The views expressed by the contributing Entrepreneurs are their own.
We live in a world where black excellence is everywhere. Entrepreneurs like Oprah, Rihanna, Michael Jordan, Jay-Z and Beyonce dominate the airways, TV stations and retail stores. Each of these stars entered the arena in different ways and all managed to embody Black excellence to grow their businesses to unimaginable heights.
But why are the extraordinary qualities revered by celebrities so often overlooked—and sometimes even stifled—in everyday white and Eurocentric workplaces? It doesn’t take a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expert like me to tell you that black employees get a bad rap at work. Racism, stereotyping, inequality, and culture clashes make it so that both employers and coworkers can exclude, diminish, and sometimes target black workers by downplaying their exceptional qualities.
Despite the systemic reasons why some black workers may backslide and lose their luster in the workplace, there are others who hone their exceptional qualities, overcome obstacles, and shoot for the moon. Today, we will discuss five qualities of Black excellence, how they are cultivated in Black communities, and the myriad ways they manifest in the workplace.
Related: It’s Black History Month. Here’s how to show black employees you care.
1. Black culture encourages making meaningful connections
In many black households, family and community are one and the same. A person’s grandmother is everyone’s grandmother and often has the role of making sure no one is left behind, alone or without guidance. Black entrepreneurs who come from traditionally black households understand that building meaningful connections and caring for one another is essential to survival.
This plays out in the workplace as Black employees seek to connect with people at different levels of the organization, network across departments, social statuses, races, genders, and nationalities to create connections that feel mutual, meaningful, and welcoming. Lifting others up, controlling them, and making sure they are included is a quality of Black excellence that Eurocentric workplaces would be wise to recognize and value in their Black employees.
2. Black culture fosters creativity
When all Black people had each other and the hope that they would transcend the boundaries of slavery, Jim Crow and now the prison industrial complex, many people cultivated a sense of creativity. Whether by inventively using food scraps left by white plantation owners during the slavery era or making music and art during segregation, blacks had to be creative in order to find upward mobility, to circumvent constraints from the wider society and most importantly, to survive.
Black culture encourages us to look at obstacles and find ways to overcome them. We are encouraged to find new opportunities, think outside the box and innovate new solutions – even if the existing culture tries to stop us. Creativity could be the secret sauce why so many black entrepreneurs experience success.
Related: Managing a Black Woman? See how to become a partner and ally in her success.
3. Black culture invites joy and humor as resistance
Despite all that has happened in the black diaspora, many people still find a reason to smile and find joy. Instead of crying and giving in to sadness, many of us had to find a way through the most difficult parts of our lives and cultivate an inner strength that manifested as joy, humor and wit.
This is not just a sign of someone who likes humor, but someone who is resilient to adversity and who can turn a difficult situation into something joyful. Some who experience workplace trauma may exemplify anger, hatred, or sadness. But dealing with trigger and difficulty with satire, improvisation or puns to create a humorous moment and create something positive is a soft skill that should be recognized in more black employees.
4. Black culture demands justice
The vast majority of people who cite racism or inequality in the workplace are people of color, especially black people. Many black people had to collectively fight for their rights, which created a sense of fairness and justice mentality that is pervasive throughout black culture.
In the workplace, a passion for fairness can look like speaking up when a discriminatory comment is made. It can also look like leadership taking responsibility for implementing planning and initiatives equally among all employees.
Black workers are often passionate and cry out for justice because it has been a necessity in our families and communities. This quality helps us promote diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) in communities, companies and workplaces.
5. Black culture encourages people to project confidence
“Keep your chin up” is a common phrase heard in Black households. The idea is to never let mainstream culture see you sweat. The goal was to work hard and project confidence even if you were feeling low. Freedom, security, jobs, and other opportunities may not always be available, but Black culture tells us to project confidence, endure, and keep moving forward.
At all levels of the organization, blacks strive to show pride in their work. They can strive for excellence in their corner of influence, even if it is not the most powerful position in the company. One can appear strong at work even if things in one’s personal life are not in good shape. Demonstrating resilience and projecting self-confidence are qualities of Black excellence that have been passed down through the generations and deserve recognition.
Whether it’s Beyonce, Jay-Z, Michael Jordan, or Oprah, all the black entrepreneurs we know and love have qualities rooted in black culture. While all black entrepreneurs are innately endowed with qualities of black excellence to one degree or another, some have yet to reach their full potential, while others have truly embraced and embodied them to overcome obstacles and soar to success. Now is the time for conventional, white, and Eurocentric workplaces to finally recognize the unique qualities that come from Black culture and highlight the employees who exemplify those qualities.