How do you play the game as a black woman in the workplace? First, you must identify what the game is—every career has a different game. Are you competing with the white men or women on your team? Is your boss intimidated by you? Are you competing with your more tenured colleagues? As women of color, we are always fighting to stay in the forefront of our careers, and it can be draining.
Playing the game with minimal effort and maximum impact is like mastering the game of croquet. Very few people do it but those who do are extremely good at it. Let’s take some well-known black women who have mastered and won their games: Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Beyonce, and Michelle Obama. No matter what you personally think of these women, they know the game and have mastered playing it like a well oiled machine.
What I’ve learned about “playing the game” in my short seven years in the workforce is first to be self-aware. This starts with your personal brand (<-click here). I believe this is a necessity to excel in any career, you need to know how others experience you in order to use your full set of skills to your advantage. Secondly, be competent. Being competent in your area of expertise is absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, many times we, as black women, need to be even more competent and knowledgeable than our white counterparts. Thirdly, everyone doesn’t need to know everything. Sometimes we can be too trusting; everyone doesn’t need to know what you know and how you know it. Fourth, perfect your communication skills. This is key! I’ve learned that I can talk myself into and out of anything! It worked for me throughout my entire academic career and has continued to work in my professional career. Lastly, set clear goals. If you are clear on your end goal, it’s a lot easier to stay on path and prevent road blocks.
Sometimes we feel like we don’t want to be a part of the “rat race” or “the game”. No matter what we say or what our careers are, we are all playing the game. It’s a balancing act – how to reach our ultimate goals (whether that’s raising your kids or becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company). The game is just a scary term for knowing how to navigate the system (whatever the system is). It’s being clear on who you are, making the appropriate relationships (always have a champion and mentor), knowing what to say and what not to say, understanding how to effectively balance work and your personal life, and finally always doing your best at everything you do!
How have you learned to play the game?