Serena Williams, Lean In and other Career Advice that Does Not Work for Black Women

Serena Williams, Lean In and other Career Advice that Does Not Work for Black Women

Like many of you, I have been sitting on what happened with Serena Williams this past weekend. All of this and the media response lead me to think about all the things I know of that happened to and because of Serena in tennis lately.

To bring you up to speed, Serena played against Naomi Osaka in the U.S Open. It was a huge match for both ladies. Serena was accused of receiving coaching because of an ill-timed thumbs up to her coach. She was then docked points for cheating. Serena lost to Naomi and things just got messy.

If this were the only thing that happened we can maybe see past a terrible rep call but when we look at all the things that swirl around this woman who is at the top of her game, its hard to let it go.

After enduring a tennis world rife with racism and racist acts against her, this sister has come to completely own the sport. However, she is consistently the only female player drug tested at nearly every “random” drug screen, she is constantly depicted as a “monster” in the media, they banned her cat-suit (meant to help with her blood clots), she is touted as too aggressive, too strong, too big, too loud and on and on.

All of this brings me back to career advice we get from nice white ladies about leaning in, taking a seat at the table, advocating for yourself, self-promotion etc and how incomplete that rule took is for black women.

What is the advice when you are seen as a threat no matter what you do? Mellody Hobson, a black woman, a fav, and the president of Ariel Investments, says “Sometimes when you are a black woman you have to crouch to conquer“. What I take that to mean in theory is that sometimes you have to shrink yourself and be more tactical and strategic in approach to get what you want. I don’t like what that implies either.

As black women in any business, we are judged by a completely different set of rules. Leaning In makes us a target and as much as I get Hobson’s idea of crouching to conquer … I am not sure all that slumped posture is good either.

We have no rule book and I am coming to see that as a good thing. It’s an opportunity to blaze a new trail. When Serena is done, I am sure people will pretend they loved her all along like they do┬áMuhammad Ali. But, for now, she is winning on her own terms, in a tutu, and not accepting anything less than respect.

We are navigating new spaces every day and all we can do is kick down the doors and hold them open with an instruction manual for the girls that follow us.

If I asked about why I write this blog… this is it. It’s my instruction manual for the black girls that will follow me.

If you have another perspective or comment, let’s talk about it in the comments below.



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