People who have no access learn to navigate in the dark. Instead of letting yourself become a victim to your circumstances, you can actually see it as your edge that you can leverage to pave your own path to success. This message speaks to anyone who is deprived of access in any manner because of their gender, skin color, or immigrant status. But it speaks in a much louder volume to those who can tick all the boxes of the minority status checklist. Being an immigrant woman of color had not been easy for Hang Black, but she used the resilience she built from that experience to climb her personal vista. Through her book, Embrace Your Edge, she uses her voice to inspire others who are experiencing the same disadvantages to break through the barriers of entry into the ranks of leadership and make diversity and inclusion a tangible reality in the workplace. Join in as Hang hangs with Alicia Dunams in this insightful and exceptionally relevant conversation.
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Navigating The Dark: Embracing Your Edge As A Person Without Access With Hang Black
I’m excited to announce our next guest, Hang Black, the author of Embrace Your Edge: Pave Your Own Path as an Immigrant Woman in the Workplace. Hang, it’s so great to have you here.
Thanks for having me.
Fantastic and I know we work together on your book. I’m excited to dive in. First of all, the question I love to ask people is why did you write a book, Hang?
It’s been kicking in my head for about a decade and I feel like the time is now. I don’t know about you, but COVID has made me more simultaneously busy and bored. With all of the conversation and division in the country, one of the reasons I decided to self-publish was the shorter time span to get the message out there. I believe it’s a conversation that women need to have now. With us being locked down, the good news is other people have the time and the ears to hear it as well. It’s written for women who’ve been stuck, immigrants who’ve been unseen and unheard. My path was way more difficult than it needed to be. If I can provide guidance with over 30 years of reading books, going to conferences, multiple years of therapy, and executive coaching that other women don’t have access to, how can I provide that to help others along for someone who’s 10 or 20 years my junior?
That’s fantastic. This is your gift back. This is your service to other women. When we were talking about the book and you came to me, you’re like, “I want to write this book,” and you already were in the process of writing it. You didn’t know who to target this book to. Talk a little bit about that process of figuring out who your target audience of this book is?
At first, it was women for sure. That was going to be hands down the audience, but then I thought more generally about it. It was basically anyone without access. If you think about a lot of the leadership books out there like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, it is a great book. It started a great conversation, but it also came from a place of access. If we peel back the onion on that, there are certainly men who don’t have access. What happens is that you have that layer effect of a plus, plus, plus minority. Being a woman in high tech, we’re already a smaller population than being a minority or person of color in high tech. That’s a small population.
On top of that is not just being a person of color, but an immigrant. There’s a unique experience. Even though I lived in the deep south in the middle of endemic multi-generational poverty, I still can’t speak to that experience. I can only speak to the shared experience of being an immigrant. From there, the good news is there are so many layers in the book that can speak to different audiences. I’ve had male immigrants reach out to me and say that they’ve connected with the immigrant story. I’ve had women who are technically not the minority because they’re white skinned because they’re from Ukraine, but they have that accent that still makes them the minority. It’s definitely anyone who has had to be scrappy. For me, the conversation about diversity and inclusion is incomplete without a discussion specifically about access.
That’s important because when we speak into things as power and privilege, privilege can be being born in the United States. Privilege can be having access, and so it’s difficult to have a broad stroke of these people who don’t have access, these people who don’t have the privilege and these who people do because we have to look at the context. We have to look at the diversity elements that make up who they are. When you talk about the shared experience, specifically, it’s an interesting thing that you’re speaking to immigrant women because that’s where you come from. That’s your particular journey. Within that journey, it’s not a monolith. It’s not a sweep like everyone have this experience. It’s almost using your story as a way to pique interest, to share the lessons that you learned, and other people to be able to be there with you and recognize themselves in you through storytelling.
