I know what it’s like to feel invisible at work. I experienced it at every stage of my corporate career, and I thought things might change when I entered the C-suite. I was wrong.
Three Black women worked on the executive floor — two administrative assistants and me, the only Black female executive. I sat in the boardroom at a table with my white male colleagues. I traveled with them in business class to see clients. I generated millions of dollars in revenue for the company. I parked my luxury car next to theirs and took elevators with them daily. I socialized with them at elegant black-tie events, fine client dinners, and weekend leadership retreats. But they didn’t see me. They kept mistakenly calling me by our Black assistants’ names or vice-versa.
As a Black executive, Castleman thought she would stop feeling invisible once she reached the C-suite — but white male colleagues still confused her for the admins. (Maybe it goes without saying, I never heard them mistake the mail room guy or the security guard for a leadership team member.) To this day, I wonder — what was I supposed to do for them to see me?
After many years, I left the corporate world to become an entrepreneur and coach at CGI Executive Coaching, intending to help one million Black and Brown women get recognized by 2030. My mission is to offer women of color the resources and tools to become too good to be ignored and to sit at the table of their dreams. Because it is they who continuously top the lists of unseen team members across organizations in the U.S. First, I’ll explain the challenges facing Black and brown women in sales, and why addressing those challenges isn’t just the right thing to do: It also makes business sense.
Table of contents
Challenges women of color face in the workplace
Business case for DE&I
4 ways to elevate women of color in sales
BONUS: What to do if you committed a microaggression
Understanding the challenges facing women of color in the workplace
As the McKinsey and LeanIn.Org Women in the Workplace reports prove year on year, Black and brown women face: More difficulties in being valued for their work More frequent microaggressions More obstacles in their promotion journeys Being ignored and undervalued on different professional and personal levels is one of the worst feelings you can experience in a working environment. It comes down to respect and credit that each team member deserves on a fundamental level.
The business case for DE&I
According to Reward Gateway research, the top reasons American workers feel demotivated are: Lack of recognition (69%) Feeling invisible or undervalued (43%) Having a bad manager (42%) Undervalued team members become demotivated and disgruntled, and some start the ‘quiet quitting’ practice that has taken the corporate world by storm in the last year. Others look for other options, and leave organizations and teams that don’t value them. Related: Increasing Your Sales Team’s Diversity Improves Your Bottom Line One reason inclusive and compassionate leadership gets so much buzz today is that people are finally starting to open up about being unseen at work.
4 ways to recognize, elevate, and appreciate women of color in sales
1. See your minority sales team members as individuals This should be obvious: Every person working for you is an individual. Treat them that way! Get to know them! These basic examples demonstrate the bare minimum: Learn their names, and how to say them Recently, one of my coaching clients complained about how her sales managers at work act like she’s invisible. They don’t see her and don’t acknowledge her hard work, value, and ambition. It all starts with the wrong pronunciation of her name. (I used to be sensitive to that, too. I hated when people called me “CC”, Cheryl, Sherry, or any of the name variations, even when we worked together every day!) One way to make someone feel like they’re being seen is to call them by their name and pronounce it correctly. Make an effort to learn their names. You cannot show genuine appreciation to someone if you keep misspelling or shortening their name, or calling them by someone else’s name. Related: The Real Reason You’re Having Trouble Hiring Women in Sales See them as a whole person, not just an employee Your employees are complete personalities that have a life outside of work. Ask about their well-being! Learn the names of their families and pets. Find out what they’re excited about in the coming year. Carve out some time to get to know your people personally. It makes all the difference.
2. See the value your minority sales team members create for the organization — and call it out Take the time to recognize how your team members contribute to your company’s work, and validate great performers. Don’t allow those people to work in the shadows or let others take credit for their results. Here are ways to recognize and reward minority sales team members for the value they create: Praise them in weekly stand-ups or huddles Send personal thank-you notes Celebrate accomplishments and wins Share their work as a positive example in your next team meeting Remember, team culture is set at the top. So you are leading by example. By demonstrating your appreciation for these team members and their accomplishments, you teach your entire team — and entire company — to notice, value, and appreciate them as well. Give those contributions a name and a face, and watch your team members’ motivation and satisfaction levels transform. Related: 77 Motivational Sales Quotes To Inspire Your Team in 2023
3. See your employees in your future — and tell them so When you acknowledge people for their work and give them the attention they deserve, you help build them up to take on bigger challenges. People who like what they do, and are valued for their contributions, want to be challenged and prove themselves. Show your belief in their capabilities and potential. Also, tell them you see them promoted to Vice President or Chief Officer. Tell them you see them leading a top account, directing the team, sitting at the executive table, or running the company one day. Related: How to Write a Sales Leadership Resume Set the bar high — and help them reach for it.
4. Help others see them on social media Because we highly value our digital footprints nowadays, it makes a remarkable difference when you notice, like, or comment on your team members’ professional posts. Connect with them, engage with their content, and give a shoutout for the excellent work they demonstrated on a project.
Here are 5 employee recognition examples for social media:
Give credit and recognition
“We couldn’t do this without [name]. Her/his/their knowledge, passion, and commitment…
Talk about their hard work
“I’m proud of my team members, [names], who put their hearts and souls into this project and went above and beyond to meet our customer demands.”
Gently expose vulnerability
“[Name] doesn’t get the credit she/he deserves. She/he/they continue to create successful outcomes for our clients and inspire all of us to do better.”
“I’m honored to work with a driven group of people who excel in what they do and believe in our vision…”
“I feel fortunate to work with [names] and am grateful to have them on my team.”
BONUS: What to do if you committed a microaggression
When you implement the above steps, your team-leading skills will go a long way. However, changing perspectives is like implementing a new habit — it takes time. And even when you’re trying to do everything right by valuing and acknowledging a minority representative on your team, there could be a situation where you unintentionally commit a microaggression. For example, you mispronounce their name. Or, when trying to get to know them better, you ask where they’re ‘really from.’