Diversity and inclusion is an important conversation in the corporate world. Most companies are now taking big strides to make sure their workplaces are inclusive and uplifting for people of color. It’s no surprise that over the years, black women have struggled to receive the support they need to thrive in the workplace, prompting us to build our own network to help shape and define our success.
While navigating through the corporate world, I learned it’s important for black women to create safe spaces and protect it at all costs and we must also consider diversifying our business network as we develop along the way. I used to think someone who doesn’t look like me or talk like me wouldn’t be the best fit for my network. That wasn’t the case at all. I chose to be intentional, step out of my comfort zone and network at corporate events with an array of people. In doing so, I’ve expanded what diversity means to me by taking a hard look at the dictionary definition. Diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, not just race. Diversity is a combination of different elements and different types of people that includes age, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, skill set, experiences and etc.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is not everyone you’ll connect and engage with will look like you. I used to toss aside everyone I met or networked with because they didn’t meet certain “standards” but that only did a disservice to me by making me closed-minded. Professionals of all different backgrounds have the ability to add value to your life. No matter their gender, ethnicity and/or race. Surrounding yourself with people who bring something to the table is the goal, and that person may be very different from you.
I constantly remind myself to network up and across, with my peers and gatekeepers as well. What is a gatekeeper you ask? A gatekeeper is a person who controls access to something. So dig into some research and find out who the gatekeepers in your company or industry are, you might find that those people may not look anything like you. Across industries, statistics show how black women lack representation which means most gatekeepers are not black women. As alarming as that may sound, it’s a reality black women can change. It should not discourage you from aspiring to rise to the top, but encourage you to network with whoever you can, as genuinely as possible.
Keep your mind open to attending professional networking events that attract a diverse audience. Expand your network by stepping outside your comfort zone: If your own professional network does not include colleagues at all levels, you may miss out on opportunities.