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Being “The Only” In The Room

Women in Business - DailyPay

By Alora Alexander, Accounting Manager, DailyPay

Nothing makes you feel more alone or self-conscious than when you feel you don’t belong in a meeting. You look around the room and question if you really should be here. You feel like an imposter.

And forget trying to make your voice heard or share your opinions. Sure, I have a seat at the table — but do they really care what I have to say?

Because being “the only” is a tough place to be. And for a black woman in business — that is, unfortunately, an experience I’m all too familiar with. 

I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Brooklyn and went to school with mostly black people and attended Fisk University, an HBCU (historically black college and university). So, my first real introduction into diversity was at my first accounting job in New York City.

This might sound strange coming from a black woman, but I never really understood the importance of having people who look like you in leadership until I became a leader.  

During my first few years working in accounting, I didn’t really think twice about the leaders in my company and what they stood for. At the staff level where I worked, there wasn’t an issue with diversity. And I didn’t need examples of people to aspire to because I came from a community of successful black people.

The fintech industry has a stigma of being very homogenous. However, I learned very early on at DailyPay, my current employer, that it is a company that truly prioritizes diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its business. I was initially attracted to joining the organization because of its mission to democratize pay —  whereby everyone has access to their earned pay at any time they want or need it. The current financial system, where you have to wait two weeks to be paid, is unfair — especially to under-served communities. 

Upon joining the company, I joined DailyNoire, an ERG (Employee Resource Group) for Black employees and their allies. DailyPay has similar groups including DailyPride, DailyWomen and DailyGray. DailyPay prioritizes the need to attract and retain diverse employees. Working with leadership and various internal stakeholders, DailyNoire has been able to spearhead company initiatives, such as the creation of the Diversity Leadership Committee, Juneteenth becoming a company holiday and ongoing unconscious bias training. These types of grassroots initiatives go a long way in shaping an inclusive culture that brings a wide array of voices together.

As we commemorate Juneteenth, it’s a time to step back and reflect on the road ahead and the challenges we face. I recently stepped into a leadership role while my manager was on leave. Going from an individual contributor to managing a team of four, reporting directly to the CFO, and having to manage strategic goals for the team presented its challenges. A few things I learned along the way are: 

  • Mental health and self-care are important and need to be championed by leadership. I’d like to encourage companies to acknowledge that while the company may offer an EAP, many people of color may prefer to speak to someone who looks like them or shares a similar background. This is not always possible through an EAP. Consider offering employees a mental health stipend. 
  • It’s important to get out of our comfort zones. Because I was the “only,” I often felt like I was doing something wrong when I didn’t get a desired outcome. It wasn’t until I started speaking to other leaders in the company that I discovered that we were all facing similar challenges. This allowed me to stop being so hard on myself and really focus on the problem at hand — how to be an effective leader. 
  • The importance of championing inclusion, not just on a wider company level, but with our small team of five. To make sure everyone feels valued, wanted and inspired.

I’m proud to work at a company that recognizes the importance of understanding the lived experiences of others in shaping a people-first culture. Collectively, as an industry and a country, we still have far to go to ensure that a seat at the table never feels just like an empty chair. To never feel like “the only.”

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