How Some Black Female Professionals Achieve the Elusive Work-Life Balance

Professional singer Natalie Cadet

Working women are always in search of a work-life balance, especially if they have children. But for African-American women, reaching this balance can be harder even though it may be more necessary.

According to a study called “African-American Women and Work-Life Balance” by Alisha Diane Powell at Walden University, African-American women face the same challenges of balancing work and home like other women, but they are also affected by discrimination, racism, and classism. Add to this the wage gap. African-American women earn just 64 cents for every dollar made by men. Powell interviewed married African-American women who worked full time outside of their home. And what she found is that due other life stressors and responsibilities outside of work, it is much for difficult for African-American women to find a life-work balance. And this can other lead to health issues, including depression and anxiety.

“I believe there is some semblance of work-life balance, however, it takes incredible planning and discipline,” Gina B. Ramcharan, founder of  the IDEA MANUFACTURER, a boutique business consulting firm located in Harlem, NY.

“My own work-life balance is something I struggle with. I am in the music industry, which means that sometimes I live from paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard! My goal is that I will eventually be able to live comfortably, balancing my work-life where I’m not hurting myself on either end. My problem is, I feel like I have to work UP to that point, and until I do, I must work myself to death. I have been reminded by tough experiences that I’m looking at this the wrong way,” says professional singer Natalie Cadét, who is working on her sophomore album to follow-up her debut 2015 jazz-pop CD, “My Journey.” Cadét also recently became a faculty member of the Musicians Institute in Hollywood specializing in vocals. On top of this, Cadét works as well as a certified personal trainer and aspiring fitness print model in her spare time. “When I achieve balance in my life and work, I will have a better quality and longevity of success. This can be a challenge, as every new gig can demand something different from me. I do believe I will get there. I just need to be patient.”

Entrepreneur and corporate executive Jamie Ralliford, founder of BOLD and BOSS by Ms. Chu, which offers fashion and premium quality hair extensions, agrees. Ralliford, who is also a much-sought-after celebrity DJ and by day she’s Chief Compliance Officer at Dynasty Financial Partners, feels each woman must find her so-called “happy place.”

“Although it can be challenging, I do believe there can be a true work-life balance. In order to achieve true work-life balance, individuals should be cognizant of the need for self-care. These activities can include meditation, exercise, massage therapy, shopping (for my fashionistas) and taking breaks from social media to name a few,” she says.

Ramcharan points out, however, that finding that balance is much more different for Black women. “Women overall must be the cook, the baker, and the candlestick maker, but women of color often have several additional roles in that scenario. Data shows, 66% of African-American households are single-parent households most with women at the helm, which automatically makes the Black mom the breadwinner. Black women are quickly becoming the highest educated group in the country, therefore making way for another entry point to be the family breadwinner,” she says.

And being the breadwinner while making less money than your counterparts, does not bode well for a life-work balance. “Although we may be the family breadwinner, our bread comes without the crust since we earn 62 cents for every dollar a white male counterpart earns, which is also 17 cents less than white women. Women of color carry extra weight, often having to do more with less, which paves the road to burnout.  Being the family air traffic controller is hard enough with means, sisters that still need to figure out the light bill and school uniforms on a tight budget travel have an even shorter road to burn out,” says Ramcharan.

And with all Black women have going on, they tend to think they can do it all. “As Black women, we often fall prey to the myth of the ‘Superwoman,’ especially the alpha women.  We need to get real and know it is important for us to take note, no matter how awesome we are when you feel like you are going to hit a wall, it is time to sit it out and put on your proverbial oxygen mask to avoid a literal one,” says Ramcharan.

Sometimes Black women pass down the “superwoman” tendencies. “Growing up I watched my mom be this woman. She never complained though. She knew that she had to make a living for herself and her entire family and she did so gracefully. I did see it affect her personal life because she was always at work and when she wasn’t at work she was thinking about work. I think the only way to overcome this is to have a balanced work and personal life,” says 25-year-old EO, author and entrepreneur Modi of her celebrity mom, Tamera Fair, an actress, on-air personality (present daily show on I Heart Radio is “The Brunch Bunch”) , and founder of Chicago’s Premier Child Care Centers. Modi is CEO of PremierChild Care Centers and author of new book release, “Some Women Prefer Hell.”

It is hard for Black women to reach out and ask for help or accept support. “Women of color are often stressed and overworked. We are often the breadwinners in our households, the primary caregivers of family members, serve as sole support for our closest friends all while not taking care of ourselves. Many women of color fail to ask for help. We find ourselves able to stand strong for everyone around us but fall short on asking for help when we are in need,” says Ralliford.

