Professional and Career Development for the Rest of Us
As a largely self-taught software engineer professional working in the American tech industry, I’m always looking for new ways to improve my skills and professionalism in my career. The tech industry moves quickly, so keeping up to date is critical to an individual’s advancement in this industry. But the tech industry is a reflection and amplification of the world at large, and whatever happens in the material world often feels bigger and louder in the tech industry. We can thank The Algorithm for this effect.
One of things that get bigger and louder in tech is the clear disparities in professional, personal, and career development resources available to marginalized professionals like myself. I exist as a multiplicity of marginalized identities: immigrant, Black, African, woman. If contextualized resources for my personal growth are rare finds in the world to large, it’s next to impossible to find tutorials, advice columns, and other tools in the tech industry.
But let me zoom out into the world we live in today. Professional and personal development is a huge industry, and barriers to popularity have been drastically lowered with the tools the web gives us. Ten years ago, blogging was the tool to build a brand and these days, you can start an Instagram account and flood it with inspirational quotes to get there much faster. Or you can launch a YouTube channel and vlog your way to a sizeable audiences.
With all these platforms and channels available to us, you would think that finding ones that are niched for Black lived experiences would be easy to find. It’s actually much harder. Based on the articles and headlines from the personal development content available today, the target audience is very, clearly, Not Black. Blogs from the Harvard Business Review to zenhabits are written with a universal voice that, while approachable and understandable to the world at large, feels very generic to me.
I’ve struggled to find a resource to help me grow personally for years. I’ve asked, tweeted, googled, and searched for an accessible platform that assumes and understands the Black center, to little success. Even when the resource is written by a Black person, it still feels disingenuous when they don’t acknowledge the tangible and obvious hurdles to personal growth that the United States of America presents.
Since 2017, the state has killed nearly 1000 Black people (https://www.statista.com/statistics/585152/people-shot-to-death-by-us-police-by-race/), a number that is only increasing with each year. These deaths have started entire global movements across the globe. Once the pandemic hit, and Black and Brown communities in the United States suffered devastating mortality rates, the psychic toll of existing in this world demanded even more from us.
And, somehow, we are required to show up to our places of work, to sit through diversity trainings, to engage with white coworkers who, quite frankly, do not live in the same kind of ever-present threat that Black and Brown people do. To underscore the inequity, these diversity and inclusion resources are often oriented around packaging up white guilt into a performance that’s acceptable in the workspace without addressing the disparities in Black people’s experiences at work. Black people are still not advancing into positions of ownership in these corporations. And the state is still killing Black people. Yet, the center is very much still non-Black people’s feelings.
How do you show up to work the day after the police kill another Black person? The answer is both “you don’t” and “you don’t have a choice” because: capitalism. So, short of us boycotting our jobs en masse the next time a police officer kills a Black person, how are we going to deal with this increasingly unsustainable emotion toll?
I need these professional and personal development resources to be clear about the stakes Black people face in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion initiatives run as extensions of human resources have a very clear mandate to protect the company, not the worker, so I want us to be honest. DI&E ain’t it. Being a working class worker and also a Black woman means I’m gonna be gaslit by every means available to these systems because Black equity, true Black equity, is literally bad for business.
Personal and development platforms espouse the merits of showing up as your authentic self, something that Black people can’t even do while going to the supermarket. How do they expect us to show up to work authentically? It’s not even about showing up or not showing up as your authentic self, or using the right pronouns, or flagging micro aggressions. It’s about gritting your teeth through their meetings and getting your work done before your insurance runs up when you get pushed out. It’s about documenting every, single, interaction, task, project, accomplishment, email, and meeting so you don’t end up gaslighting yourself when things go sideways.
And Black folx are doing this constantly, but few career development resources tend to this Black center. They either tell you how to get in or get out so you can get in somewhere else, not about how to stay sane when the white woman who sits across from you in marketing “yaaas queeens” you on her way to a promotion.
This is one of the main reasons I started Kabuvu, to give Black people resources that make sense. But I want to see more of us being open about our workplace experiences, or at least I want those resources to be more accessible to our people.
Where do you get your professional and personal development resources?