From Pet to Threat: Experts Address Career Obstacles for Minority Women

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For minority women professionals looking to advance their careers, the obstacles can seem insurmountable. To shed light on these challenges and potential solutions, BYP recently held an inspiring Leadership Summit talk in New York on May 19, 2023, titled “From Pet to Threat”. Speakers included Niani Tolbert, Founder and CEO of #HIREBLACK Initiatives, and Shelomi Gomes, Organizational Psychologist and Founder of HumeIQ Inc.

Drawing on her research, Dr. Gomes discussed the various strategies that minority women professionals can use to successfully navigate their careers and create a successful professional future for themselves.

Dr. Kecia Thomas, Professor Juanita Johnson-Bailey, and Professor Rosemary Phelps are the originators of the term “Pet to Threat.” Their pioneering work has shed light on the transformative journey of individuals from being perceived as pets to posing potential threats, offering valuable insights into societal dynamics and biases.

Understanding the “Pet to Threat” Phenomenon

The Pet to Threat phenomenon highlights the subtle yet significant shift in the perception and treatment of women in the workplace. Initially seen as likable and non-threatening, women may suddenly become viewed as threats when they exhibit assertiveness or ambition. Understanding this phenomenon is essential for addressing the biases and double standards that hinder women’s progress and ensuring a more inclusive and equitable work environment for all.

Research on Pet to Threat by Shelomi Gomes

In her research on Pet to Threat, Shelomi Gomes delved into the experiences of minority women professionals striving for career advancement. Through studying 72 women, ranging from management to C Suite positions, she uncovered the challenges they face. These women often find themselves questioning their feelings of suppression and wondering if their experiences are valid in the workplace. The normalization of such behavior and treatment adds to the complexity. 

The first step is to acknowledge and recognize this phenomenon, paving the way for its dismantling and fostering a more inclusive and empowering work environment for all.

Insights from Niani Tolbert on Career Advancement for Minority Women

In her insightful perspective on career advancement for minority women, Niani Tolbert sheds light on a phenomenon that goes beyond just Pet to Threat—it’s more like Threat to Pet to Threat. She emphasizes the pressure to downplay one’s values to appear less threatening to coworkers.

Dealing with microaggressions linked to this dynamic during career growth can involve experiences of being spoken over or having the legitimacy of one’s role questioned. Tolbert emphasizes the importance of staying grounded in your own identity and seeking support from your network to navigate and challenge these challenges effectively.

Key Takeaways and Recommendations for Addressing Pet to Threat in the Workplace

First and foremost, it’s crucial to find allies both within and outside the workplace, building a strong support structure. Allies can be found across the spectrum, and their support can make a significant difference. Additionally, advocating for oneself is vital. It’s essential to actively highlight and communicate your accomplishments, documenting them and connecting the dots for leaders.

Advocacy should be approached with genuine enthusiasm, seeking to change the narrative of being a token. Developing coping strategies such as maintaining a high level of work proficiency, presenting oneself professionally, setting boundaries, and honing the art of diplomacy can also contribute to navigating this challenging dynamic.

Watch the Talk Now

Watch more talks from the New York BYP Leadership Summit


Niani Tolbert: Founder & CEO of #HireBlack Initiatives

Niani is a professional who transitioned from marketing to tech recruitment and eventually became the founder of #HIREBLACK. Initially, #HIREBLACK gained attention as a viral LinkedIn post, providing resume feedback to 19 Black women on Juneteenth. It has since evolved into an initiative to aid 10,000 Black women in obtaining training, employment, and promotions in corporate roles. 

With a growing network of over 15,000 individuals, #HIREBLACK has garnered recognition from notable publications such as Forbes, ESSENCE, CNBC, Business Insider, LinkedIn News, and theSkimm. Collaborating with companies like Amazon, Disney, Conde Nast, Niantic, Spotify, and Uber, #HIREBLACK’s resources have reportedly led to a collective increase of over $2 million in compensation for its members.

Shelomi Gomes, Organizational Psychologist & Founder of HumeIQ Inc.

Dr. Shelomi Gomes is a dynamic leadership expert who is passionate about empowering minority professionals and increasing their representation in corporate leadership positions. With a background in organizational psychology, she uses her altruistic nature, diplomatic skills, and attentive listening to assist her clients, particularly emerging leaders, in overcoming career obstacles and achieving the recognition, promotions, and salary raises they deserve. 

Known as ‘Obi-Wan Shelomi’ by corporate executives, she excels at building supportive networks and offers practical, research-based strategies that benefit professionals both personally and professionally. As the CEO of HümEIQ Inc., her leadership has been recognized by Forbes. She holds a doctorate in Organizational Psychology and is certified in Levinson Consulting.

Do you want to address the Pet to Threat phenomenon through mentorship?

BYP Network has a dedicated 6-month mentorship programme where we match senior leaders in corporations with Black individuals looking for personal and professional growth and career guidance. It can be extremely useful and rewarding to talk to another woman for instance, outside of your current company, to compare challenges and experiences. Find out more.

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