Many Black women know what it’s like to walk into an office and discover that nobody else looks like them. As someone who has dealt (and continues to deal) with that feeling: it sucks. Your coworkers may become friends — allies, even — but they just don’t get it. They’re flattering, but you wish they wouldn’t ask a million questions about the weave you got over the weekend. They’re sweet, but when you learn about another hate crime, they can’t relate. You simply go to the bathroom to cry quietly alone.
But don’t get it twisted, this isn’t a sad story about how hard it is to be a Black career woman. This is about celebrating! My name is Laurise McMillian, and I’m the Social Media Editor behind @Refinery29 and @R29Unbothered the Instagram account dedicated to empowering and affirming Black women. People probably think that Unbothered begins and ends with our almost 40K Instagram followers, but it's actually a manifestation of the real-life Black girl magic that exists within R29's walls. I know that the community of Black women I have in my office is rare as hell — there is lots of evidence to suggest black women experience isolation and pressure to "dim their light" at work — but my R29 tribe has helped my workplace feel like home.
The abundance of Blackness I experience on a daily basis has given me a deeper purpose at work.
I remember when I first came to R29. I was nervous and intimidated as hell. But one day, as I was checking out freebies in our cafeteria, this girl with a really cute crochet hairstyle came over to me and introduced herself. She was Sesali Bowen, senior entertainment writer. I don't know if she sensed my nervousness, but she didn't show it. Instead, she told me about an online group chat that all of the Black folks in the company used to connect with each other. She also invited me to hang out with her and some of the other Black women in the building. The sense of sisterhood I experienced was almost instant, and soon after, that sense of belonging spilled over into other aspects of my job. Suddenly, I felt less intimidated — their presence affirmed the fact that I belonged here, too.
Beyond having coworkers to swap Insecure season four theories with, I also found mentors — people who went out of their way to give me opportunities I wouldn't have dreamed for myself. former social media editor Ally Hickson was one of the few Black women on the social team, and she embraced me as a little sister. She offered advice whenever I needed it, and always kept me laughing. Whenever I thought my ideas were too big, Ally would say “who gon’ check us, boo” (wisdom from her love of The Real Housewives of Atlanta).
When Ally was finally given the greenlight to start Unbothered, a project she’d been working on for over nine months, she invited me to do the work with her. Instead of becoming defensive about no longer being one of the only Black women on the social media team, her actions and openness made it clear that there was room at the table for everyone. She understood that together we were stronger and more impactful. And anytime someone asked why a brand as diverse and inclusive as Refinery29 needed a safe place for Black women, she’d unapologetically tell them that the 50+ Black employees at the company wanted to see even more of themselves in the content they create.
Ally has since gone off to do really dope shit in the tech industry, and I have been honored to pick up where she left off: @R29Unbothered has gained approximately 20K more followers, we've created a physical experience of black excellence at 29Rooms, and we've introduced new video series (if you haven’t watched our Go Off, Sis videos, check them out!). The abundance of Blackness I experience on a daily basis has given me a deeper purpose at work. No matter what department or team you’re on, you know you have a special support system at your fingertips. All you have to do is send a text, and your homegirl from two floors down will grab lunch with you outside so you can vent about stuff that might make you look like the “angry Black girl” if you complained in front of anyone else. These connections are a resource — just like HR or tech support.
I’m a Black woman with a strong background in design and editorial writing, and working on projects like Unbothered allows me to feed all my passions at once. But even people with seemingly “glamorous” jobs have those days. And when you feel like the only one in the crowd, those bad days feel even worse. That’s what makes my connection to my Black coworkwers so instrumental to my success: Whether it’s an impromptu turn up at our company happy hour or meaningful conversation on the train ride home, these women regularly help me make it through another day. I love them for that.
The photos in the piece were courtesy of Bukunmi Grace for Unity in Color, a global photography series that shows solidarity and support of Women's Rights.
Welcome to MyIdentity. The road to owning your identity is rarely easy. In this yearlong program, we will celebrate that journey and explore how the choices we make on the outside reflect what we’re feeling on the inside — and the important role fashion and beauty play in helping people find and express who they are.