From Talk to Action: Making Safe Spaces a Reality for Black Women in the Workplace
Black women face a unique set of challenges that are often overlooked in mainstream conversations. From colorism and racism to health disparities and wage gaps to issues closer to their heart like identity and belonging, finding a blueprint for love, black women must navigate various issues that require space to discuss and address them.
Safe spaces allow a supportive and inclusive environment where women of color can share their experiences, gain insights and heal through the stories and solutions shared on issues that affect them. This blog will explore the importance of safe spaces for Black women and how to create them.
Why Safe Spaces Matter
First, safe spaces foster connection and access to information. For Black History Month, I hosted a fireside chat series called Confidence in Color for women of color because of my experiences as an Afro Caribbean Woman evolving at “work.” I didn’t have an abundance of mentorship and guidance to help navigate areas like entrepreneurship, financial planning, and leadership. Still, I always knew the value of the knowledge of my elders or those ahead of me and longed for it.
Our elders have historically provided wisdom, guidance, and sound judgments that provided direction and created a sense of emotional safety. As we progress in our professional or personal lives, it can become difficult to locate experienced individuals who can relate to our unique struggles, mainly due to systemic problems such as racism and glass ceilings, and a lack of understanding for the need for likeminded and cultural base mentorship, particularly for women of color.
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey
While it’s beneficial to have supportive colleagues and allies, connecting with other Black women who have faced comparable challenges provides an additional level of psychological safety that should be appreciated in all settings. One of the women who attended the virtual chat series expressed how empowering it was for her to hear from other women in similar situations, which was why she decided to log on. There were over 50 women who felt the same.
I established the series precisely because of this desire for a shared experience and a need for mentorship by other women of color.
Secondly, safe spaces allow you to see that you are not alone. As a psychotherapist, one of the core issues I come across when high achievers come to therapy is the sense that they’re alone in their experiences, even in supposedly inclusive work environments where there’s a lack of diversity among executives and managers. This often results in black women’s accomplishments being undervalued or overlooked due to unrecognized biases. As a result, women may internalize these experiences, leading to anxiety, self-worth issues, acts of overcompensation that contribute to stress, and burnout.
On the flip side, safe spaces can also serve as an avenue for organizations to evaluate whether their initiatives are genuinely effecting change and meeting the needs of marginalized groups while establishing avenues for advancement and diversity – both essential factors in retaining a diverse and competent workforce and fostering balanced work cultures.
How to Create Safe Spaces
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a safe space is “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.” Creating a safe space for Black women requires intentional efforts. Here are some steps you can take to create a safe space:
- Encourage open and honest communication: Encourage Black women to freely share their experiences and perspectives. Create a supportive environment that allows for vulnerability and validation.
- Create formal or informal check-ins: It’s difficult, to be honest, when you don’t feel safe. Consider if there are ways to create systems to attain information without fear of retaliation so the lines of communication can remain open and effective. Can check-ins be built into regular practices like weekly meetings or monthly forums, not just black history or women’s history month?
- Provide resources and information: Provide information and resources that address the unique challenges and stressors women of color face. This can include workshops, seminars, educational materials, retreats, or opportunities for affinity groups and access to mentors or coaches.
- Invite allies: Invite allies willing to learn and support all women of color and commit to their own personal growth. This can include creative learning through book clubs, lunch and learns, and conversations that challenge personal bias and foster true diversity and inclusivity.
Safe spaces are essential for Black women to discuss unique issues and find support.
By creating a safe space, we can foster people-first environments where Black women feel included and can see the value of their achievements, find validation and support, as well as connection, balance, and psychological safety.
Establishing safe spaces requires deliberate efforts. The onus is on organizations that endorse and facilitate these spaces to regularly evaluate their efficacy in assisting underrepresented groups to feel listened to, appreciated, and empowered.
I would love to hear what resonated with you from this piece and what you think would be helpful in fostering safe spaces for black women or how you create safe spaces for black women.
Amanda Fludd, LCSW-R, is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Mental Health consultant. She works in partnership with organizations and institutions like schools and corporations to assess an organization’s emotional health, designing customized mental health and wellness workshops to help teams navigate stress, burnout, and trauma so they can thrive well.