Recently, my friend Ebony decided to leave the corporate world and make a go on her own. She launched her HR consulting business and a blog to boot. Meet The Ebony Working Girl. I’m in awe of the adventure and had loads of questions about the dialogue she is fostering by giving voice to the voiceless, particularly women of color in the workplace.
Ebony and double entendres
Q: I’m intrigued with the voice and identity of The Ebony Working Girl. How did this blog come to you and how is it a form of self-expression?
A: Business coaches told me I should leverage social media for my business but HR isn’t a sexy topic. I asked God: how do I provide something different from everything out there? And I heard His voice: talk about workplace experiences from your perspective as a woman of color in HR and management.
The Ebony Working Girl is a double entendre. The obvious meaning is the word play on my name and I’m a working girl. The second meaning is based on what my name means: black. During the civil rights era, African Americans were called “colored,” so it also means The Colored Working Girl for women of color in the workplace.
I’m often in my thoughts and need a way to get them out. My blog is the perfect vehicle because I’m an introvert and always thinking. I also pride myself on switching things up, so you may see a poem, song or video. I love the freedom of self-expression, as I’ve felt stifled and restricted for many years being in corporate.
A haven for communication
Q: You launched The Ebony Working Girl to provide a space for voices not heard in the workplace. What does it mean to create a safe communication haven for conversations and how do you cultivate this?
A: It means the world to me! I haven’t seen other forums like this, as many HR blogs talks about ‘safe’ topics. Other than a class action suit where a person of color was passed over for promotions, I haven’t found a site talking about people of color in the daily workplace, especially if we’re fortunate to break into management. By sharing my stories, I hope others will feel safe and share their own stories. I hope to discuss solutions and implement change.
Q: You openly acknowledge people coming to you for advice and their need for others to hear them. I’ll go out on a limb but believe you listen without the persuasion of Power, fostering a safe zone. In a leadership role, is it important to share these perspectives with executives to deepen awareness? Or is it more important to serve as a sounding board for the voiceless?
A: It’s important and necessary to share perspectives with executives to deepen awareness. I don’t think they’re aware of what’s happening because there is less diversity as you go up the ranks. So when you have people who look, think, talk and dress alike, the chance of them experiencing or hearing what people of color encounter is slim. When I left my recent position, I shared my experiences with the CEO. He wasn’t comfortable with the conversation but listened to everything I had to say. He gave me a note on my last day and thanked me for sharing my stories. I hope it can go further as it starts at the top about what’s really happening to eventually lead to change. I’m a firm believer in the scripture that faith without works is dead. We can’t keep talking about these topics; we have to make changes.
The value of difference
Q: You pose the question – who needs diversity training? I’m an advocate for difference existing on the merit of its own standards without seeking commonalities to justify those standards. I appreciate the value each of our lived experiences offers and the unique viewpoints associated with those experiences. What are your thoughts? Should training seek commonalities or encourage acceptance of difference?
A: I agree 1000%! Diversity training should encourage acceptance of difference. Training programs seeking commonalities do not align with diversity: variety, difference and unlikeness. I’ve learned a great deal meeting with people who are different from me. It opens up your mind to other perspectives.
What’s in a name
Q: You shared examples reflecting the dynamics of a name associated to opportunities. There are two videos – Zoe vs Uzoamaka and Jose vs Joe. In the latter, Jose hit the nail on the head. Many of us believe we aren’t prejudiced, yet there are inherent qualities we aren’t aware we have. What can we do to help ourselves and others recognize these inherent qualities?
A: That’s a million-dollar question! Many of us don’t believe we have biases, combined with the fact talking about race and prejudice makes people uncomfortable. We must be honest and examine ourselves, own it and call out others when we see prejudices or even think there’s a hint of it. If we’re unsure if we’ve witnessed or are guilty of it, ask someone’s opinion.
Q: You launched your blog this month and have 700+ followers. You’re obviously sharing valuable content. How do you select topics and what moves you?
A: I had an idea people would appreciate the blog. But I didn’t expect to gain so many followers so quickly! I wrote down personal topics and the final list was longer than anticipated! I’ve had many experiences and wondered how other people have different or similar stories. I also select topics based on current events or conversations with friends. I’m moved by the injustices and stories from people who feel voiceless and defeated. I feel a sense of urgency to get their stories out because they feel vindicated when readers agree or share similar experiences.
Ah, so good and thank you Ebony! We welcome reader thoughts, experiences and insights via comments.