April 14, 2016

Being an Angry Black Woman Saved My Career

Before you begin reading this post, let me offer this quick disclaimer: I’m an Angry Black Woman (ABW) and I love it. But, if you were to meet me you wouldn’t characterize me as angry, per se — I’m typically very friendly.

However, when something needs to be done, I have no problem channeling that side of my personality. When I flip to ABW mode, you’ll know that it’s time to get down to business and that I’m going to be very clear about what’s required from the team to accomplish our goal.

This has helped me in various aspects of my career, including launching TechRadar — one of the largest consumer tech sites in the U.S.. In fact, the first editor-in-chief of TechRadar US (full disclosure: a black man) once told me that all he needed was a Google Sheet and an ABW in his subsequent roles to keep him and the team on track. For me, this is the highest praise.

Over the years, I applied this work style to a few positions that led to successfully launching several content marketing programs. However, in one situation a manager once told me that even though I was performing very well, I was too “authoritative, too direct and that I needed to soften my language to my colleagues.”

I wasn’t surprised, there’s always the inherent risk of an ABW being viewed as a bit too harsh on others, but that feedback still stung.

What’s more, I didn’t want to play into anyone’s preconceived notions of working with a black woman — difficult to work with, mean, rude, etc. — since there are so few of us in tech. So to appease my manager and change how I was perceived, I tried to tone it down.

It sucked.

‘Keeping it Real’ Can Go Wrong, But ‘Playing Nice’ Comes at a Price

While test-driving my newly acquired communication and management style, I found there were some landmines — the first one being clarity.

In the past, my ABW would’ve had a very structured, concise way of communicating project scope or assigning work. I wasn’t worried if people thought I was too direct — I needed something done, and I wasn’t going to mince words.

Now, I found myself tripping over my tongue or even muddling the request because I was too focused on being less authoritative, less terse. Often, my coworkers would have to ask me to clarify the ask, which was frustrating for them and myself.

The second landmine was that was my professional brand took a hit. Some of my peers had informed me that before the debut of my softer side, I was perceived as uber-organized, a leader, and strong. Now I was beginning to be viewed as acquiescent, and even worse, scattered.

The Angry Black Woman is Back

Upon hearing that news I happily made the decision to bring back the ABW — in fact, it’s the best decision I could have made for my career and more importantly myself.

I initially took issue with being told that I was “too authoritative and direct,” but I wanted to be diplomatic and show that I can not only listen to criticism but take it in and grow. But, I realized that I let my former manager’s feedback fuel my fear of fulfilling a stereotype. And I should have pushed back upon receiving it.

Besides, being an ABW has what helped me advance in my career, I can be diplomatic, but I also have a backbone and an opinion — if that makes some peers or managers uncomfortable then that’s their issue, not mine.

For me, it’s more important to be clear, concise, and strong, than wishy-washy, and unclear.


Embrace Your Inner ABW

Everyone has an angry black woman inside of him or her. It’s the part of you that is serious about your job and gets sh*t done. If you’re asked to tone that down, I say push back.

Don’t force yourself to adapt to the feedback that would adversely impact your ability to communicate effectively or do your job well.

Embrace what makes you great and make no apologies for it.


Kelly Johnson

Kelly Johnson has been a writer and editor in the tech world for more than 10 years. She is currently Director of Content Marketing for Reputation.com

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