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One Expert's Message to Black Women Burned Out at Work: ‘Workplace DEI Is a Company Issue, Not Yours'

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Black women are struggling to feel valued, respected and supported at work.

That's according to a recent report from Every Level Leadership, a workplace DEI consulting firm, which found that some 72% of Black women have to code-switch in the office as a strategy for career advancement. More than half of respondents said they feel the burden of teaching their co-workers about diversity, equity and inclusion.

As a result, the report noted, 88% of Black women report experiencing burnout in their careers, fueling the need for effective change in the workplace. But if you're a Black woman seeking to facilitate these changes in the office, doing it the wrong way could be potentially harmful to your career, says Ericka Hines, the founder of Every Level Leadership and a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) expert.

"There is data out there that says when women and people of color bring up issues around DEI, the impact is that they can be considered troublemakers," Hines tells CNBC Make It.

Here, Hines shares three things to keep in mind for Black women trying to make offices more inclusive. It's advice other marginalized groups could use, too.

Pursuing this work is a choice, not a responsibility

The burden of being a Black woman professional exists at every strata of the workplace, from entry-level to the executive level. And when it comes to facilitating change in the workplace, Hines says, carrying that burden isn't a responsibility: It's a choice.

"You get to have the choice about whether or not you want to fight on behalf of your peers," she says. "I don't want every Black woman to feel like, 'I have to make this organization better. So I am going to take on the stress and responsibility of advocating on behalf of a whole group of people.'"

Hines says you must remember that feeling pressure to "overachieve" can contribute to burnout.

"I've heard so many Black women say, 'If I don't perform this way, or if I don't do this on my job, it's going to look bad on all Black women,'" Hines explains. "It's enough of a burden for Black women to show up to work every day, let alone have to overachieve."

Never, ever try to spearhead change alone

The "Angry Black Woman" trope is a racist stereotype that mischaracterizes a Black woman's passion for aggression — and a myth that plagues the workplace.

The stereotype makes it hard for Black women to fully contribute to their organizations because "when some people see a Black woman become angry, they're likely to attribute that anger to her personality — rather than an inciting situation," the Harvard Business Review noted in January.

Hines suggests a workaround: Build a team to collectively address work issues.

"Always find [partners]: another person of color and a very deeply educated white person who knows and understands racism, discrimination and microaggressions," she says. "Never do that alone. Not just to protect yourself, but also to protect your professional reputation. And don't go in there with 14 other Black women, unless you also have some solidarity [from others] behind you."

Workplace DEI is a company issue, not yours

Hines says your organization is responsible for creating and executing successful diversity, equity and inclusion plans. Employees can help foster an inclusive workplace culture, but change should start with leaders and executives.

In her consulting work, Hines says, she often tells company leaders: "You have to change the way that you treat folks who come in here. You need to look at your policies around dress. You need to look at your policies around hair. You need to look at what type of organizational culture you actually have, and take responsibility for that."

Hines adds that companies have a responsibility to create inclusive environments, in order to fully support and promote Black women in the workplace.

"If you want it to be a place where Black women feel like they can bring more of themselves into work, then you as an organization need to do the work to make that happen," she says. "I don't want to ask [Black women] to have an additional responsibility."

Check out: 

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