Much like our fellow BIPOC womxn, brown girls break barriers by simply existing in the sectors we choose to work in. The corporate sector, being historically white, able-bodied, cismale and affluent, has developed into a more inclusive place for organizations over the last decade – opening doors for heterogeneity. We have brown executives, womxn in leadership and racialized people at the table.
Progress is great, and there is general optimism for more equitable and inclusive corporate environments in the years to come. As young brown girls see themselves further represented in diverse industries, we will see more brown faces in the boardrooms, in decision-making roles and in front-line positions driving forward services and programs they connect within communities that value their insights.
If you are a young brown girl looking to pursue a career in the corporate or private sector, here are some tips to ensure your journey is fruitful.
1. Develop your self-awareness
You may often be the youngest person in the room, often the only racialized one, often the only womxn. Sometimes, you’ll be all three or a combination. Remember that even if you stand out, you deserve to stand tall and take up your space. You have worked hard to get where you are and your insights are invaluable.
2. Do your research
If you’re early in your career, reach out to womxn (brown or not) who have jobs you’re curious about, or career paths that intrigue you. LinkedIn is your friend, and you can reach out to professionals and arrange coffee chats to ask questions about their career paths. Always ask what someone else would recommend for resource-based learning in their field of work, and ask for someone else they would recommend you speak to. This is how you build your network. Research also means doing internet searches of industry job prospects, workplace etiquette and more. The Harvard Business Review is a top resource for learning about the basics of the corporate sector.
3. Job shadow or volunteer for work that interests you
In addition to doing your research through online and in-person discoveries, ask the womxn you connect with to job shadow them for a half-day or for a meeting. Regardless of whether you’re in school, working or neither, you can also sign up to volunteer for events such as conferences that will give you exposure to people, work and knowledge that you can use to expand your knowledge on a particular area. Look up professional associations and networks in your area that you can volunteer with.
4. Remember that your lived experiences matter
Now that you’ve done your research, apply for jobs deciding whether functional or chronological resumes will work best for the work you’re doing. Functional resumes serve well when all of your job experiences do not necessarily align with the sector or type of work you’re going into. Chronological resumes list out your professional and volunteer experiences in the order they happened from most to least recent. In your cover letters, be sure to share your lived experiences to the extent you are personal—these are valid, these are valuable and they will allow you to stand out. For example, if you are driven to apply for a job with a bank because your family-owned an accounting business back home, then so be it.
[Read related: The 9to5 Misfits: 5 Ways to Get Unstuck in Your Career]
5. Find your allies
Once you score your job, find allies in your workplace. These could be non-brown womxn but what matters if you have individuals with similar experiences or trust that you can be real with, who can guide you, who you can confide in.
6. Build mentoring relationships
Mentorships allow you to find someone either through a formal or informal means, who can guide you through your career in the corporate sector. Perhaps it’s the person you job shadowed earlier. Having someone with different and often more elaborate experience than you is important in helping you see ahead. Oftentimes, young brown girls don’t have a legacy of family or friends in a field or sector, as we pioneer our careers in new places. That’s why mentors (and allies) matter so much. Mentors help guide you through your career journey. Remember that mentoring relationships should be reciprocal. So if a mentor provides you career advice, support them in return by endorsing their work, volunteering for a project they’re working on, and so on and so forth. The most important question you should both be asking each other is, “What can I do for you?”
7. Join Affinity Groups
Many corporations will have employee resource groups (e.g. for womxn, for young people, for LGBTQ+ people, etc.). Often-times, there will be groups for racialized or brown professionals outside of a company to meet and network. These groups can help you socialize and network, while also building a support system for you.
8. Know your rights
Ask about your company’s diversity and harassment policies. Know them, refer to them and be cautious of what rights you have in your workplace. If you are faced with any sort of discomfort, be comfortable in consulting with the allies and mentors you trust, and referring back to the policies that can guide how you navigate that discomfort.
9. Remember, you are not confined to speak about diversity alone
As the only person of colour, womxn, or young person in the room, you may be designated to speak on behalf of a larger community. You can deny these requests, or point your colleagues to resources to help them learn.
10. Cut yourself some slack
Finally, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s not easy being a trailblazer, breaking barriers and sustaining a 9-5 job. You may have to work harder than others, so remember to prioritize taking care of yourself.
While these tips can apply to more than just the private sector, and no sector is free from historic whiteness, remember that your work is valid, important and impactful regardless of where your career is at or will take you.