What are you tolerating?
My business coach asked this question the other day. While I am enjoying my business and have worked hard to have great clients, exciting work that continues to evolve, and time to invest in my health and my career, it took many years of focusing on what I believe I have the right to enjoy to build what I have.
The question also made me think of an article I read regarding race relations: Do Not Move Off The Sidewalk Challenge: Holding Space In A White World. The article’s main point was asking women of color to stop ceding their physical space to white people simply because they expect us to.
This is the figurative challenge that my clients face in their organizations: the issue is not what women of color tolerate; rather, it is about what we cede.
We are conditioned to believe that there is no space for us. To “tolerate” means to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one doesn’t necessarily like or agree with) without interference. To “cede” means to give up power or territory. The difference between tolerating (not exercising your power) and ceding (not believing you have power) is choice.
When we tolerate something, we ultimately know we can change it. When we cede, we didn’t think we had a choice. This lack of choice and voice is all too familiar to women of color.
Ask yourself the following questions to see if you cede your power:
1. Is your work exciting and evolving with a clear path to move forward in your career?
2. Are you respected and safe in your work environment?
3. When you share your ideas in meetings, do people hear you?
4. Are you free to be authentic and show how you think differently?
5. Are you uncertain as to where you stand with your boss or colleagues? Does that uncertainty bring unwelcome stress and filtering?
6. Are you making as much money as others in your company, industry, and market?
7. Do people rely on your experience without giving you credit?
8. Are you confident in your ability to address bias in your workplace? Does your employer care to listen?
9. Can you express your ideas and make suggestions to your boss and colleagues?
10. Can you ask for flexibility when you need it?
11. How do you describe what you do? Does the description underscore the importance of your work?
The point I want to make is that you must know what you need from your employer and work culture to thrive. If you are ceding your ability to create options, it will lower your confidence and halt your development. Often, we put up with intolerable situations because we don’t know that we can create options and opportunities for ourselves. You can quickly get stuck in an environment that leaves you feeling too drained to even think about what you want out of your career.
When I ask new clients the above questions, they say they are lucky to have their job and grateful for the money they make. While I am all for gratitude, that response is often a deflection. When you deflect, you try to prevent the questions from directly addressing what matters to you. Trust me: you will do your best and most satisfying work in an environment that values you and supports the career you want to build.
Everyone has the right to work in an environment that is psychologically safe.
If your current employer doesn’t offer you safety, you need a new employer. One that is ideal for you.
When you stop working where you are forced to suppress who you are, you will be more productive and creative. When you no longer relinquish your right to a career you love, you will explore ideas and opportunities you’ve never imagined. You’ll begin to expect the work and compensation that you deserve. Most importantly, you—the real you—will get to show up every day and do your very best work.
Maybe the better question is, why do you forsake your rightful place? We have been conditioned to think that what we want is not an option. I guarantee you that one day ceding your place will cease to be enough, that you will want to build your dream career.
Moreover, the rest of us need you to build it. We need women, especially women of color, upfront and visible. We need you to build community and support others as they rise. We need your experience and insight. We need you to help us all create a better way.
Before you go there, let me emphasize that this isn’t a matter of worth. You are, without question, worth the investment and development.
I work to help women change their trajectories to build dynamic careers and deeply impact others. I believe in people until they begin to believe in themselves. I can’t do that work if women are willing to settle for less than they are meant to be.
What ground are you ceding and what is the cost?