5 Qualities of Black Excellence Overlooked in the Workplace
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We live in a world where Black excellence is everywhere. Entrepreneurs like Oprah, Rihanna, Michael Jordan, Jay-Z and Beyonce dominate the airways, TV stations and retail outlets. Each of these stars entered the arena in different ways and all managed to embody Black excellence to grow their businesses to unimaginable heights.
But why is it that excellent qualities revered in celebrities are so often overlooked — and sometimes even stifled — within everyday white and eurocentric workspaces? It doesn’t take a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert like myself to tell you that Black employees get a bad rap at work. Racism, stereotypes, inequity and cultural clashes make it so that employers and coworkers alike may exclude, diminish and at times target Black workers while downplaying their excellent qualities.
Despite the systemic reasons why some Black workers may retreat and lose their shine in the workplace, there are others who hone in on their excellent qualities, break through barriers and shoot for the moon. Today, we’ll discuss five qualities of Black excellence, how they are cultivated in Black communities and the myriad of ways they manifest in the workplace.
Related: It’s Black History Month. Here’s How to Show Black Employees You Care.
1. Black culture encourages building meaningful connections
In many Black households, family and community are one and the same. One person’s grandmother is everyone’s grandmother and often holds the role of making sure no one is left behind, alone or without guidance. Black entrepreneurs coming from traditional Black households understand that building meaningful connections and looking out for one another is essential to survival.
This shows up in the workplace as Black employees seeking to connect with individuals at varying levels of the organization, networking across departments, social statuses, races, genders and nationalities to build connections that feel reciprocal, meaningful and welcoming. Lifting others up, checking on them and making sure they’re included is a quality of Black excellence that eurocentric workplaces would be wise to recognize and value in their Black employees.
2. Black culture cultivates creativity
When all Black folks had was each other and the hope they would surpass the confines of slavery, Jim Crow and now the prison industrial complex, many folks cultivated a sense of creativity. Whether inventively using food scraps left by white plantation owners during the slavery era or making music and art during segregation, Black folks had to be creative to find upward mobility, bypass restrictions from the wider society and most importantly, survive.
Black culture encourages us to see obstacles and find ways around them. We’re encouraged to find new opportunities, think outside of the box, and innovate on new solutions–even if the existing culture tries to stop us. Creativity could be the secret sauce to why so many Black entrepreneurs experience success.
Related: Managing a Black Woman? Here’s How to Become Her Success Partner and Ally.
3. Black culture invites joy and humor as resistance
Despite all that’s happened to the Black diaspora, many people still find a reason to smile and find joy. Instead of weeping and retreating into sadness, many of us had to find a way through the most difficult parts of our lives and cultivate an inner strength that showed up as joy, humor, and wit.
This isn’t simply a sign of someone who enjoys humor, but someone who is resilient in the face of difficulty and who can turn a hard situation into something joyful. Some who experience trauma in the workplace may exemplify anger, hatred or sadness. But facing triggers and difficulties with satire, improvisation or wordplay to create a humor-filled moment and create something positive is a soft skill that should be recognized in more Black employees.
4. Black culture calls for fairness
The vast majority of folks calling out workplace racism or inequality are people of color, in particular Black folks. Many Black individuals have had to collectively fight for their rights which produced a sense of righteousness and justice-mindedness that’s pervasive throughout the Black culture.
In the workplace, a passion for fairness can look like speaking up when a biased comment is spoken. It can also look like holding leadership accountable for implementing programming and initiatives equally amongst all employees.
Black workers are often passionate and vocal about fairness because it was a necessity in our families and communities. This quality helps us advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across communities, companies and workplaces.
5. Black culture encourages people to project confidence
“Keep your chin up” is a common phrase heard in Black households. The idea is to never let the dominant culture see you sweat. The goal was to work hard and project confidence even if you were feeling low. Freedom, safety, jobs and other opportunities may not always be available, but Black culture tells us to project confidence, stand tall and keep moving forward.
At all levels of the organization, Black folks attempt to show pride in their work. They can strive for excellence in their corner of influence even if it’s not the most powerful position in the company. It can show up as being strong at work even if things in one’s personal life are not in great shape. Demonstrating resiliency and projecting confidence are qualities of Black excellence passed down through the generations and are deserving of recognition.
Whether it’s Beyonce, Jay-Z, Michael Jordan or Oprah, all of the Black entrepreneurs we know and love have qualities rooted in Black culture. While all Black entrepreneurs are inherently gifted with qualities of Black excellence to one degree or another, some have yet to reach their full potential, while others have truly embraced and embodied them to break through barriers and skyrocket to success. Now is the time for conventional, white, and eurocentric workplaces to finally recognize the unique qualities that come from Black culture and lift up employees who exemplify these qualities.