What It’s Like to Be in Corporate America With a ‘Black-Sounding Name’

I recently came across an article about an African-American woman who changed her name in order to get ahead in corporate America. This made me think about how growing up, I was always called the ‘Oreo’ amongst my friends. In today’s society, an ‘Oreo’ is someone who is Black on the outside, but has ‘white tendencies.’ This term could describe an African-American who uses proper language, grows up in a two-parent household, and what they watch on TV. I grew up in income-based housing but with two parents in the household, which was very rare for where I lived. 

My name is SaDiedrah (pronounced Sah-Dee-drah.) I was given the nickname “Dede” when I was just six years old. This was a name that my family members called me, but not many friends. I went to a Historically Black University (HBCU) for my undergraduate career. During my tenure there, I went by my first name. I held a leadership position on campus, volunteered in my free time, and held a campus job as a writing consultant. When I started to look for jobs after college, I began to wonder if my name was preventing me from getting interviewed or hired. Ultimately choosing to attend a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) for my graduate degree, this issue made me think about how I would be perceived on campus. This is a concern I see frequently in the Black community — and especially in corporate America. According to the Huffington Post, those with Black-sounding names have lower chances of getting an interview than those who have a more American name.

 

When I started to look for jobs after college, I began to wonder if my name was preventing me from getting interviewed or getting hired.

 

This issue is definitely on the rise since an increasing number of African-Americans students are earning college degrees and applying for corporate jobs. I think that there should be more diversity workshops in corporations, and even non-profits, about issues like these. It would not only benefit the company, but also the person seeking a job. Just think: when you hear an ethnic-sounding name, what is your first thought? If you worked in the HR department for a company, would you be more inclined to pick that candidate to interview or a name you are more familiar with?

With a variety of companies being scrutinized over a lack of diversity in their brands, efforts to be more inclusive of different cultures, especially the Black culture, are helping to boost their brand awareness. According to Fortune, there are 24 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, and only two of those CEOs, managing partners, and presidents are of color (and their executive teams often reflect the same). This issue will remain prevalent if the companies don’t take it upon themselves to reconstruct their policies and ensure that their decision-makers are representatives of their future pool and their customers.  

 

I recently did a questionnaire on my Instagram page where I asked my Black counterparts what experiences they’ve had at their workplace. Responses included the following:

“Being asked, “Can I touch your hair?”

“People gossiping and comparing me to my white counterpart who came in with me.”

“My hair is always a topic of discussion, rather than my work, which is frustrating.”

“Omg, people forget to include me in on meetings and emails. I’m always the odd one out.”

 

With more millennials entering the workplace and implanting workplace culture into their job search, diversity and inclusion have become more popular for Black professionals.

Imagine having to always think that you will be scrutinized in the workplace, not just because you a Black, but because you are a Black woman in a white, male-dominated environment. Experiencing this first-hand can literally take control of your mind and your life outside of work. Constantly having to think you can’t be yourself to the point where everything you do is being scrutinized, and feeling like you have to be a perfect worker in order to feel like you are getting ahead.

 

Imagine having to always think that you will be scrutinized in the workplace but not just because you are Black, but because you are Black women in a white, male-dominated environment.

 

Experiencing being Black in an environment where your counterparts don’t look the same as you made me feel like I had to work 10 times as harder. I was afraid to speak up because I knew all eyes would be on me, and I wanted it to be about what I was saying, not who I was. When I changed my hair, there was always a comment about it. “OMG, you changed your hair! What would you call this style?” I had one co-worker ask me what I used on my hair because her granddaughter is mixed, her hair was nappy, and she didn’t know what else to do with it. These comments made me want to tone down my “Blackness.” I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I’m not in order to make those who don’t look like me feel more comfortable.

These comments made me want to tone down my ‘Blackness.’ I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I’m not in order to make those who don’t look like me feel more comfortable.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, I attended a HBCU for my bachelor’s degree. The HBCU culture is all about promoting Black excellence and influencing the next Black leaders of the world. An HBCU is a safe haven for Black students, with it focusing on being founded specifically for Black scholars and keeping the Black culture alive. Attending an HBCU is a privilege, and graduating from an HBCU is an honor. People who may not have graduated from one may have a negative connotation toward them, and it can cloud their judgement. HR or the hiring recruiter may disregard your experience, your work ethic, and your accomplishments, and just focus on the fact that you are Black.

According to the Women in The Workplace 2018 survey, women of color are not only significantly underrepresented, but they are also far less likely than others to be promoted to manager, more likely to face everyday discrimination, and less likely to receive support from their managers.

 

Diversity is what you have; inclusion is what you do on a daily basis.

 

Diversity is what you have; inclusion is what you do on a daily basis. Incorporating a work environment that truly encompasses this takes more than just having an African-American brand ambassador or hiring someone who doesn’t look like the rest of your team. It includes you having a strategic roadmap on how you plan to make a workplace that is suitable and where everyone — no matter the race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or age — can succeed. Creating an environment where everyone is recognized and has a fair chance to succeed will be the first step in making this a reality.

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