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  • Writer's pictureArlene Worsley

Catching Fire

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

I'm infuriated.

Are the invisible barriers to women of color rising in the workplace exacerbated by the pandemic and post the #metoo movement?

These disruptions accelerated the support for mental health, physical and psychological safety in the workplace, as evident in published corporate reports, policies, and codes of conduct. Yet in lieu of this progress, the data continues to show women of color face even further obstacles to career advancement because of systemic invisible barriers.

The most recent Women in the Workplace 2023 report by McKinsey, in partnership with, revealed "lagging progress in the middle of the pipeline—and a persistent underrepresentation of women of color—true parity remains painfully out of reach."

For women of color in technology, like cybersecurity, I am a glaring statistic. Systemic bias and discrimination toward women of color in the workplace are further compounded by two notable invisible barriers: the "double jeopardy" and the "concrete ceiling".

Double Jeopardy

Coined by Black feminist activist Frances M. Beal in 1969, "double jeopardy" is the simultaneously forms of sexism and racism experienced by women of color.

What is this invisible barrier like for women of color today? Professionally, I find myself in a constant battle to prove my competence and worth, facing higher expectations and scrutiny by both men and women counterparts. Since transitioning into cybersecurity in 2018, I have experienced microaggressions and workplace bullying by white men and women as well as by men and women from the Middle East and South Asia. The double jeopardy is there is rampant racism and sexism toward Asians (e.g., Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.).

Concrete Ceiling

When the McKinsey report above described "true parity [that] remains painfully out of reach", this is a ramification of the "concrete ceiling". It is an impenetrable barrier for women of color who cannot see the possibilities of career advancement.

What is this invisible barrier like for women of color today? I have been in a managerial role for over 10 years. Despite top performance reviews, amplifying my brand, forging allies, sponsorship, advanced learning, asking for promotions, asking for raises, I continue to hit the concrete ceiling in salary and career progression. I cannot seem to cross the management chasm to a director-level role.

If I am doing everything right while breaking rules along the way, why am I not "seen" as "ready"? Why are white male peers who are less qualified advancing into leadership roles? Why are women of color who are qualified left behind? Why are men seen for their potential and not women?

The pressure to excel while confronting systemic barriers can be overwhelming, leading to imposter syndrome, chronic stress, and burnout.

Four Recommended Actions

We have control over our mindset and the actions we commit to. It starts with choosing to rise and overcoming one challenge at a time.

1. Accept some difficult facts we cannot change.

  • Workplaces were not designed for women, and more especially for women of color.

  • "Desirable" leadership qualities are skewed in favor of whiteness and masculinity.

  • Yes, women of color do have to work harder. Period.

2. Take back your power and break all the rules.

More tips will be shared in my next blog dedicated to this important topic e.g., ask for what you want, don't take "no" for an answer, etc.

3. Do not fear challenging those who undermine you. Ask them what their intentions are on the spot.

4. Know your worth and take your seat at the table.

Thumbnail courtesy of LinkedIn.

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