Why does 40 hours for 40 acres™ focus on Black women?

 In Coaching, Future of Work

One of the questions I’m often asked about 40 hours for 40 acres™ (40 for 40) is why I focus the program on Black women. Certainly, other groups experience work-life misalignment or workplace issues. Plus, my experience as a business leader and training in coaching, organizational theory, and management science apply to broader audiences. Why then carve out this intentional space for Black women professionals?

I created 40 for 40 as a labor of love after speaking with dozens of Black women in different career levels, industries, and life stages who shared the issue of being undervalued and unsatisfied in their careers. These women went to great schools, worked at top companies, and earned impressive awards for their professional contributions. However, when I spoke with them one-on-one, they shared much more complicated career stories of being overworked, undervalued, and unfulfilled. These women and their experiences are why I created 40 for 40.

Being Black@Work is hard. I created 40 for 40 because Black women have different work experiences and outcomes from our peers, and these differences have lasting impacts on us personally and professionally. In other words, it’s harder and more complicated for Black women to navigate work. While more workplaces theoretically embrace DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) values and are enamored by the idea of new, shiny voices during recruitment, too often the reality is under-resourcing, under-utilizing, underpaying, and under-promoting those who bring those new perspectives when they actually arrive. When this happens, we’re faced with a couple of choices: 

  1. Exit and prepare an interview-friendly story about your departure when the real answer is “They liked black squares, just not Black people” OR
  2. Stay (and advocate or hope) for better outcomes.

Unfortunately, neither of these approaches is without tradeoffs. Let’s explore. 

Leaving is costly. Let’s say you choose the “you won’t break my soul” route and leave. By releasing that job, you’re likely releasing financial stability and perks that come with tenure too. And that’s a big deal, especially for Black women. Despite having the credentials and experience that should allow us to write our professional tickets, Black women often have more intense financial pressures because we lack the same safety nets as our peers. These include:

  1. Lower liquidity. We are less likely to earn, and relatedly save and invest, as much as peers at similar career levels.
  2. Higher expenses. We are less likely to be partnered and share living expenses with others.
  3. Less wealth. We have less access to generational wealth from family and networks. Not only do we lack safety nets, we often ARE the safety nets for others (even outside of our immediate households). The racial wealth gap is real.

For many of us, the financial stakes are simply too high to get up and leave no matter how much our workplaces dishonor our time and talents.

Fighting for yourself is still a fight. Now let’s say that instead of Beyoncé, you go the Public Enemy route and “fight the powers that be.” You can speak up about what is happening, tapping your manager or HR to intervene and help you do your best work. If you actually get help, count it all joy and keep it pushing. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be that easy. Without a clear strategy, strong allies, and an arsenal of documentation, you’re more likely to find yourself an actual Public Corporate Enemy, or the “Problem Women of Color in the Workplace” (Source: COCo). Common signs of this cycle are subjective claims of poor communication, decreased access to quality projects and important meetings, or otherwise being labeled a “poor culture fit” by those same parties and decision-makers you looked to for help. Instead of help, they’ve quickly put you down the path to isolation, stagnation, or possible removal. While it’s possible to fight your way back, the fight is a hard one and you can expect some breaks and bruises along the way if you choose to stay. 

Source: The Centre for Community Organizations (COCo)

In the end, John (or Jane) Henry die. Just as breaks and bruises come from fighting, staying to work harder and prove your naysayers wrong can be just as damaging. Overwork and stress are carried in our bodies so even if we’re killing it at work, it’s probably killing us (not-so-softly) back. According to the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), by the ages of 49-55, Black women’s bodies are biologically 7.5 years older than our white counterparts due to stress. Unfortunately, I know and have witnessed this firsthand. I’ve felt my own body respond to toxic environments with severe depression, anxiety, and digestive issues, only for those conditions to fully reverse, and no longer need daily medications once I left those workspaces. I also watched my single mother suffer blinding migraines as she brought home stress from work, then suffer a stroke at the young age of 28 one day at work. That stroke would become the first of many over the years, leaving her disabled and breaking down her body until she passed away at the age of 54 last year.

So back to the original question: Why did I create 40 for 40 so intentionally for Black women professionals? I created 40 for 40 because I see Black women breaking our backs, minds, and hearts for jobs that won’t break a sweat for our advancement and well-being UNLESS we are strategic in how we interact with them. I created 40 for 40 because we deserve better and can get better, but need to be explicit about the elephants in the room of sexism and racism if our responses are to be effective.

You can register now by going to 40hoursfor40acres.com. The next boot camp starts in March 2023.

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