Black Women, It's the Attitude

BY: - 15 Jul '10 | Home

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by Tiya Cunningham-Sumter

My day time job consists of working with an underserved population; young, single moms and individuals with criminal backgrounds.   The responsibilities of my job include coaching, job readiness training, resume writing and interviewing techniques. What I’ve learned in preparing people to re-enter or initially enter the workforce is that, it’s not so much the lack of experience but more so the attitude they possess. A large part of what I do also includes discussing career opportunities with employers. In those discussions, I uncovered the secret thought employers have about black women in particular. I was told by an HR professional that some black women aren’t considered for positions because of their attitude during interviews. This professional shared that hiring managers often complain about the lack of enthusiasm, the “I can-take-it-or-leave-it” approach that many black women bring through the door. This, of course results in their not being offered a job. While I was not entirely shocked by this revelation, I did take that information to heart and I share it with every black woman that comes through our program. I push those that I work with in putting their best attitude forward. It is challenging for those who feel they’ve been knocked down and are struggling with life’s challenges. They know what they want, but their thoughts and actions of the past keep them from moving forward.  I encourage them to put whatever is going on at the moment aside and focus on the big picture, the job, the career, the family, or even the business they may want to start. Whatever it is, we as women have to stop sabotaging our own futures and making excuses as to why we can’t.

This journey isn’t easy, but we have to keep moving forward and know that it begins with the attitude. Be positive, trust God and send out positive energy and we will get it in return. Remember, attitude is everything.

By Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, a Certified Life & Relationship Coach, Founder of Life Editing, creator of The Black Wives’ Club and an Administrator of Still Dating My Spouse. Tiya resides in Chicago with her husband and two children.

About the author

Lamar Tyler wrote 2187 articles on this blog.

Lamar Tyler is co-creator BlackandMarriedWithKids.com. He also is the co-producer of the films Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage, You Saved Me, Men Ain't Boys and Still Standing.

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16 WordPress comments on “Black Women, It's the Attitude

  1. AJ Bell

    This is an interesting topic. I don't think this discrimination is limited to getting hired, but also recieving promotions and raises. Those of us with some experience and an education have entitlement issues we think are due to us, simply because we are better off than many other black women.

    Many of us can obtain entry level positions, but rising above that (without affirmative action) is a problem because we stop going the extra mile, and we begin thinking that someone (our employer) owes us something…

    Reply
    1. Tiya

      AJ, I agree with you. The scary part about it is that I don't even think we see it as a problem or something that is getting in our way.

      Reply
  2. K Poitier

    I've struggled with the “entitlement” thing, mostly when my employers were black. Now, that I work for the other race, I've paid more attention to what my co-workers do. They don't show their anger & frustration the way we sometimes do. They'll go in the bathroom & cry, or vent on their lunch breaks, and come back to their desks like nothing happened. They're humble, ever striving to get ahead. I have an entry-level position and I've made an effort to be more humble and focused.
    I had to admit that my attitude caused friction on my previous jobs and I came off as not a team player. I had to dig deep and force myself to “look at the bigger picture,” as you said. I want to be successful. I want to be promoted, no matter who I work for. And, I want to be looked at as the positive, team player, motivational co-worker that I know I can be. It's not even that hard; it's just a matter of being pleasant–the real me.
    Thanks for this article.:-)

    Reply
  3. Oneand Only

    I've seen this alot. There was a young lady that wanted to get promoted to the department I was working in and just couldn't make it. She didn't realize that her demeanor around the office (excess phone usage and attitude toward her current boss) X'd her out automatically.

    Reply
  4. Her Side

    Forgive me, but I need to play devil's advocate here. I rarely accept generalizations at face value. Once you start getting feedback about an entire demographic, you have to wonder if a stereotype isn't involved.

    You see, when young white men “take it or leave it,” they're considered cool, calm, in charge, and having lots of options. Stereotypes can also lead to ambitious blacks being called “aggressive” and “overbearing.” Sometimes the bearer of the opinion is at fault.

    My mother taught me that “as a young black woman, I would always have to be twice as good to get the same consideration.” I feel that was a much more honest offering than the position of “black women's attitudes.”

    Reply
    1. Tiya

      @Her Side, oh I totally agree, there is a stereotype involved. But if this is part of the game we have to play, I let the women I work with know that upfront. Of course it's not fair, but I still want them to at least be given an opportunity, so I use all the feedback I receive for their good.

      Reply
  5. The_A

    My issue with this whole conversation is the persistent assumption that not only does one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, but the entire bunch is responsible for the behavior of one bad apple.

    This leaves black women in a position of 1. defending themselves against other people's accepted truths by working extra hard to separate themselves as an exception or 2. accepting ownership and responsibility for an employer's xenophobic ignorance or 3. checking out completely or 4. challenging the validity of the assumptions being accepted as truth.

    If a white woman is acting a fool, no one assumes this reflects poorly on the general population of white women. She's just one crazy white woman.

    Black women must demand and defend our individuality and humanity even within conversations among ourselves. I also work in HR with very similar responsibilities. I've been in meetings with executive teams discussing racial differences in coded language about the “friendliness of the company secretaries.” I always ask them for specific examples of what is not enthusiastic about the person's behavior. What does that “bad attitude” look like and what impact is it having on the company that would justify hiring or not hiring that person?

    Harriet, in addition to schooling these women about the biases that exist, I would also encourage you to challenge the employer's negative judgments at every given opportunity. People are naturally drawn to the familiar and shun the unfamiliar. It is our responsibility to consult with the employer on the real cultural differences i.e. displaying enthusiasm, and separate these differences from performance/attitude problems.

    Reply
    1. Tiya

      The_A,
      I think it is that we constantly feel like we have to defend ourselves that we may across as having an attitude. I think we can also go into situations with certain expectations of how we will be perceived or treated just as the employer will. I am also curious as to the responses you've received in the meetings when you've asked the questions “for specific examples of what is not enthusiastic about the person's behavior. What does that “bad attitude” look like and what impact is it having on the company that would justify hiring or not hiring that person?” The terminology I usually hear is that it's “the culture” of the company. I do like your suggestion of challenging the employers too. Thanks.

      Reply
  6. ThawtProvoKING

    @The_A” If a white woman is acting a fool, no one assumes this reflects poorly on the general population of white women. She's just one crazy white woman. Black women must demand and defend our individuality and humanity even within conversations among ourselves”.

    This is the case for Black men as well. We are often overgeneralized…

    Reply
  7. Anna

    Tiya, tough job you have. Some people just have attitudes like you owe them something. Some want to be the CEO of the company and forget that you have to crawl before you walk. Keep doing what you do and encourage them. Many black women have been battered, used, abused and left to be the head of the household.. Yes they have an attitude, they just need to be de/reprogramed that they are worth it.

    Reply
  8. Tiya

    Anna, I agree. I know they don't come from a good place, but if they consider their futures, sometimes you have to do what you have to do to get where you want to be.

    Reply
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