Faith & Work: Corporate Discipleship for the “Onlys”
You accept the job to work for an organization. As you began to get settled in, it becomes evident. As you walk into the meeting room and look around, you are the “only one”.
In today’s workplace, Black people still manage to be the “onlys” —the lone representatives of an identity group. As a result, many feel the need to carry the entire race on their shoulders.
You are the “only” one on the team or in the meeting. You are constantly mistaken for the other Black woman who doesn’t even resemble you or work in your area. You’re the only one whose name hasn’t been given the proper care to pronounce.
Unfortunately, it is common to not be seen in the workplace, to consistently have ideas dismissed, and to only be called on to give a specific perspective. At times, it can seem like no one even notices you are there.
As a Black woman, I have observed as corporations attempt to make diversity and inclusion part of their business. It has been interesting to hear how the “onlys” are called on to share personal experiences. For many of us, for the very first time, have received a wellness check to simply see how we are feeling in the midst of everything going on in this world.
There’s a saying encouraging us to “check on your strong friends” and these days it is looking more like “check on your Black friends.”
For years, Black people in corporate America have suffered silently. The racial injustices in the world aren’t new, but it wasn’t widely discussed in work settings. Many accept the jobs while knowing in the back of their minds, how they are likely underpaid compared to their White counterparts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Black women earn 62 percent less than white men.
Black people have waited for the opportune time to address it—not just with their managers but on a larger scale. This year, it seems as if the walls are falling. Black people are vocalizing the injustices of our lives, our pay, our businesses, and this country.
Given the current climate, some organizations are seeking transparency from minority groups to share learnings of various experiences and help transform the organization to be more inclusive.
After the tragic killing of George Floyd, many companies across social media participated in Blackout Tuesday to vow to take the necessary steps to make diversity and inclusion a priority. Many companies admit to not showing a diverse group of models within their advertisements, but what about in the meeting rooms? The board rooms? This is where the “onlys” need advocates, support to elevate their voices, and insurance that they are treated equally and fairly, and to be given a seat they rightfully deserved all along.
Being the “only” can be lonely and draining, yet I believe it can also be purposeful.
The Pressure to Perform
The pressure to perform is not a new concept within our culture. As children, many of us were taught how we have to do more and know more just to be noticed. In the corporate world, people choose to only see some while ignoring the work of so many others.
As a Black woman, specifically a corporate, Christian Black woman, there is an underlying challenge to be seen and heard while dismantling the label of being angry and hostile. And as a Believer, it is important to be an ambassador of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) in every meeting, every conversation, and through every season of injustice.
To lessen the pressures placed upon us, we have to see our role in the workplace as purposeful.
If God has placed you in the workplace and on the team, it is for a reason. As difficult as it may be, your voice matters and is needed. It is necessary to share diverse opinions and perspectives within the job; yet navigating this journey should not be tackled alone.
Corporate mentoring is important to help in professional development. It allows you to work with someone to map out a plan of action to be successful in a career. It brings great value in helping to navigate political waters in the workplace with someone who is more seasoned in their career and can see the landscape differently.
Corporate discipleship goes beyond mentoring to help disciple those within their careers while pointing them to Christ. It sets boundaries and expectations to see our work as a form of ministry (Colossians 3:23-24) while remembering how we are called to be set apart from others, to not fit into the mold of this world (Romans 12:2).
Corporate discipleship allows you to bring someone else on this journey with you who can pour wisdom and guidance as you balance feelings of inclusion (or lack thereof) in the workplace. Someone who sees you as a Believer navigating faith, work, and the weight of the world’s troubles. Corporate discipleship reminds you to be bold, courageous, always speaking the truth in love while remembering the One who placed you there.
Stewarding the ‘only’ experience
We may not always stand out, we may not even be seen in some settings, but for those who see us — who really see us, we have the opportunity for them to recognize us as image-bearers (Genesis 1:26). We may be the “only” in the meeting and on the team, but let us not overlook how we may be the only glimpse of Jesus that person will meet.
When they finally see us — let them see Jesus in and through us.
Let Jesus advocate every work battle, every silent struggle, and everything which attempts to weigh us down. Let the Gospel reign over us and override every negative thought of not being seen and not being enough. With Jesus, you are enough, seen, and advocated for.