Women of Color in the Workplace – Is It Just Me, Or Did Things Shift?

Women of color are still not advancing in the workplace at the same rate as white men. Black women make 64 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Latinas earn just 54 cents per dollar. For the handful of women of color who reach leadership positions, discrimination remains rampant, but is much more likely to be hidden or coded among employers. Read on to see how industries hire women of color to satisfy their corporate idea of diversity, then gaslight those women as “problems” – and read my tips to help you build and maintain your own self-worth!

Reality Check

It’s not just you. 

There probably was a shift, and it came with a palpable uptick in stress, heaviness, and uncertainty in your work environment ever since.

A few years ago, I was sent this infographic from the Center for Community Organizations that tracked the trajectory of the “problem” woman of color in the workplace. This is sometimes labeled the “pet to threat” pattern. I was stunned – this single graphic captured years of workplace experiences and observations. It was simultaneously validating, deflating, and infuriating.

The graphic highlights the journey within a workplace for women of color. We enter and are immediately the new star who’s welcomed, wanted, and applauded. What COCo labels as the honeymoon phase, varies in length for individuals, but the shift begins once the woman of color speaks up or out – defined as anything that makes her non-BIPOC counterparts uncomfortable. She may have simply asserted herself in a morning meeting or pushed back against discrimination, such as micro-aggressions, and sought accountability and effective change. What she didn’t realize is they may not have hired her for her authentic self, but instead expected the appearance of diversity and conditional inclusivity.

Conditional Inclusivity

Keep your head down, stay quiet, and do your job – unspoken rules of conditional inclusivity. But, since you’ve spoken up, you’ll be expected to assume the burden of fixing the problem by leading diversity and inclusion efforts. Or you’re dismissed completely. You may even be gaslit and led to believe your experiences aren’t real or valid. Ultimately, a woman of color is far too often met with retaliation and detrimental labels. 

Sound familiar?

  • “Calm down. No need to be aggressive.”
  • “You’re being too sensitive/defensive/ (insert condescending term here).” 
  • “No one here is racist; this is a place that welcomes all.”
  • “No one has ever made these complaints before.” 

And if you opt out of sitting in the toxicity and you find an exit, the narrative takes a convenient turn:

  • “She just wasn’t a good fit.”
  • “She wasn’t a team player.” OR “She was difficult.”
  • “She left to spend more time with her family.”


Stressed, stifled, bewildered, confused, insignificant, helpless, and hopeless are just some of the emotions experienced while working in an environment that has no support for someone that looks like you. The weight of carrying example after example of a broken culture and system is toxic. Over time these experiences and feelings lead to burnout, depression, anxiety, and physical ailments, just to name a few. Let’s jump ahead of all of that!

Therapeutic Tools 

Here are some tools to help you cope until you can make a change for yourself because you won’t change others, nor is it your responsibility.

  • Maintain and/or build your self-worth! 

This level of stress in your work environment can start to degrade your identity and lessen your feelings of self-worth. Use daily affirmations, scripture, quotes, or whatever reminder you need to maintain and build this part of yourself. Fight against the false reality your circumstances are trying to impose upon you – don’t leave any space to question how amazing you are. 

Remember, token hire or not, you had the skills and experience they need. No business is going to waste funds on token hires alone. You are a badass – take your badassery where it can flourish and grow!

  • Self-soothe

You’re probably thinking, “Britt, I can’t leave that easily.” I get that too, but no worries. Here’s something you can do right now.

Jump ahead of the negative emotions by creating your very own self-soothing workstation. Hit all your five senses by:

  • (sight) Adding pleasing lighting 
  • (touch) Get a massager for your office chair 
  • (hearing) Jam your favorite tunes
  • (smell) Freshen the air or your body with scents that make you smile
  • (taste) Always have a nice cup of water, coffee, tea, or maybe a lil' somethin' somethin'…at the end of your workday, of course!

  • Meditative breathing and stretching

Add some meditative exercises to your morning routine.

Belly breathe – This includes a nice big inhale for three seconds or more, filling up that belly like a balloon. Hold that inhale for three seconds or more and then release nice and slow for three seconds or more. Repeat until you feel that relief settling in.

Stretching – Sit up comfortably in your chair, place one hand behind your back and the other on the top of your head. Slowly pull your head to one side, stretching your neck. Breathe deep, relax, and go deeper into your stretch. Repeat in the opposite direction and then gently pull the head forward.

  • Journal

A quick release of tension that has always gotten me through is journaling. I kept a small notebook in my purse, closed my office door, and wrote my little heart out until I could regain focus on my daily task. You may not be the journaling type, but if you enjoy doodling or drawing, take that to the pad. The idea here is to release. Although this does not change your situation, it certainly helps shift your energy from overwhelmingly stressful to functional.

This doesn’t have to be pretty, nor should it, the amount of stress you’re experiencing within your environment isn’t, so release it freely and unapologetically! Make sure you use those dreaded feelings words and go deep, beyond sad and mad. Truly identify what you’re feeling. 

  • Turn the negative experiences into a blessing

There is no better way to win than to make your negative experiences work for you. You’d be surprised by how many others are sitting in the same seat as you. In your alone time, strategize and think of ways you can flip the script and use your experiences to empower yourself and others. Wherever you’re comfortable, take your experiences and release them positively and encouragingly. This can be through podcasts, social media platforms, artwork, starting a support group, or even writing a book. In today’s world, you have options. Use what you’ve got, create, release, and notice how cathartic this exploration can be.

Would you like to learn more about how to shift your energy from stressed out to successful? Connect with me at Lifeologie Counseling Dallas or visit our team of Lifeologie Career Issues Specialists.   



About Brittney Tatum

Brittney Tatum, LPC, received her Bachelor's Degree from New Mexico State University and her Master's Degree from Dallas Baptist University. Obeying her calling, she works with black men’s issues, couples, emotional abuse recovery, first responders, race relations, self-esteem building, trauma, and childhood trauma recovery. Brittney is EMDR trained but plans to continuously expand her specialties and skill set, understanding the interconnectedness of so many of our challenges. Brittney's approach to mental wellness is anchored in honoring a client’s experiences while empowering their ability to chart a future of their choice. What you can expect from sessions with Brittney is a functional blend between textbook theory, real-life application, and the practical tools to help her clients thrive. Brittney understands that growth and progress can force one to feel all the feels, so one of her goals in session is making certain her clients leave the session with hope and a smile. She sees adults, couples, and families at Lifeologie Counseling Dallas.

Meet Me