The Workplace

Tips to Help You Navigate the STEM Field as a Black Woman

By: Brianna McCullough

As a black woman in a white male dominated field, STEM (science, engineering, technology, and mathematics) , I feel the need to express what I have encountered. I have seen everything from discrimination, lack of diversity, insensitivity to the black community, and switchers (you know the black folks who think they’re white).

A lot comes with being a black woman in STEM so I want to give you some advice to thrive in your career as well as discuss some of the things I have experienced since starting  my own career as an integration architect. Throughout reading this I want you to remember that black women only make up 2% of the technology space (which is the space I fall into).

1. You won’t find many people who look like you.

What I mean by this is that there won’t be many black people in your position because there is a lack of recruitment from the black community. The black people you do meet, might be the ones who believe racism does not exist. Don’t distance yourself from them but rather bring them in, empower them, and let some of your knowledge rub off. We are stronger, together.

2. People WILL try you.

GIRL the first week that I started my first fortune 500 job out of college, I had someone refer to me as “boo-boo”. When this happens you have to CHECK THEM, asap. If anyone refers to you by anything other than what you want to be called (whether that be your government name or nickname) nip it in the bud the FIRST time, that way they know to not let it happen again. Make sure no matter what you do, you’re demanding your respect.

3. People won’t talk about issues that affect the black community in the workplace, but they will talk about everything else.

When Alton Sterling, an unarmed black man was killed, I mourned for DAYS, it was hard for me to even sit still at my desk and act normal. White people will be silent, they won’t care, they feel nothing, they will act oblivious. BUT when police officers get killed, you can’t even hear your music through your headphones because they’re talking so loud in outrage. It’s very entertaining and emotionally draining.

4. You will feel ISOLATED

I usually isolate myself before I allow people to isolate me, it’s honestly just a habit that I picked up from working in predominantly white workplaces. I really don’t care to sit around and discuss “Pokemon GO” when my black brothers are being gunned down in the streets like animals, no thanks, I’ll pass.

5. You have to learn to SPEAK UP

People will assume that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or that you landed in your position by chance (joke), or maybe even affirmative action (bigger joke). Stand firm in whatever you say, be confident in the words that leave your mouth. Don’t let anybody speak over you or talk down to you. PERIOD!! Make sure you always show up with more than enough to bring to the table. You know how they say we have to work twice as hard to get ahead? It’s so true.

6. You have to take care of yourself.

It is so important that we are not taking work home with us. Very rarely do I even take my work laptop home with me. I always say that WORK should stay at WORK. During the week I make sure to always have  a cold glass of white wine and a good book to relax. On the weekends I make sure to set u plenty of dinner dates, and routine mani/pedi’s. I also listen to the “mytaughtyou” podcast which is geared toward black women in business.

7. Turn OFF THE TV AND LAPTOPS.

Yes, I had to put this in uppercase letters because consuming too much of the media will give you extreme anxiety. Limit the amount of media you consume down to 1-2 hours a day. I took a social media/TV break for a week and I’ve never felt better/more liberated. The media is scientifically constructed to give us a heart attack. Please do not buy in, get yourself a book and have a seat.

8. Get a SUPPORT SYSTEM

I do not know what I would do without having my family and friends in my corner. It is so important that everyone have a support system whether it be inside of work, or on the outside. You have to get out and connect with people, I know it can be hard especially when you feel isolated, but you have to! I moved to a brand new city and as soon as I got here I started attending events to meet folk. Get out and find the events because usually they won’t find you.

These are just SOME of the things that I have learned in the past years. If you’re like me, then you look for people who may be experiencing the same things, it’s always nice to get through it together. Cultivating relationships in this field with like-minded individuals is another major key to success. It helps you remember, you’re not alone. Take cre of yourself, and be brave. We are all counting on US.

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Taryn Jones
1 year 2 months ago

Amazing article! As a black women in STEM myself (mathematician) I have found the work place to be a disheartening environment and it caused me to leave corporate America. Fortunately, we have someone like you to get the word out and give a fair warning to those entering these fields. Thank you so much and keep pushing forward!!!

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