What We Control and What We Don’t

aka How do you know when it’s time to leave a shitty work situation?

Lately, a number of my clients have been grappling with the same issue. It shows up slightly differently each time, but essentially it all boils down to the same question: 

Photo by  Alex Holyoake  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash.

How do I get people to treat me how I want to be treated?

In the first iteration, a client and I framed the question as: How do I command more respect? She’s someone who can look much younger than she is and is more accomplished for her age than one might guess. So it was often a struggle to be taken as seriously, and given as much deference, as her white male peers. 

More recently, another client and I were working through how to get her manager to show that she (the manager) valued her (my client) by paying her on par with her white male counterparts. The question this time was: How do I get a raise?

So my clients and I talk about how to solve these problems.

What’s within our control to do?

Illustration credit:  LizAndMollie .

Illustration credit: LizAndMollie.

Well, we can come up with a strategic plan and craft a beautiful argument, we can stand up and advocate for ourselves, we can make sure we’re not undermining ourselves, and we can decide to no longer tolerate certain things. Using these tactics can cause a total shift in people’s behavior and get the results we want.

But the truth is that we cannot control what other people do. We can’t “get” them to do anything – not really. The honest-to-goodness truth is that no matter what we do, people may still treat us poorly. Because, ultimately, whatever they decide to do is whatever they decided to do.

It’s really hard to accept this. Because it feels like defeat. And like there’s no point in trying. But I don’t believe that either. Because I think this is an “and” situation:

We can do our best and we can recognize that the outcomes we want are beyond our control.

Photo by  Etty Fidele  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash.

We can know that both of these things are true at the same time.

And then, after you’ve done what you can, tried a series of strategic changes to your own actions and behavior and still nothing’s changed, then it’s time to look at your options. You could stay or you could leave. If you stay, you can adjust your mindset and expectations – manage your emotions around the poor treatment, essentially. If you leave, you have the chance of things being different and the experience and lessons from having navigated this situation.


you can only do what you can do. But that is, in fact, quite a lot.

Fear of Failure x Intersectionality

Photo credit: Getty Images.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

I work with women of color with big career goals. They want to start their own business or nonprofit, move up to the top of their organization, become a sponsor or champion for other women of color. They want to do build a meaningful career, break the mold, make an impact.

And I love it. I think it’s so awesome – and I feel so lucky – to get to help them pursue their dreams.

But it’s definitely not easy for my clients.

Not only do they face obstacles and barriers just like everyone else, but the obstacles they face are amplified and intensified because they live at the intersection of race and gender (in addition to other identities).

Today I want to focus on one such obstacle: fear of failure. Women of color have a unique experience when it comes to the fear of failure. There’s the weighty sense that, as the “girl” or the woman in the family, they’re the representative who’s responsible for pulling everyone up. There’s the pressure from knowing that outsiders – the white establishment – will judge them for being different and inferior, secretly (or not so secretly) hoping for them to fail. There’s the baseline stress from living in a world where they’re always in fight-or-flight mode against racism and sexism.

Image credit:  IWDA .

Image credit: IWDA.

It’s…a lot. And those are only a few examples.

So how can we, as women of color, make sure we don’t fall prey to all the pressure? How do we tackle our fears of failure? How do we keep from just giving up?

Credits: Noa Denman and  In These Times .

Credits: Noa Denman and In These Times.

First, we gotta acknowledge that all the added pressures we face as women of color are real, valid, and legitimate. Structural racism and sexism abounds in our society. There’s no sugarcoating this.

Second, we have to remind ourselves that we’re not alone in our experience. We have find a support system.

We have to validate each other.

Third, we can’t use the fact that the cards are stacked against us as an excuse to give up on our dreams. Our dreams are 100% worth fighting for. Other people stand to gain from our success – in addition to ourselves and our loved ones. Our path lights the way for others. It inspires. It can do wonders for our communities, the environment, the economy.

So we gotta put aside our fears and double down on the work that needs to be done (and take breaks so we don’t burn out!). 

Battle fear by taking action. 

Credits:  Everyday Feminism  and  VAL3NTEA .

Reach out and talk to someone you trust. Send that email to set up the informational interview. Apply for the grant or enter the competition. Bet on yourself and commit to doing something that forces you to put yourself out there.

Because the world needs you. The world needs what you bring to the table.

Of course, none of this means the discriminatory structural barriers magically disappear. But putting in the work, betting on ourselves, and putting our work out there are all necessary, though not sufficient, factors. We gotta work 10x as hard. And still, success – or “success” – won’t be a guarantee.

But guess what? We sure as hell won’t achieve success if we don’t put in the work. No one is gonna hand it to us on a silver platter.

