Black Women at Work

Reflections of Black Women at Work

In academia, there is little literature about mentoring among Black women. In this gap, intergenerational communication dynamics and the centrality of empowerment through sharing knowledge are lost. 

To address this gap, Sista Circle methodology was formally coined by Dr. Laytoya Johnson of Tennessee State University. Traditionally defined, Sista Circles are support groups formed among Black women of the same community, profession, or organization that build upon existing friendships or networks. However, these networks are not new. Sista Circles were the foundation of the Black women’s club movement of the late 1800s. The creation of these professional organizations was in direct response to exclusion from White women’s and Black men’s social sites and organizations.

Today Sista Circles are a safe space for Black women seeking community and engagement. These organizations have evolved into what we know as the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council, or “Divine Nine” organizations such as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, the first intercollegiate historically African American sorority. These organizations not only provide opportunities for networking and story-sharing opportunities but also allow members and participants to engage with and support each other and their communities.

Building a Sista Circle model in the workplace allows Black women to engage in personal reflection and group discussion about their experiences as professionals. Sista Circles also provide safe, comfortable environments through which Black women can tell their stories at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality, and identity. Such engagement within the workplace requires at least three phases:

Phase 1: Observation: How Black Women Interact With Others

In this phase, participants of the Sista Circle should consider what it means to be a Black woman within their professional community and how they would describe their experience. Often, Black women are incorrectly perceived as angry or aggressive in the workplace. These tropes can create additional barriers to the glass ceiling, further holding women back from career advancement. To alleviate these barriers, non-minority coworkers can take time to both learn more about their coworkers and recognize unconscious biases. Within Sista Circles, Black women can reflect on their own experiences, sharing challenges and success strategies.

Phase 2: Finding Role Models: Those Who Can Support Both The Professional And Social Growth

In this phase, participants should reflect on how they find mentors within their professional spaces, where other Black women are professionally and socially successful. If these spaces do not exist, what is needed to create them? In an interview with David Pluviose, Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the American Association of University Women, noted, “Representation is so important for young women, girls, and boys - to see that African American women can step up as leaders and that our perspectives are incredibly valued.” Blackwell is the second Black woman in over 140 years to lead the American Association of University Women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black women make up 10.9% of the workforce; however, they are still underrepresented in leadership positions, specifically in the executive-level managers within a company. If you do not see yourself represented in leadership, where can you find a mentor? In the social space, mentors can take multiple forms, both formally and informally. In the professional space, a critical component of Sista Circle methodology is not only reaching forward to seek out a mentor in your field but also reaching back to engage with and serve other women within your professional community.

Phase 3: Being Whole: Spaces Where Women Can Be More Of Their Whole Selves

This phase lends itself to considering the “counter space to the counter space,” or intersectionality. As coined and defined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is a framework for identifying a person or group of people affected by more than one discrimination or disadvantage and considering these overlapping identities to understand their experiences. For Black women to be their whole selves, their intersectional identities must be acknowledged. The Black experience is not monolithic. Spaces where Black women can be their whole selves include not only spaces of other Black women but also spaces where they can express other identities such as their sexuality or religion. Workplace diversity also reinforces the creation of intersectional identity spaces. For example, affinity or employee resource groups serve as a collective of individuals within the workspace who often share marginalized identities. These spaces uphold the safety and utmost importance of Sista Circles and can add value to an organization by demonstrating its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and building positive workplace relationships.

It is critical to emphasize that workplace diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are not Black women's issues; they are company issues. STRATA9 is committed to working with organizations seeking to meaningfully incorporate justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into their culture. I invite you to visit and learn more about how our team helps organizations like yours facilitate meaningful community building and best practices to create a positive company culture.