by: Minda Harts, Founder, The Memo
My dad played tennis in the Marines, and growing up he took me and my brothers to the park and taught us how to play. This was one of the ways we spent quality time together. Years later, The Williams sisters hit the tennis scene and I remember how excited I was to see two black girls with beads in their hair disrupting the game.
I don’t know if my dad had the same intentions as their father Richard, but one of my brothers did go on to play collegiate tennis. When my youngest brother became the break out star of the Harts kids; he started to invest in his success and planned on going pro. Unfortunately, after college, he was so burnt out from being the “only one” and dealing with subtle and not so subtle forms of racism, that he ended his tennis career. My brother saw it in collegiate tennis, and from a larger stage, many of us witnessed it throughout Venus and Serena Williams' careers.
On Saturday after watching the women’s US Open between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, I was disgusted at how two black women were treated at their jobs -- and highlighted for the whole world to see. Williams experienced sexism and unfair work practices, and for Osaka - while she ultimately won - she wasn't able to fully enjoy the moment as the first Japanese-born woman to win a Grand Slam title. Unfortunately, this is just another day at the job for many women of color. When black and brown women are upset, we aren’t allowed the agency to show it, or we are called “angry” and “unprofessional.” And when we do win, oftentimes it’s met with opposition on the way up the ladder. And, I can’t help but pose the question again: who’s invested in our success? To be honest, sometimes that initial investment has to come from us!
I think it’s safe to say that many women, and women of color especially, were in their feelings after watching or reading about what took place on Saturday, and rightfully so! After I calmed down, I thought about self-advocacy. At the moment Serena felt she was being mistreated at work, she used her voice to advocate for herself. There was no one else out on the court that could--it could only come from her. Often, for many of us at work, we are our only and best advocates, and the only way we change the workplace dynamics is by speaking up for ourselves even if some might deem it inappropriate or out of place. It’s not their place to say if it's your character and career that are at stake. It’s not always easy--but I promise speaking up for yourself will always be worth it.
Last week we offered a career boot camp on how to be your Best Advocate at work (you can purchase the recording). Each of us is the curator of our own career and we have to equip ourselves to speak up on our own behalf even when the cards might be stacked against us; history has shown us that those who advocated for a better workplace, made it better for the next generation.