Baker feels this is part of the culture where Black women often find it hard to trust others to help. “As it relates specifically to women of color, I think this has a lot to do with the fact we are taught by both our family/heritage, as well as our society, that we have to be so strong! And as such, we refuse to not get it done—whatever it is. And since so many of us end up in fatherless homes, we have no other choice but to be strong 24-7. I speak for myself when I say I want to have the space in my life to be vulnerable, to lean on someone else, to not have to lead, to trust in someone I know I can count on, to make mistakes, to have fun, to love on me, to enjoy life, to slow down and smell the roses,” she shares and adds,  “All of this, and the fact that my own father left my mom to fall into this same family make-up, is why my biggest fear in life is abandonment. My dad abandoned my mom, brother, and me. My children’s father abandoned us. Now, I don’t handle abandonment well at all, so when I sense it’s coming from someone who I somehow ended up counting on, I get anxiety and break down. This teaches me that I can’t count on anyone. Meanwhile, the world still expects me to be Superwoman/SuperMom.”

Momager and high school teacher Ty Baker, who manages the career of her three young children who are in entertainment, struggles to get away from the “super” labeling. “The Superwoman Syndrome! I am that woman! I don’t want to be that woman. I don’t like when I’m called SuperMom. I don’t want to always have to be strong. People assume because you look so strong and put together, because you have accomplished a lot, because your children are so smart and well accomplished despite the fact that you’re a single mom doing everything yourself, because you keep pushing, because you’re smart and attractive, because you opt to take the high road and hold your head up and remain positive…that you don’t need help, that you got it all under control, that you’re ‘Super,’” Baker offers.

This cycle takes its toll, says Baker. “It’s like the ‘strongest’ people end up being broken by life first, most…because we’re left alone to just keep pushing on our own. And whenever we do cry for help (intentionally or unconsciously), our cries often get dismissed, joked off-not taken seriously, assumed to be minor, assumed to be something we can handle ourselves. And it sucks! I’m not Superwoman or SuperMom,” she declares.

Cadét has found her own work-life balance. “Personally, I have always been a ‘work hard, play hard’ kind of gal, which is how I like to operate.  There must be a sense of balance between both worlds, but it is never 50/50; work is always on the higher percent penetration,” she says. “There are a lot of balls in my life juggling act and I treat them like pieces of a pie; a circle represents 100% and each ball receives attention in priority order. I may sound like I’m oversimplifying, but if you do not desire any one item to take over your life, I cannot think of another way to do it.”

Baker too found herself looking for a way to have balance. “Unbalanced to the point my health is taking a toll and my body is trying to tell me to stop! But I can’t, I’m the only breadwinner in this family. I am the head. The head can’t stop! So I’m desperately in search of the perfect marketing career opportunity that I can efficiently handle remotely. Marketing is my passion. I use my skills and know-how to push my three kids’ professional acting careers to the next levels. They have been extremely successful because of it. Doing what I do for them gives me a taste of what I would prefer to be doing full-time marketing,” says Baker.

Cadét says she has found a way to deal when there is an overload. “I have experienced being all consumed by work and some friends and family might say that is still the state of affairs. The difference is that I own my business, which provides flexibility. I can grab my laptop, head to my mom’s for lunch and work from there. That would have been impossible in my corporate life,” she reveals.

Ralliford too has found a way to feel a balance. “I often struggle with work-life balance but am fortunate enough to have a career aside from my corporate existence that provides an escape. When I am playing music and entertaining, I am truly in a place of peace. I do remind myself often that while I am an executive and entrepreneur, I must still make time to take care of myself. This includes, daily prayer, meditation, being active in my community through service and SOULCYCLE!” she says.

While Modi enjoys being her own boss, it can be all-consuming. A creative outlet helped Modi find her balance. “When I got into the work field full time it seemed as though my personal life was taken away from me. It wasn’t until I became an author did I find balance. As a CEO of a Black-owned multimillion dollar company there are a lot of sleepless nights and long mornings. Work and all its responsibilities tend to consume your thoughts. When I started writing my book more and more the urge to separate work and personal became more important. As a writer you have to have your mind clear so that creativity can run freely. Writing became my escape. It gave me an outlet. Once I got a glimpse of that form of freedom I could never let it go. I would describe my work-life balance as a constant commitment. Just like you show up to work and make sure things get done, you show up in your personal life and make sure things get done,” says Modi.

But Baker points out that a true work-life balance comes at a cost. “That’s a hard question to answer since life seems to take so much more to have quality these days. Takes more money, more details, more planning, more consciousness, more effort…and more time—but sadly time is a resource we just cannot do anything about. We can try to manage it, make a daily to-do list of both professional and personal needs or wants but at the end of the day, we don’t control anything but ourselves so if a single hair falls out of place—there goes that schedule,” Baker points out.  “Time waits for no-one and wasted time cannot be restored! I know that I currently do not have work-life balance but I am trying really hard to obtain it for my own peace and health. Honestly, the only way I think it can really be accomplished is if you are financially well off. So you aren’t working because you have to (slave), but working when/because you want to (free)!”