This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
As a Black woman in the workplace, I find that not only do I allow society's biases to impact me, but sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
Due to the pandemic, women are continuing to leave the workforce at a rapid pace for a multitude of reasons including childcare, eldercare and health concerns. However, even under normal circumstances, as women, we allow biases to impact the way we view ourselves in the workforce, which ultimately causes feelings of unworthiness and dissatisfaction.
We let our fears isolate us from future growth. We allow the fears, insecurities and biases we've been traumatized by to influence our career advancement and what we feel worthy of.
When I first started in banking, I was a new mom with a background in graphic design and wanted a job that would allow me to earn extra income for my family. Once I joined the industry, I found I had a passion for banking and enjoyed the work. However, I had my own biases that I needed to be a certain way to be accepted in the industry and it was difficult to visualize someone who looked like me advancing in the organization.
While there are societal biases related to a woman's role in the workforce, I recognize that some of the biases I confronted earlier in my career were self-inflicted. I had my own perception of what a banker looked like – a blond-haired, blue-eyed Caucasian male with a perfect gray suit – and I was not sure how I was supposed to fit into this mold.
I had to learn to accept who I was as an individual and the talent and skills I brought to the table. By appreciating others' differences, I was able to celebrate what made me stand out. This was a serious adjustment I needed to make to imagine what I could be and how I could carve out a niche for myself.
This shift in perception would not have been possible without the many sponsors who encouraged and advocated for me throughout my career. However, before I was able to secure sponsorship, I needed to find allies in the workplace. These were colleagues who valued the strength of my work and what I brought to the table. From these allies, I learned that people didn't care that I was a Black woman with children and no business degree. Rather, these allies began to provide sponsorship and celebrate my work. They took notice of how I helped the organization, became advocates for me and helped me learn about opportunities for growth and advancement. These sponsors wanted to lift me up.
While I was fortunate, I recognize that many still struggle to gain workplace sponsorship since some women may not know how to approach the subject and others may minimize their own achievements. This was true for me as well earlier in my career. As a result, many women still do not receive the coaching and sponsorship they need to learn and grow.
So, how can women secure sponsors in the workplace?
- Identify the people that are already helping you in some way. Are you working on a project or supporting an executive on a regular basis? Use this connection as an opportunity to build an organic relationship to find allies in the workplace who can turn into sponsors. Identify who might be willing to have career conversations with you and who you can confide in about your career aspirations.
- Challenge your fear. Everyone is fearful of moving onto a new opportunity or pursuing stretch assignments. Constantly question if you are performing work that feels fulfilling and adds value to the organization. If you're not, start making small adjustments to how you approach your work and seek solutions by leveraging potential sponsors to bounce ideas off. Challenge yourself to leverage the fear of change to propel you forward by learning to control the fear instead of allowing it to hinder, isolate and control you. Also, don't fear connecting with others. Challenge the fear and ask someone to talk to you about your career.
- Be vocal about your aspirations with people in your corner. Be unashamed in how you speak about your career aspirations. Once you identify sponsors, these people will show up in meetings, when you give a presentation and ask you to collaborate on special projects. Having a winning team around you at work is valuable. Open yourself up to these opportunities and clearly define your aspirational goals, so others can help you. Be your own strongest advocate and external sponsorship will follow.