diversity Blog. Today, I wanted to talk a little bit
about the book “Lean In”. You may have heard about it before, by Sheryl Sandberg: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. And when her book came out a couple years ago it made a very big splash. Many people began talking about women in leadership
roles, and began to explore what are the ways
in which women actually present barriers for themselves in
moving forward, thereby you have “Lean In”. But from an institutional diversity point of view, as a person who focuses on equity, diversity, and
inclusion, we know that various work environments have those different “ISMs”. Sexism. Racism. Homophobia. Other kinds of “ISMs” that operate and present systemic
barriers to women who may be “leaning in”, in so many effective ways but it still prevents them from
advancing forward. So, raising your hand or even negotiating compensation can
backfire on women. And then myself being a Woman of Color, an African-American woman, I have my own truth. And when you look at Sheryl Sandberg’s book, she has a chapter where she talks about speaking your truth. So my truth is: it focuses on 3 key areas: The Afro, The Attitude, and The Attire. When we think about women wearing afros, or wearing their hair naturally, is really what
I’m getting at, it’s actually a political act. And I don’t know of really any other group of women who feel that wearing their hair natural is a political statement. but, I came to one point in my life where I felt “I don’t need to put chemicals in my
hair. Press it. Curl It. Do whatever else to
it. I can just wear it naturally”. When I was
in university, people would ask me: “How do you wash it?”, “How do you comb it?”. And I would ask them back: “How do you wash and comb your hair?”. Such a silly question! But these are the various encounters
that African-American women have. And then we move away from hair, to attire, oh my goodness. How you dress means so much! I was speaking with a colleague and I was talking with him about considering hiring another colleague of mine who is
African-American, and he basically said to me: “She doesn’t
dress like XYZ. She doesn’t dress like that person who’s supposed to be in that kind of position”. So, how one dresses, really sends, and we all know this, it sends a certain message about who you are. I hope in my dress that it presents a certain calling card. My dress I consider as my uniform, but
I am very conscious of what I wear because I’m trying to send
forward a particular message as a Woman of Color to take me seriously. To respect me. To respect me as a
professional, and as a leader in my area. And then
finally, we have the third “A”: Attitude. Black women, the “angry Black woman syndrome” attitude, Well, let me
just say that’s something that many of us contend with. And I even had a job interview where the person was almost insinuating that because I came across so calm, so
patient, that it seemed as though “Where is that attitude I’m expecting?”. And I wondered maybe should have displayed to him my “Chicago South Side Attitude”, Well, no, of course I didn’t do that! I was coming across in a way that I felt best presented me. And it was me. So, when I think about the
“Lean In” book, many of us wonder: “Where is the ‘Lean In’ book for Black women? Women of Color? Persons with disabilities?” Women who have these very intersecting identities that complicates your movement within different workspaces. So for me, The Afro, The Attitude, and The Attire may be some areas that are a very simple and very
superficial, but they mean so much. And there has been much talk about this during my professional life. So, tell me what you think? Should we be “Leaning In” or should we be doing something else, or simply being ourselves? Let me know. Take care!

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