The Invisible Heroes Of The Workplace


by Dwayna Haley

All women assimilate for corporate success.  It’s true. Success has always been defined by male driven dominance in the workplace, and we’ve learned to mirror that code of conduct to reach those coveted senior positions. I mean, let’s face it, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is basically a manifesto rallying women to assimilate. No shade, I swear.

I’m not saying we must be men to achieve “success,” but there are behaviors we’re expected to model if we aim to be successful. If you get married or have a baby, that doesn’t change the expectation that you arrive early, stay late, and travel at a moment’s notice. A senior female executive I once worked with shared (and boasted) that she skipped her grandfather’s funeral to be available to her boss. She proudly shared this little nugget as an example of the true sacrifice required for success. I mean… what?

The rules of engagement in the workplace are complicated for all women; especially those who aspire to reach senior ranks. The personal sacrifice required is brutal and situational navigation is a matrix on a good day. When you’re a woman of color, you face a matrix within a matrix, shadowed by years of cultural disparity, emboldened by personal indifference, and complicated by the complete lack of self-awareness to internal bias. And so, those of us who walk this path are not only asked to assimilate, but to also adorn the expected “uniform” which comfortably casts us as “the help” rather than a leader within an organization.

Imagine waking up, every day to be virtually ignored eight plus hours of that day. Five out of seven days a week. And, when in need of counsel to navigate the political system inherent in most workplace structures, there’s nowhere to turn because there’s not one single face in middle or senior management that looks like yours. Not one person that understands you.

Women of color stand on the front lines of that struggle every day, with zero blueprint or tangible example of “success,” and endure the ongoing painful experience of nullification. Every day she wakes up to keep trying, pushing, and striving, hoping that she’ll break through the concrete ceiling and one day be in position to positively impact diversity.

That woman is a badass woman. She no longer silently sits at lunch counters in protest fighting for human dignity and respect. Today, she sits in a boardroom continuously raising her hand awaiting acknowledgement and a legit seat at the table.

To all of you badass women of color who get up every day, lifts your head, dusts your shoulders and perseveres towards your own definition of success: I salute you. I see you. I hear you. I thank you.

And I offer this small encouragement – societal progress is rarely seen in one’s own lifetime. In our microwave driven world, there is a false sense of expectation for change now. But, our perseverance means that my two-year-old daughter Lillian might just reference this article one day for historical data rather than current context.

This is for the badass women in my life: Sherry Brennan, Ayanna Robinson, Melissa Taylor, Danica Kombol, Soon Mee Kim, Demeika Wheaton, Carla Cartwright, Katie Beardsley, Colleen Quirk Dillaway, Dawn Brun, Shani St. John, Anna Okula, Jana Thomas, Shelly Spoeth, Jodi Fleisig, Julie Gaskin, Jennifer Bins, Daphne Hoytt Dickerson, Nicole Morant, and my mommy, Anise Mastin. I am… because of you.


By day, Dwayna Haley “Causes Good Trouble” as a Vice President at Porter Novelli leading efforts within the corporate and consumer practice. By night (or the wee hours of the morning), she writes via Diary of A Mad, Interesting Woman for, a blog she created to discuss hot topics and pop culture – all from the perspective of a working, married Gen X Mom. She resides in Atlanta with her devastatingly handsome husband, Bryan, and their children, Noah and Lillian.


Photo by Chad Finley

Categories: Career & Finance, Succeed


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