A Little Louder For Those In The Back: 4 Things to Keep In Mind For Young, Professional POCs

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

If you’re a young POC like me, you’ve probably pondered some of the same things when it comes to deciding what is professional, and what will undoubtedly be categorized as otherwise…

What I love about the black community is that no two stories are the same. Sure there are similarities, but there are also many variances in our narratives. Differences in coming-of-age. Differences in family-life or upbringing. Not to mention, differences in opportunities given and taken. There are many variations of a similar story within our community, and I believe this is true for many other minority communities as well. 

One experience I’m sure many of us in the POC community can relate to in some way, is this balancing act of professionalism within our culture and society. For example, what is considered professional? What isn’t?

What makes a person unprofessional, exactly? This was a question I pondered to myself as I read yet another article about a young, black woman being criticized for wearing out her natural hair in the office space. And as I look to the future, I wonder how I will be seen “professionally” to my peers and superiors. 

As a future social worker, you can bet that I’ve been doing my best to glean as much information as possible from current MSW’s and LCSW’s about what to expect as I head into the field bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And as a future social worker of color, you know I had to seek out some other POC professionals in the field and ask for their wisdom as well. I’ve learned so much from spending time with other Social Workers of color–and maybe not only from their words, but through observation of their work and their everyday life, I’ve been able to think through a few things that I hope to remember as I head out into the professional field as a young woman of color. 

You deserve to be here.

Who was it that stayed up until 1am working on that personal statement for applications? Who took the time to study for the GRE test–and passed? And, who actually got into the program, and through hard work it actually paid off? You did, my friend. This alone should inspire you and give you confidence that yes, you deserve all of this. In minority cultures, somehow the notion that you don’t deserve to be here got steeped into our minds and too often, when a fantastic achievement or a once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself, we back down. Is it because we didn’t bust our rumps off to get to this point?

No. Sadly, it’s usually due to this gravely mistaken idea that we don’t deserve a place at the table, or a piece of the pie, or—any other colloquialism I could put here to stick this point. You deserve to be here because you worked for it–plain and simple. Don’t let anyone make you question that. Just keep doing you, boo!

Your white colleagues are unashamed–you should be too.

It’s the truth–this was a key takeaway I gleaned from attending the LSWO (Latino Social Workers’ Organization) Conference at UC Berkeley this week for a recruitment event–I work in HR BTW. I asked a question during the Q&A breakout session. As I am going to be starting my Master’s program soon, I asked the panel, what are some things, as an incoming MSW student, that I should keep in mind as I am pursuing my degree–besides, you know, getting my degree?

Among the encouragement and pieces of key advice, was this statement, “Your white colleagues aren’t ashamed to ask for it (scholarships, assistantships, research positions, etc.) and you shouldn’t be either.” As I mentioned before, you got to this point–YOU! You not only deserve to be here, but you deserve to ask for the same opportunities and chances that your white colleagues do. Lay aside your pride and pick up your courage. Go for it–if you don’t, you can be sure someone else will.

You are here to better your community, so hang in there.

Look, I get it. Things may be tough right now. You have deadlines to meet. Priorities to keep straight. And people to please. But let’s not forget the reason you’re here.

I don’t know about you–and maybe because it’s due to the fact that I’m going into a “helper” type of field, but for me, it’s important to remind myself of why I am doing what I am doing–or at least, what I am trying to do. As I’ve mentioned before, Representation Matters. Ask yourself often, why am I doing this again? And hopefully you’ll come to the realization that what you’re doing, actually matters. Where you are now, no matter what career or field, is good. You, as a POC are a representation of your community, your family–present and future generations. Stick it out and do your best in what you’re given.

Take chances to advance and make a lasting impression. And remember to give it back. Give it back to the people and places that raised you. Acknowledge that who you are, has been shaped and molded by the people and places in your life–and more than likely, that will include your community. Don’t forget them while you’re out there changing the world.

You shouldn’t have to change who you are to make non-POC feel comfortable or see you as “professional”.

Your professionalism isn’t defined by your appearance. It’s not defined by your accent or way of speaking. It’s not defined by the type of family or community that raised you. Could it be affected by these things? Sure. But don’t let that stop you. And stay far, far away from anyone who puts you in a not-so-cute little box and labels you, unprofessional. In fact, I think that speaks more to their own lack of professionalism, than yours–don’t you think?

Professionally, if where you are at currently puts you down for the way you speak, the way you wear your hair, or the way you embrace your culture or identity–maybe it’s time to rethink some things. Before you ask them for a second chance–to prove your professionalism (ugh.), ask them how exactly this takes away from your ability to get the work done, or your ability to interact with other professionals, or your ability to be “professional”. See what they say–I’ll bet most of them won’t be saying much.

Do you agree?

What other things should I keep in mind as I head out into the professional field as a POC?

POC: person of color

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

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    Courtney PW

    Honey this blog is so necessary and inspiring. As a POC working in the Human Resources field I have to stand strong and battle the labeling. If I don’t then there will be no representation for the POC within my company. Without representation, there are no mentors, or voice of reason. I’m learning to be unapologetically black, not ignorant, but without shame of my culture, without shame of the hair that comes from my roots. It’s something that may take time for some of us, but once we get there, we’re paving the way for the next generation to rise above the labeling!


    • Leighann


      Thanks so much for reading, Courtney! You’re not alone in that–I used to work in HR too, and there is definitely a lack of POC professionals in the office space. I love what you said about paving the way for the next generation, because you’re so on point. If not now–when? Keep doing you, sis–you will do BIG and great things for the world–and your company, of course!

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    Really enjoyed this article. It’s really important to have confidence as a professional no matter how different you feel. It’s so inspiring to read this. Thanks for sharing.


    • Leighann


      Thanks for reading, Zinny–you’re so right! It is important for us to have confidence in the job market and also be true to who we are, while not compromising our uniqueness!

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