If we don’t fight for what we want, our aspirations will remain aspirations. 

So. Who’s with me? Let’s shove the fears aside and take a bold step – or leap – toward our kickass career goals.

Got something you’ve been wanting to do? Drop a note in the comments to hold yourself accountable!

If You Want To Achieve Excellence

Excellence (noun): the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.

I recently read some game-changing insights into why workplace feedback isn’t as effective as we think. The idea was that other people aren’t in a position to give us helpful feedback. This is because whatever they say is limited by the fact that it is largely their reaction to what we did or how we did – which is, obviously, highly subjective.

So it’s hard to know what to take to heart and actually work to change within ourselves because feedback is so colored by the other person.

Only we can translate and ultimately decide what makes sense to change or not change based on what others say.

Photo by  Arif Riyanto  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash.

This might feel uncomfortable because many of us are taught – and fully believe – that taking feedback is the way forward on our personal journey to excellence. Which is why getting negative feedback can be so heartbreaking and disorienting sometimes.

Many of the women of color I work with (and know in life) tend to judge themselves incredibly harshly based on other people’s feedback.

We only pat ourselves on the back if other people have praised us first. We find ways to punish ourselves if other people criticize our work. 

The unfortunate result is that 1) we lose track of our sense of self and our own standards and 2) we find ourselves at the whim of what other people say and do. 

Not good.

Losing our sense of self and feeling like we’re at the whim of others’ opinions is NOT going to lead us to our own distinct version of excellence. Because no one else can tell us what excellence will look like for us. There’s no blueprint. There’s no predetermined path. This isn't science. What excellence looks like is different for every single person because we are all unique, we’re guided by our own sets of values, and we’ve had our own blend of lived experiences.

Photo by  Tachina Lee  on  Unsplash .

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash.

Our uniqueness is what we have to tap into if we really want to achieve excellence.

What do we intuitively sense that we’re doing well? How can we do more of that? What are our greatest strengths? How can we build on them? What are we doing when we feel a rush of joy or exhilaration? What do we love doing? How can we bring more of that into our lives?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. Try to answer them for yourself. (If you feel really disconnected from your inner compass and sense of self, it may take time for you to reacquaint yourself – and that’s okay.)

Once you’re able to reflect on these questions and hone in on some answers, I think you’ll see the way forward to excellence a whole lot clearer.

Do you have thoughts or reactions to this piece? Let me know in the comments or send me an email! I always love talking things over with people as I continue processing, myself :)

One Way to Negotiate Our Way to Equal Pay

This year, Equal Pay Day was this past Tuesday, April 2. That’s because that’s the date through which women (in the US) have to work in order to earn as much money as men earned in 2018. It’s another way of expressing the average gender wage gap – 80 cents to the dollar.

Image credit:  Equal Pay Today .

Image credit: Equal Pay Today.

But April 2 isn’t the only Equal Pay Day in the year. March 5 was Equal Pay Day for Asian American women because we earn the most – on average – of the different groups of women of color. (This does a major disservice, however, to Southeast Asian American women, whose Equal Pay Day was September 12 last year.) April 19 will be Equal Pay Day for white women. 

Then comes an over four-month-long hiatus (gap seems inadequate here), until Equal Pay Day for black women happens on August 22. Then comes Equal Pay Day for Native women, on September 23. Finally, Latina Equal Pay day is on November 20.

To be clear, this means that, on average, Latinas must work practically an entire extra year in order to earn the same as men earn in this country. And if that’s not a source of outrage, I don’t know what is.

Image credit:  Love Sujeiry .

Image credit: Love Sujeiry.

But. You all know I don’t like to focus solely on the problems. I like to talk about solutions.

And when it comes to the abysmal wage gap situation in this country, those in power need to behave responsibly and pay women of color more money – specifically Latinas, Native and indigenous women, Southeast Asian women, and black women.

(And for anyone who is thinking, yeah, but these women work primarily in fields that are paid less than others – e.g., domestic work, caretaker work, sales, technician roles, cosmetology – labor is labor. There is no reason that there should be such a vast wage chasm between people doing white collar work and those doing blue collar work or emotional labor or work in the home and so on.)

Image credit: Vox.

Image credit: Vox.

However, I also don’t believe in sitting around and waiting for things to change – particularly when it depends on people in power ceding some of that power or acting against their financial interests to change the status quo. So it’s probably no surprise that I’m a big fan of the work and research of Professor Ashleigh Shelby Rosette, Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Professor Rosette gives excellent negotiation advice – that is actually intersectional.

