“If you just keep your head down, work, and put it on the bottom line, sooner or later that takes care of everything else.” – Wayne Huizenga
When I was starting out in the workplace, some of the most common advice I would get is to keep my head down and just do the work. This was of course said with some kind of good intentions and to remind me, a young black woman, of the privilege I have to have “gotten in and now I must prove my value”.
As my career grew and the first day of putting my head down turned into years, and eventually a structural dismissal that would see me exit the world of work for good, I learnt on that journey that though work must indeed be done, putting my head down is never an option for a black girl in the South African workplace.
You have to raise your hand at every opportunity, ask questions and interrogate the spaces you are in.
Another crucial lesson I have come to learn is to nurture and build relationships across the many business aspects anywhere you work. I had relationships and acquaintances in every space and every department. I continue to nurture these relationships – I was hungry to learn how the business mechanics work wherever I was, and what drives big business. I asked a lot of questions during my time in the workplace.
My curiosity at times frustrated some of my line managers because they would fear I would get too big for my boots. Maybe I was too big for my boots. I had a vision. No footballer kicks the ball and keeps their gaze on the ground.
I see now the benefit of not keeping my head down and rather allowing my curiosity to lead. I was always trying to find the freshest way to be a creative and to achieve client objectives in spaces that needed you to follow processes. At times, outdated processes. I challenged them.
When I heard, “global’s directive is…”, I would respond with “do we have room or scope to localise”?
Not keeping my head down got me noticed… as the opinionated black girl. Not keeping my head down set me up for more responsibility and scope to do more challenging work. Though I went on to be structurally dismissed in the organisation (story for another day), I had built up such a good reputation of getting the work done, taking ownership and doing it well.
The people I had come into contact with, presented alongside and for became my champions as I transitioned into entrepreneurship.
Of course, it’s important to do the work, to put in the hours and kick ass but we need to recognise that worldwide black women are still structurally oppressed and the only way to get our skills recognised is to NOT put our heads down and do the work, but rather take ownership of our work, network, be sponges and keep our heads up and in Zozi’s words, take up space.
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