What’s nice about it is it’s raw and I go into personal stories because here’s the thing. I do feel as women, our personal decisions affect our professional trajectory. Our professional decisions also affect our personal lives. I believe that also as immigrants, we carry the additional burden of having to take care of our elders and taking care of the people that we might have left behind in another country. There are all these additional burdens. What’s been fascinating has been hearing white men and women of privilege because it’s written without accusation, having them read it and learning a lot and telling me, “I bought copies for my children, my in-laws,” or whatever.
It’s a learning experience. It’s all about removing shame, and recognizing opportunity. Especially around the experience of the reason a lot of us fail who’ve taken the hard road is because we believe that meritocracy works because it does. It does for a long time when you’re in the individual contributor ranks. When you’re trying to move into the ranks of leadership, that’s where access plays and matters. We don’t have it and we probably don’t even know what we need, and when we’re faced with it, I do believe that some of us, myself included, were incredibly stubborn about, “I don’t want to access. I’ve always done well with my hard work so why don’t I keep doing that,” and you run up against the wall.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is such an important conversation now, and one of the ways to broaden the conversation is to read individual stories. As you were sharing that people are sharing your story with others, what are some of the things that you’re hearing back from them?
For immigrant women, what comes to life for them is, “I’ve read a lot of leadership books, but there hasn’t been one that spoke uniquely to me with that plus, plus, plus aspect, and to be real about the decisions we make on the personal and professional side.” We talked about the motherhood penalty for instance. Women of color, generally, even if they are working still carry the burden and that’s true of all women, but it’s a plus, plus with women of color because we have this cultural aspect where we still have to take care of the elders. It’s a societal and a cultural expectation. What I’m hearing from white men is the awareness, but also the appreciation of, “You don’t think I’m a horrible person. You do understand,” and that’s why it invites them to have more of a conversation because they don’t feel demonized.
It's okay to be privileged, as long as with privilege, you learn to have the responsibility to help others around you. Click To Tweet
I mentioned in the book that this book is not written for my children in the aspect that they are now part of the privileged class. It’s okay to be privileged, as long as with privilege, you learn to have the responsibility to help others around you. The reason diversity inclusion hasn’t moved as much as it needs to is because who’s designing the programs? Have they asked the people they’re trying to advocate for? I can look at certain programs and go, “As an immigrant woman, or as a person of color, it won’t apply to me. I know for a fact it won’t work.” If you’ve got majority populations designing programs and checking in with other majority populations, it doesn’t resonate well. It doesn’t land.
I always bring up the example of MLK and JFK. JFK would not have been successful without MLK because even though he’s a passionate advocate and well-meaning he doesn’t have the human experience to connect to. He doesn’t have the credibility for the people whom he’s advocating for. MLK would have been completely non-successful without the sponsorship or allyship of JFK because JFK was the person who had the platform. If you combine platform and authentic voice, that’s where we get success.
That’s powerful. We were playing around with the subtitle around navigating in the dark, or the title of the book and that was something I was speaking to you. How are you navigating in the dark?
I do believe that people who do not have access learn to navigate in the dark. What I mean by that is if you imagine everyone climbing up a mountain, at the base, there’s a lot of room. You can work up with meritocracy. There are a lot of routes, but as you work your way up, you realize that some people have a jet or helicopter to the top. Some people have tools and Sherpas you didn’t even know existed. Some people like me, I didn’t even know I was navigating in the dark. How do you know that you’re blind if you can’t see?
I was watching a reality show and they’ve got these competitions, and the guy realizes for the first time that he’s colorblind because he’s supposed to match a green key to a green lock and he can’t see the difference between green and yellow. It’s one of those things where it’s like, “Now I can see color that I have not had access.” That’s the being in the dark piece. Even if you realize that you’re in the dark, so now for me, that ability, scrappiness and resourcefulness is a competitive edge. I see it all the time. Crisis is my jam.
