How Black women can opt out of toxic workplace culture

OPINION: In a workplace historically designed for cis white men, the best solution may be to create our own financial independence
By Melissa Alice - Published on Jul 16, 2020
The gender pay gap in Canada is even more pronounced for Black women, who earn 59 per cent of what white men earn and 87 cents for every dollar white women earn. (iStock/skynesher)

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Lately, there has been a lot of healthy dialogue about Black women’s heart-breaking experiences with racism and bias in the workplace. These workplaces are often corporations whose media we consume and whose products we buy. There is a bitter irony in the fact that entire companies and industries that rely on Black purchasing power for their own profits treat their own Black employees so terribly. At the intersection of gender and race, Black female employees are even more vulnerable to mistreatment. By working toward and achieving financial independence, Black women can opt out of these toxic workplaces altogether. The result: Black women taking back their power, agency, and self-determination.

Black American women spend more across several categories of goods and services than their white counterparts. While there are very few studies about the purchasing power of Black Canadians, it is safe to say that it is still significant. Companies are happy to accept Black women’s dollars, but, as employees, they are consistently undermined and the target of career sabotage. Social-media influencer Sasha Exeter has exposed the bullying tactics of Jessica Mulroney, a member of the country’s elite and one of the most well-connected women in Canadian media. By doing so, Exeter has brought this devastating dynamic to the forefront. This is one very public example, but thousands of Black women across the country likely have their own stories about everything ranging from microaggressions in the form of insensitive offhand comments, to blatant discrimination.

Black women are less likely to report these incidents in the workplace for fear of losing their jobs and the lucrative benefits and pension plans that come with them. Voluntary resignation is usually also out of the question — Black women are often without safety nets, are the main breadwinners, or are supporting other family members. The cultural and societal pressures that Black women face leave them extremely vulnerable to feeling trapped in toxic workplaces. While corporations and organizations are now promising to do better, working toward financial independence will empower Black women to walk away from harmful work environments.

Financial independence can be defined as owning assets that produce enough income to surpass living expenses. A positive cash flow, which is more income than expenses in a given time frame, is a critical component of saving and investing toward this independence. There are only two ways to boost your cash flow: increase your income or decrease your expenses. Assuming basic needs are met, the focus should be on aggressively reducing expenses and increasing income. This might mean obtaining a side hustle and saying no more often — both to loved ones and to the brands and businesses that are creating more wealth for their shareholders while others struggle.

Another challenge is access to financial literacy and resources. According to Statistics Canada, only 31 per cent of women said they believed they were financially knowledgeable, compared with 43 per cent of men.  The gender pay gap in Canada is even more pronounced for Black women, who earn 59 per cent of what white men earn and 87 cents for every dollar white women earn.

There are many Black female financial professionals, communities, and organizations that provide information, guidance, resources, and support. The online FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) community consists of working people from all walks of life who share knowledge and encourage one another while striving toward their own FIRE goals. Many private and public organizations have programs designed to help Canadians purchase their first home. Black Moms Connection, a Canadian organization that has expanded internationally, regularly offers financial-literacy workshops and conferences that cater to the unique needs and experiences of Black women and mothers.

As much as these challenges paint a bleak picture, there is a lot of opportunity for Black women to leverage the strengths they already have while gaining access to new wealth-building information, networks, and resources. Black women are both resourceful and efficient when it comes to work, running households, starting new businesses (Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the United States), and obtaining formal education. The very things Black women do above and beyond what is actually required just to prove their career competence — or simply to survive — are strengths that can be leveraged into diligently and consistently investing in themselves, their businesses, and more assets. Ultimately, this will lead to greater wealth and security.

The journey to financial independence is not easy, but working in organizations that do not encourage you to thrive is harder. Whether you love your job or not, it is always wise to build that nest egg. Ideally, everyone works in an environment where they are empowered and their voice is heard and respected. But if there ever comes a time when you have to choose between your job and your mental health and well-being, you’ll be more than fine if you choose to walk away.

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