Our cultural identity can prove to be our biggest asset when expressed well. There is unchartered space in the professional development arena with respect to women of color. In most international business journals there is a lack of diversity. The articles in these journals are directed to a general audience and do not speak to women leaders of color. Hence, women need personal branding now more than ever.
This lack of culture can be felt and hence we need unique voices, telling honest stories that women of color can relate to. The business community needs to have this very important conversation about specific cultural experiences. Women, and especially women of color, face unique challenges that need to be discussed, such as: What to expect when you are the only woman of color in a room? What biases are being projected onto us directly and indirectly by our colleagues? How do I leave a lasting impression?
Women of color are often significantly undervalued in the workplace and overlooked when it comes to promotions to leadership roles. They are stereotyped negatively as unprofessional or overly emotional, etc. The situation remains the same in business and entrepreneurship; women of color have little to no access to funds and mentorship.
These issues are systemic and can not be completely eradicated overnight by applying branding techniques. Although, it is a good place to start this conversation that needs to be vocalized and amplified.
What is a personal brand?
In this day and age where everything is online, it is very important to build your personal brand that is true to you and reflects what you believe in.
In simple words, your personal brand is the unique combination of different aspects of your personality and work that represent who you are. Your personal brand is what makes you memorable. It is your unique voice that distinguishes you from the rest.
Social norms shape work and work environments. They compel women of color to see themselves in boxes that are neatly separated from what is neatly branded as professional. This passively removes the true expression of our cultures and our stories.
Hence it falls on us to represent our cultures and communities in the business world as authentically as we can.
Your culture is an asset
Your culture is our biggest asset, always remember this golden rule of personal branding. The household you were raised in gives you a unique identity and perspective with which you navigate the world around you. When you are placed in a business or work environment that largely draws from European history, it becomes difficult to express yourself and your story.
When we enter a workspace we may have to endure comments and stereotypes about our culture or country. In such an instance it is difficult to figure out what to do. You can laugh along even if it makes you uncomfortable or you can correct them and educate them about your culture at the expense of being cast out.
These hostile environments have to be dealt with sensitivity. You represent not just yourself but your people, culture, and values. Be proud of who you are, the household you were raised in, and where you come from. Your culture is what makes you distinct and memorable. It sets you apart and makes your perspective fresh and valuable.
Make your culture part of your personal brand because that is what you authentically are. Some businesses and organizations are actively looking to include unique voices in their forum that represent different cultures and values.
Don’t alter your name to fit in
A simple Google search can show you thousands of stories where women of color were dismissed from jobs because their names sound too suggestive of ethnic identity. In the 60s and 70s pro-black movements inspired people to embrace their ethnicity and led to the rise of naming their children different from European-sounding names. This was an important step in the process of respecting and assimilating our cultural heritage into our day-to-day life.
Women have been criticized and discriminated against at the workplace because of their names not just by their white colleagues but also by people from their own community.
When it comes to your personal brand, your name is very crucial. It represents you and your cultural heritage. It tells people who you are and where you come from. When you hear Lupita Amondi Nyong'o has won the Academy award for best actress in a supporting role, you can identify her rich Kenyan roots. Emmy award-winning Nigerian actress Uzo Aduba recalls a childhood incident when she asked her mother if she could use the name “Zoe” because nobody could pronounce her actual name. Uzo’s mom responded, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”
Wear your hair like a crown
Women are told many things. They are expected to follow numerous rules that are said and some that are implied. There is very little agency we are left with when it comes to our bodies. When it comes to women of color, society takes it a step further. They tell us our hair is an inconvenience, that it does not look professional enough. No matter how little sense this makes it still becomes a cause of discrimination toward women of color and children.
As women of color, hair is a big part of our culture and community. Braiding our hair, putting in weaves or just taking care of our hair is an important part of community bonding. Mothers do it for their daughters and friends get together and do it. Stories and traditions come alive when women sit together.
As women of color, your hair is not just who we are as an individual but also a representation of the great women who came before us. When we wear out natural hair, we are honoring a part of our mothers and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers.
To alter your hair to fit in the Euro-centric beauty standards is a disservice to our ancestors. Your hair is a part of you and hence a part of your brand.
Embrace your ethnic identity with pride and utilize it to leave your unique mark in the world of business. Your biggest asset is nothing but a waste if you don’t know how to utilize it.
Shellye is committed to helping people from diverse backgrounds achieve their careers and life aspirations. The content published above was made in collaboration with our members.
Shellye Archambeau is determined to help you with all possible strategies to climb the ladder of success. She values your feedback. Do mention them in the comment section below.