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Breaking The Chains: 4 Skills Women Of Color Need To Climb The Corporate Ladder

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

When was the last time you felt misused and mistreated, especially for the knowledge and power that you possessed?

For me, it was when I worked as a receptionist at a tax firm back in 2018. One time, I had to train a new receptionist, who praised me for my patience and diligence in teaching her the ropes. The higher management, though, didn't acknowledge my efforts.

Did I necessarily need recognition from anyone in the office? Not really. However, not receiving that praise from a higher official caused me to feel unappreciated at the company.

This type of dismissive behavior is the main reason why women of color feel underappreciated for their efforts in the corporate world. Even with our growing work ethics and skillsets, women of color are still less likely to be acknowledged positively by their managers than other women.

So, how can we turn the tables on this narrative and paint a better picture for our futures? Read on to find out the efforts needed to shake the room today.


The corporate world is not for women of color who are unsure of themselves and their abilities. Therefore, it's crucial to constantly build up your mental capacity to handle even the most demanding moments on the job.

I understand that grit may sound like a harsher way of saying that you must have bulletproof courage. However, it's the perfect word needed to assess this growing issue.

The corporate world revolves around the standards and methods set forth by older and more fair-skinned individuals. And most of the time, they are men who only focus on what will make themselves more money.

As women of color, we have to understand that grit stands for more than just confidence. It also means:

  • Standing your ground while making big decisions.

  • Standing up for yourself when higher officials underestimate your abilities.

  • Knowing when to pick your battles and fight them.

  • Deciding what's worth your time and what will waste it.

  • Learning from the people who would never want to see you at the top.

Emotional Intelligence

There's no doubt that, as women of color, we are more emotionally in tune with our feelings in certain situations. However, keeping that control intact is crucial when climbing the corporate ladder.

Why? Simply because when these standards are set for corporations, so are their stances for emotional feelings in the boardroom.

To thrive in a corporate environment, you cannot let your emotions take over, especially in challenging circumstances. You also cannot let your feelings show during any part of the workday.

Otherwise, no one will view you as a valuable asset to the company. In their eyes, if you aren't helping make money, then you don't belong in the business or their spots.

Instead, take these approaches when encountering a moment of vulnerability within a corporate environment:

  1. Assess the situation. Were you told something derogatory by a manager? Did a coworker discredit your skills while working on an assignment? This moment is where you should come to grips with what just happened.

  2. Address your emotions in private. If you feel your emotions will take over from this situation, permit yourself to have some space. You can express your feelings in a private setting in a way that works best for you.

  3. Position yourself in public. After you have had your moment, go back to the task at hand. The key is not to let others see you down. Otherwise, they'll have leverage on you to use later as you move to the top of the chain.

Cultural Diversity

Now this area is the one that we as women of color would thrive in flawlessly. The reason why is simple: we are the culture!

If there's any group of people who knows diversity best, it's us. The main problem we're facing today is that current corporate environments are unaware of the true meaning of diversity.

It doesn't just mean hiring a few people of color and calling the company diverse. It's more about implementing different insights into reaching the same business goals that other people offer.

If your dream is to make it to the top, then you have to realize these main points:

  • Culture starts with you. No one will care about diversity until you show higher officials what it looks like from your perspective.

  • Not everyone will jump on board right away. Sometimes, you have to show people what diversity looks like better than you can tell them.

  • You have to be the one to correct people when they're wrong about diversity. Doing this positions you as the leader you will become.

  • Don't be afraid to use your own misrepresented story to drive forward your agenda of creating a more diverse work environment.

Flexibility and Adaptability

One of the main reasons people of color are not successful in breaking the corporate barrier is their unwillingness to be flexible with their actions.

Remember, these systems were not built for us. Therefore, if you want to make representation more possible for other people of color, you must first understand that sacrifices are part of your daily life.

And no, I'm not just referring to the simple sacrifices you would have to make daily, such as trading in time for your mission. I'm also talking about:

  • Being willing to work ten times harder when others don't have to work as hard.

  • Being open to educating yourself on how to get ahead where you are now.

  • Taking time to come up with an action plan for your ultimate goal.

  • Having backup plans in place when one area of your project fails.

  • Going above and beyond your expectations to get to where you need to be at that moment.

When you're able to show up as a flexible individual, you're able to position yourself as a woman capable of performing any task. This is one of the primary keys needed to break those glass ceilings and put more women of color at the top of the corporate totem pole.

The Future Of Corporate Culture Lies In Our Hands

I'll be the first to tell you that it's never easy to achieve something that looks virtually impossible. That includes having a seat in higher positions on the corporate ladder for women of color.

However, a task like this is never impossible for us. We have to become more equipped with the skillsets needed to make it to the top.

Thasunda Brown Duckett and Rosalind Brewer were able to break those barriers for themselves and their companies, even with the odds stacked against them.

They are now part of the 1.2% of women of color who run a Fortune 500 company. And if they can do it, so can you.

That also means that we can run boardrooms, make crucial financial decisions for companies, and even establish long-lasting business relationships to keep operations afloat.

We are valuable assets that are needed to thrive within the business world. So, it's time for us to claim our seats. Are you ready?

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