And if her name sounds familiar, it might be because I’ve mentioned Professor Rosette in a prior edition of my newsletter, The Trajectory, as she was an expert interviewed on the HBR podcast, Women at Work: The Advice We Get and Give. If you haven’t listened to it yet, do yourself a favor and do it today!

Prof. Ashleigh Shelby Rosette

Prof. Ashleigh Shelby Rosette

Professor Rosette and two co-authors published a research paper in 2016 demonstrating how two groups of women of color – black women and Asian American women – face very different and specific stereotypes when compared to each other and to white women. On the podcast, she spoke about using these stereotypes to our advantage. 

She lays out in her paper how we are socialized to believe the stereotype that black women are strong and dominant, whereas Asian American women are competent and passive. Her research found that when black women conduct themselves in line with the stereotype of being strong and dominant, then they’re given more “behavioral freedom.” 

In other words, if black women act assertively in negotiations and in leadership, they’re more likely to get what they want. Similarly, when Asian American women conduct themselves in line with the stereotype of being competent, hard-working, and passive, then they are also given more behavioral freedom.

Although the study didn’t explicitly state this, I’d extrapolate that the practical application is that black women should make sure that they present themselves – and their negotiation demands – in a confident and emphatic manner. And Asian American women should emphasize the quality of their work product, the depth of their expertise, and frame their demands in terms of suggestions in order to get what they want.

Image credit: Vanity Fair.

Image credit: Vanity Fair.

Drawbacks of this study are that it did not include Latinas or Native and indigenous women, did not break down black or Asian American women into ethnic subgroups, and only took into account race and gender identities. Hopefully future studies will be more expansive and inclusive.

Nevertheless, this important and trailblazing research gives us an idea of the potential that using intersectional stereotypes (which we might normally shun) strategically – and to our advantage – to help close this wage gap faster than projected (estimates vary from 2058 to 2106).

For more practical help on this, download my 5 Steps to a Winning Negotiation Mindset: Strategies for Women of Color (released to The Trajectory subscribers April 4; available to new subscribers April 5).

The Problem with Women’s Day / Week / Month

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. Which is great and I’m glad that there are certain days, weeks, and months dedicated to recognizing different marginalized groups, including women. But I can’t help but think that there’s something really off about the fact that women are basically half of the world’s population and we get one day out of 365 days in the year, one month out of twelve.

Photo credit: International Women’s Day 2018.

Photo credit: International Women’s Day 2018.

As if the rest of the year is “regular” and for men, right?

Frankly, the more I think about it the more riled up I get. So I decided to dig into the history of it a little to educate myself. In a nutshell, IWD grew out of the Socialist movement and labor and protests for equal rights for women in the early 1900s and later became an established holiday around the world. Although in some countries, like Russia, it’s an actual national holiday that people get off from work, in many other countries, like the US, it’s still kind of fringe and many (probably most) women can’t make it to IWD demonstrations or actions because they, of course, have to work.

Which brings me to what really frustrates me about these kinds of holidays and “heritage months:” the fact that they feel so tokenizing and, honestly, insulting. Okay, so, officially, we acknowledge that there’s one day out of the year dedicated to recognizing women around the world, celebrating their achievements worldwide (I’m not even sure how one does that), and calling for gender equity.

But what does that actually get us?

Photo by  T. Chick McClure  on  Unsplash .

I suppose the real crux of it is this, if I may be so bold: what women need – especially women of color, especially Native and indigenous women, especially immigrant women, especially poor and working poor women – is not just a holiday or a history month, but actual, tangible, concrete change. In the form of equal pay. In the form of equal representation in positions of power. In the form of freedom from harassment and discrimination. In the form of equal access to opportunities to pursue the work and create the lives that they want.

In other words, more money, more power, more autonomy, and more respect. It’s 2019. Is that so much to ask?

Alright, if I stop ranting for a second and get practical, let’s talk about some actual things that we can do to incorporate all the good things about IWD and Women’s History Month into the rest of the year. Off the top of my head, I’d suggest:

  • advocating for a woman to get paid more at her job (this woman can be yourself)

  • if you employ women, being sure to be a sponsor or a champion of them so that they can be promoted and given raises at least as often as their male counterparts

  • validating a woman in her opinion, lived experience, and aspirations

  • asking a woman what she needs, what she wants, and how you can help

  • getting out of a woman’s way both physically and metaphorically (listen to the podcast in the March edition of The Trajectory for more on this)

  • not cutting women off when they’re talking (this applies to men and other women!)

  • making sure women get credit for their ideas

  • protecting women from being stuck with all of the “low-level,” “unskilled,” and underpaid work

It’s important to note that these things can really take place on any day of the year.

Which ones do you want to integrate into your life?

Also, I thought of these ideas in under five minutes. There are many more. What ideas do you want to add?