For instance, with COVID, I was already prepared. I was already looking ahead and planning for what if we lived in a much more virtual world. For me, if we can get people to understand it and lock this within themselves and organizations to hire more people who have that scrappiness, resourcefulness, grit, and tenacity, what happens is, when everyone else is in chaos, that’s when you get to accelerate because it’s a competitive edge. As an organization, when the lights are on, the scrappy and the tenacious are still accelerating at a faster pace because now we’re like, “I was doing all this stuff while I was blind and now that I have full visibility, I can work that much faster.”
Going to the title Embrace your Edge, that becomes your edge. That’s how you can contribute to an organization, a culture, and a workplace. Please give us a couple of other tips from your book to leave with the readers here.
Going back to the mountain analogy, you can work your way up the mountain. What I recommend to everyone is don’t let anyone else decide your destination for you. Who says that as a woman, you have to be 100% martyr-ish, stay-at-home mother, or your other option is to climb all the way up to the summit and be this barren, awful executive with no friends? It’s the same thing with a man. Why don’t we give ourselves the ability to target a certain vista, hang out there for a while, and if we choose to hang out there forever, that’s cool or we see another vista along the way that we can aim there. If we want to keep aiming up and eventually land at the summit, that’s awesome.
As you’re moving up, and you do decide to go into leadership, what people miss in the murky middle is the recognition that is not just about hard work. What you need at that moment in time is someone to show you where the secret tunnel is, and give you the key to the secret door. Without that, there is no way to progress and we have to recognize that within ourselves. As we move up, are we throwing ropes down for everyone else behind us?
Unfortunately, there’s a gender based term called the Queen Bee Syndrome, where once a woman gets to the top because there’s a tokenism, even if there are ten seats at the table, she knows that she only has one seat. If another woman comes along, they’re not fighting for 1 of 10 seats, they’re fighting for that 1 of 1 seat. The Queen Bee in a male dominated world keeps everyone else out because she’s protecting her one seat. That is also true of other minorityship and we’ve talked about this a little bit.
We know that there’s an unspoken hierarchy. When the white men leave the room, then the hierarchy is the white women. The next hierarchy is Asian men, Latino men, black Hispanic men, and the women follow in the same order. We judge amongst ourselves. How can we fight discrimination bias if we can’t recognize it within ourselves first? What I like to say is being a minority means us being a smaller population and a group full stop. If you’ve got a bowl of yellow Skittle and you have one blue Skittle, that’s awesome for branding, but not for belonging. Why don’t we give ourselves the opportunity to have a candy dish full of multicolored candies? If all of us are different and we all have the same voice and we’re all the same. That’s what the whole belonging conversation means. It’s being able to have your share of voice.
Beautiful. I want you to talk about the neuroscience and the psychology behind the Queen Bee Syndrome. What is it in us to make those types of behavior in terms of getting to the top and there’s not enough? I’m here, but there’s enough for you.
Don’t let anyone decide your destination for you. Click To Tweet
I love quoting Chris Voss, he’s one of my favorite authors and he talks about credibility. With credibility, you need two things, trust and competence. It’s not trust and confidence because would you rather have a competent plumber or a confident plumber? I’d rather have the competent one. The neuroscience behind it is this fear of when we talk about trust, the human brain is wired not to trust anything that’s different. That’s strike one against us.
Secondly, is competence. If you don’t know someone, how do you judge their competence? You typically know someone who can vouch for them or there’s something that you trust in their background. Meaning they went to an Ivy League school. They went to something that you trust to establish that competence. As far as the Queen Bee Syndrome, we were afraid of this tokenism because everyone says, “I don’t want to hire a woman. I don’t want to hire a minority. I want to hire for the best talent.” I challenge people, what is your definition of best talent? It could be that your definition is off. Why does someone have to go to an Ivy League school versus an HBCU?
Maybe the parameters are different. Maybe the people are at HBCU are working many hours on top of their course load which you see a lot with immigrants as well. What if they’re able to juggle school and work and still accomplish? Those are the scrappy people who are navigating in the dark. They don’t have tools and access, they make it. I love those people. That’s the brain science behind fear. The brain science behind tokenism is studies show that unless you have more than that token person until you have 2 or 3, people always question why that person is there.
