So I’m a nerd; at heart, in spirit, an undercover geek. Although I ditched the mid-80’s schoolteacher glasses and their annoying lenses for pretty, safe-for-contact-lens-wearers eye make-up and sexy stilettos, I’m still a geek. Dig in my pretty purse and you’ll find at least two books that I’m reading at the same time, a couple of notebooks, some #2 pencils and random post-it notes with scribbling all over. Do not take me anywhere close to a bookstore or you will lose me. Yes, I’m a geek, have been happily so for over three decades now, and oh…
I work in corporate America at a job that I ‘m good at precisely because I’m a nerd. I love to learn, and although I won’t admit to it in public, I miss school. And did I mention I was Black? There are not many of us Black corporate sisters out there in Corporate America, period. And although very few in the corporate world admit to even seeing race, it is really bigger than the elephant in the room just like anywhere else for that matter. And to add peculiarity to singularity, I’m an introverted, overly intellectual, a bit shy, somewhat quirky version of your usual overachieving, Ann-Taylor-clad, outspoken corporate chick.
Nothing wrong with the nerd concept, actually it’s turning out to be a pretty popular trend lately. Yet it’s still very much a rarity in the corporate jungle where most of the other animals (and I’m using this term very much respectfully, although realistically) are male, extroverted, and oh…
Needless to say, there’s not much I, or any other Black geeky corporate sister, needs to do to stand out! In the elevator, in the meeting room, at the small cafeteria, there usually are not many of us, period. Yet in the patriarchal, traditionally male-dominated environment that Corporate America still is, fitting in is kinda one of the pre-requisites. One has to fit in with their teams, departments, departmental fitness challenges against other less fit departments and group lunches with other hungry groups. One has to feel, breathe and feel “corporate” just to think of making it up the perilous ladders of promotion and advancement. And when you’re Black, female, and nerdy, “leaning in” is not exactly enough. Sorry Sheryl Sandberg, I did enjoy the book, but we may need another (longer) version just for Black nerdy women.
So how does a Black, nerdy corporate sister fit in when by definition the concept alone seems contradictory? Well, after some time theorizing, revitalizing, reading, and Googling about and pondering the question, the answer was pretty simple after all. Nerds by definition stand out, and Black corporate girl nerds are no different, except we add a whole dimension of race and identity to the equation. And isn’t it after all, what we all thrive for? To be our own unique selves, yet still be part of the group without having to abandon or compromise what makes us really us?
Maybe after all, despite all the theorizing, criminalizing, ostracizing, and plain complicating of the entire issue, maybe it’s just that simple. We can do both; fit in and stand out. Maybe if everyone could accept that, we won’t even have to “lean in," or out for that matter.
Solange is the creator and editor of www.thecorporatesister.com, an online blog for Black and minority women in the corporate world. As a corporate sister herself after years in the corporate space, she found there were limited resources and outlets for women of color working in corporations. This is not just a place for Black women in Corporate, it's a place for all women and men in or outside of the corporate world, to share their experiences, learn from each other, and find ways to reduce the economic, cultural and psychological divide keeping all of us from reaching our full potential.