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Black Women In Corporate Settings: Navigating Cultural Norms About Respect In The Workplace

Respect is something in the black community that is taught in varying ways but is learnt nonetheless. Whether through several ‘listen and don’t speak’ conversations, physical discipline or just copying what we see, respect is often woven into the fabric of how we see ourselves in relation to others very early on.

Five black women take us through their understanding of respect both from a cultural and corporate standpoint, looking at whether there are any crossovers between the two worlds. 

Jenny Boateng, Chief of Client Partnerships at AND Digital, talked about what she was taught about respect growing up. “People older than you are called aunty and uncle, you wouldn’t call an adult by their first name. You don’t really challenge authority because ‘you don’t want to become too known’ (this is a Ghanaian phrase).” By known Jenny means becoming notorious for having too strong an opinion and involving yourself in matters considered for adults. 

Roianne Nedd, Interim Deputy Chief Diversity Officer at Marsh McLennan, seconded Jenny’s sentiment about respect and how elders are treated. Roianne says: “Respect is given regardless of behaviour and linked to age. You speak when spoken to and you aren’t allowed to make eye contact with a big person, at least in Guyanese culture.”

Charlotte Ononuju, Legal Council at AVEVA, explained that after reaching the age of reasoning, about 15, her parents treated her as an equal voice. However, she was exposed to traditional relationships encompassing respect by Nigerian churches, the kind of respect expressed by Jenny and Roianne.