For me, when people ask me, “Do you want to be hired because you’re a woman?” I tell them, “I’d much prefer being hired for being a woman, than not being hired because I’m a woman.” That is something that the younger part of me would not have answered. The younger part of me would have said, “Absolutely not. I want to be hired for my talent.” The thing is you have to earn a seat at the table before you can establish that credibility. At this point, I don’t care how I get in. I’ve had enough hard knocks that it’s like, “I earned this one.” When I get my seat at the table, I earned it. I establish my credibility, and I bring everyone else along with me.
Talk about how people can do that to bring other people along with you? I know you speak into mentorship and sponsorship. Tell us a little bit about your suggestions on if you are in an executive level in the workplace, or if you’re in a leadership role, how can you promote an invite and ensure people feel that they belong? Speak to the people who are being impacted by this.
There has been a lot of focus around mentorship and sponsorship, which I still do. I think of mentorship as working through a problem with someone. You’re brainstorming and validating. Sponsorship is opening doors for someone to work on a problem. What’s the next problem? What are the roadblocks I need to get removed? Both of those functions are still one-to-one. We need to focus more on allyship and role modeling.
What do I mean by that? Going back to the MLK and JFK example. JFK wasn’t helping MLK as a singular person to further his career. He was helping to provide a platform to further the cause of a people, of a class. The second part that we’ve been missing is celebrating our role models. We’re doing that a lot more in the last several months, but celebrate those role models. Put them on stage. Celebrate them on social media when there’s a win. Even if we may not necessarily like the person, as long as the achievement is meaningful, let’s celebrate them.
How many times do we go on social media, read books and see a lot of applause for the majority? The question is, there’s more of them, so we need to celebrate them more but we’re not celebrating. If you look at the statistics, we don’t celebrate proportionally. One of the statistics that I quote all the time is the McKinsey Study. When someone enters the workforce, men start at 35% of the population. By the time they get to the C-Suite, they’re at 66% of the population. It’s almost 2X. White women decreased by 1/3, and men of color decreased by 1/3. Women of color decreased by 5/6. We go from 18% to 3% so there’s a huge drop-off. Part of it is you work so hard, it would be nice to be recognized and celebrated. You could get exhausted. Those are the things we can think about, allyship, role modeling, celebrating those role models, but also asking them for advice when we’re designing D&I programs.
With that, Hang, how can people find out more about you, your book and learn more about you?
I’m active on LinkedIn. You can find me under Hang Black. You can also find everything about the book at HangWithHang.com.
I would love for you to leave a final word of advice to everyone who’s reading out there about embracing your edge.
Be limitless. Pave your path. Define your definition of success and go for it. Make it happen and hopefully, you’ll find a lot of advice in my book to help you along the way.
Be limitless. Pave your path. Define your definition of success and go for it. Click To Tweet
You can find Embrace Your Edge on Amazon.com. Hang, thank you so much for being here and sharing your insights.
Thanks so much for having me.
- Embrace Your Edge: Pave Your Own Path as an Immigrant Woman in the Workplace
- Lean In
- Hang Black – LinkedIn
About Hang Black
As an experienced leader in high-tech companies big and small, I’m constantly challenging my teams to see a broader picture by drawing upon my diverse background. Beyond race and gender, I bring perspectives from my depth of experience with complex problem-solving in engineering, with product management and marketing, and from sales where I engage with customers and partners to communicate value in a way that motivates them to buy instead of being sold to.
With this mindset, our teams uncover hidden opportunities by breaking down the elements that prevent us from being successful. In challenging the status quo, we open up the horizons to modernize our tools and processes that will enable us to maximize opportunities to help our customers quickly identify and solve their needs to stay competitive in today’s dynamically digital world.
Sales acceleration is all about building flexible enablement frameworks to scale. In enablement, I build a robust portfolio that equips sellers with relevant content, consistent processes, and effective technology.
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