It's not a Black woman's job to be less threatening in the workplace. This is how to boldly occupy space.

It's not a Black woman's job to be less threatening in the workplace. This is how to boldly occupy space.
Joyce Johnson.Monica Gary
  • The following is an excerpt from Joyce Johnson's new book, "No Back Doors For Me."
  • In it, she advises African American women to be bold and own the space they inhabit at work.
  • She also says that women should find a place "where you will be celebrated versus tolerated."

The red lipstick is a signature of mine, but you might be surprised to know that it is not a color I prefer. If you knew me from years back, you would have seen me in paler, more neutral colors. I wanted to be noticed for my intelligence, not my luscious lips.

It was Lucille Ball who inspired me, when she was reported as painting her lips a

It's not a Black woman's job to be less threatening in the workplace. This is how to boldly occupy space.
No Back Doors For Me.Joyce Johnson
bright red color to be less threatening to men even though she was in a position superior to theirs.

There it was! Another way to be less threatening. I went right out and bought several shades of red.

Who would've thought there would be such influence in a pair of red lips - something that I had always considered inappropriate for a work setting. It almost seems simple-minded that people can be swayed by the color of a person's lips. But then again, is it not equally incredible that I am compelled to make these considerations to boost my gender and racial acceptability in the business world?

These adjustments are only part of the little big things that added to my back door experiences.


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So, my question is, "How can anyone feel so threatened by me?" I am a mere 5' 7." Yet I am told that my personal presence and conversational articulation have caused others to fear me; yet I am often complimented for displaying an executive presence.

The perception lies in the insecurities of the beholder. I can only conclude that there are antiquated preconceptions still in existence whereby an African American woman speaking with any type of self-confidence, knowledge, and authority can somehow be mistaken as having defensive and passive-aggressive behavior by my white peers and leaders. However, their constant micro-aggressions, insults, and sarcastic tones were acceptable when I was asked to train on emotional intelligence. Yes, I am laughing out loud!

I want African American women to know that the onus is most definitely not on you. It is not your hair, your tone, your weight, height, or what lipstick color you wear. It is not a problem you should bear. The problem is in the eye of the beholder.

Read more: PwC's chief inclusion officer shares how the company developed a new toolkit to promote allyship in the workplace


Just yesterday, I helped a young woman of color put together a plan to navigate her next career move. After we were done, I said to her (and I would iterate the same to you), once you check off all these boxes, and they tell you that it is enough, and you still don't get the promotion, then make a decision to find a place where you will be celebrated versus tolerated!

You owe it to yourself and to everyone around you to celebrate who you are, to be confident in your abilities, and to receive the rewards of your hard work. I know that there are companies out there that will offer you this, and if not, create your own, because you are just that damn good!

Excerpted from "No Back Doors For Me" by Joyce Johnson. Published by Self Publish -N- 30 Days. Copyright © Joyce Johnson, 2021.

Founder and CEO of Why Sales Network, business coach, and author, Joyce Johnson has over 20 years of experience as a "Corporatepreneur." She's the author of several books and hosts a podcast called "Let's Talk About It #collegelife."