"I didn't hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig."
That was the commentary Bill O'Reilly offered on Fox & Friends yesterday in response to a speech Congresswoman Maxine Waters gave.
Later in the day, a frustrated White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporter April Ryan not to shake her head at him.
To those who wonder why these two happenings are even news, it's because they sparked a large scale outcry. U.S. Representative Maxine Waters is black, as is April Ryan. And unfortunately, these are the type of slights black women across the country experience everyday while working.
What It's Really Like to be a Black Woman at Work
When news broke of how these women were publicly treated as they were going about their jobs, black women took to social media to share their stories about what it's really like being a black woman at work.
It's not pretty. Peruse #BlackWomenAtWork on Twitter to get up to speed on just how difficult conditions for black women can be.
As I started to read through the tweets, I started to remember my own unpleasant experiences as a black woman working in a corporate environment.
When I wore my hair in an afro to work, I was pulled aside by a manager who requested I do a better job at "trimming it up" to make it look more acceptable for the workplace. I never wore my hair in an afro to work again.
There was another time when I expressed my concerns to a Human Resources manager about why my salary was below the minimum threshold for my position and title. This executive, who was also black, advised me to just "be happy" with what I was currently making and not to make a big deal out of it. He finished by telling me "white people don't like it when black folks complain about their money."
And I can never forget about the time I was in a meeting with a high ranking official who lobbied California government officials on the company's behalf. As he was talking about his interactions with then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, he made great pains to exaggerate his name while morphing it into "Schwarze-nigger" while looking directly at me.
Conversations like these in addition to off-handed comments about how "articulate" I was, or the concerned advice that it didn't look good if I ate lunch with my black co-workers in the cafeteria too often, reinforced my belief that corporate America was not for me.
Eventually, I quit to build my own business where operating as a black woman at work is filled with positive experiences rather than negative ones.
I'm not alone. Events like these have caused far too many black women to exit companies where they make significant contributions, in favor of environments that make them feel welcomed.
While most business leaders recognize diversity is good for business, they don't fully understand that it's not enough to just hire a diverse workforce. They also need to create an culture that makes it easy for everyone on the team to thrive.
You have to create an environment where it is difficult to find enough stories to fuel a #blackwomenworking hashtag.
Here are a few strategies to help.
1. Accept that slights are possible at your company.
It's easy to put your head in the sand, or shrug a complaint off as an isolated event. But ignoring the problem or sweeping it under the rug doesn't make it go away. It just makes the problem more difficult to deal with once it grows to large to be overlooked.
2. Encourage diversity of thought.
Don't make your people feel like a number. Or a quota. Or that token person that gets put in company photos and videos to prove how diverse your team is.
Encourage your team to speak up, and to express their unique perspective as a means to grow your business.
3. Embrace outward expressions of diversity.
Make sure the people on your team are free to express themselves fully at work. Whether that's in the way they wear their hair, or in how they express aspects of their culture in what they wear.
4. Make it clear that wrong-doing won't be tolerated.
If someone on your team expresses they've been treated unfairly, it isn't enough to apologize on behalf of the person who committed the offense. Your team needs to know that appropriate actions will be taken to prevent bad experiences from happening again.
5. Proactively work to get everyone on your team on board with diversity.
Just because you set a policy for your company, it doesn't mean everyone on your team will support it.
Interactions with co-workers and managers at all levels are what shape an employees' experience with your company.
Work to create a culture that works to get everyone on your team to embody your commitment to diversity just as much as you do.