One of the prevalent limiting beliefs among many Black, Millennial women in Corporate America is the idea of not fully belonging in their work environment.  As we look around and see ourselves as the minority, many of us shrink figuratively, maybe even literally trying to avoid the spotlight. We come in quietly, do our work and leave, fearing being noticed while secretly hoping for it at the same time. 

Like impostors, we are afraid of standing out, yet, we want to be acknowledged and recognized for our hard work. We want that promotion, that new role, that raise, just as much as our peers. 

In my coaching practice, I encounter several women who admit to having the following thoughts about themselves in their professional lives:

“Am I really as smart as they are?”

“What if I say something stupid?”

“Oh, he went to Harvard and I didn’t, so he must know more than I do.”

“Did they make a mistake hiring me?”

“They probably only hired me to meet their diversity quota.”

“Have I plateaued in my career? Do I really belong in senior leadership?”

These types of thoughts marinate in our subconscious, and can effectively rob us of our potential.  

Creativity and fear are mutually exclusive. 

You cannot be your most creative self if you are immobilized by fear. When your mind is consumed with thoughts steeped in inadequacy, how can you be free to explore and take risks and contribute all you can? When your foremost thought is to seek approval and get people to like you, how can you share your thoughts without filtering and re-filtering in your head?

So how do we address this?

Here are 5 handy ways to practice taking up more space and coming out from the shadows:

Learn. Appreciate. Showcase

 Get more intimately familiar with yourself. Who are you? What do you like?  What are your strengths?  Write them down if you like. Your style, your experiences, your way of speaking, your unique perspectives; all of those things are part of your unique “flavor” that is irreplaceable. Stop trying to compare yourself to your coworkers. It is perfectly ok, required even, to be [insert your name here].     

When I first started out in Corporate, I constantly compared myself to my peers, until I realized that I couldn’t keep it up. I couldn’t compete with them in the things that made them unique. 

I soon learned that I couldn’t be more “John” than John or more “Sarah” than Sarah.

 Learning, appreciating and showcasing your unique self is no doubt, one of the first steps to taking up more space. 

Stop apologizing

Many of us are constantly in a state of apology in our communications, both verbal and written. 

Of course, saying “I’m sorry” is courteous and good- mannered. However, many use it excessively even when there is nothing to be sorry about.  This diminishes your position, authority, or influence. If you have made an error, rather than dwell on it, apologize once and move on to solutions.

Another way we unknowingly apologize is using the word "just" excessively, like so: "I just wanted to let you know..." or "I just wanted to follow up".  Pay attention to the ways you may be diminishing or apologizing for your viewpoint.

Stop Begging

In line with the previous point, “please” is another over used term, predominantly in emails. “Please respond to my email.” “Please let me know if you need help.”  “Please invite me to the meeting.”  Again, nothing wrong with being polite, but if you find yourself saying please 3 or more times in one email, you may want to reassess.  Remember to be intentional about what exactly you would like to communicate, and if you do not need to beg, don’t

Watch out for group think

Dare to be different, unpopular evenIt’s ok to not go along with what everyone thinks if it doesn’t feel right for you. Speak up. This is not the same as disagreeing just for the sake of it or being unnecessarily combative. Whether it’s a question about where the group goes for lunch or a new sales strategy to attract new clients, speak your mindEven if you do give in eventually, get used to voicing your opinions. Who knows?  Your opinion may actually be saving your company from making a costly mistake. Take for instance the Shea Moisture ad debacle or the recent Dove commercialBoth ads appeared discriminatory or biased towards Black womenImagine being a Black woman on those marketing teams and keeping silent because you are afraid of voicing an unpopular opinion. 

Stop shrinking yourself physically

Body language experts have identified certain postures that indicate fear or low self-confidence. Unfortunately, many women find themselves in these postures in conference rooms. Postures like folding arms, obsessively keeping belongings in a neat pile, avoiding eye contact, slouching, weak handshake, fidgeting or playing with hair, etc., all give away a level of discomfort with yourself or your environment. Next time you find yourself feeling inadequatetake a deep breath and practice a more powerful position. Note that powerful does not mean masculine. You can be powerful and confident while harnessing your most authentic self. 

If you have been conditioned to see yourself as inadequate, it may be challenging to course-correct.  Do not beat yourself up if you find yourself constantly defaulting back to your comfort zone.  Keep at it.  Hire a career coach or someone who can help mentor you through this; someone who can cheer you on and hold you accountable.  If you need additional support in improving your confidence in Corporate America, contact a coach for a free consultation. 


stella odogwu