Overnight I Became A Threat To White Men And Women In The Workplace

 I’m a Black woman. For most of my professional career, I have worked twice as hard as my white colleagues to get the compensation and recognition I deserve. Over time, I have seen less qualified colleagues progress to leadership roles while I have been told to wait my turn. Small hint here: after a while, you realize that it will never be your turn and you accept that fact just to keep your sanity.

I had accepted it and at 49 years old realized that I would now have to contend with ageism too. In short, my career was over. At least that was until George Floyd’s murder. My life changed dramatically upon his death. As a Black woman, I suddenly became “hot stuff”. Headhunters and recruiters were reaching out to me in large numbers because they had been instructed to diversify their pool of candidates. Some didn’t even really want to hire me, but they figured that adding my name and mainly my Black face to their candidates’ pool would give them kudos. It was a surprising time, because for once, as a Black woman, I was in high demand. It was a good feeling.

I was so busy focusing on the upside of this situation rather than what it would concretely mean for my relationships with white colleagues in the workplace. Or maybe, what I should really admit is that I expected them to understand that it was my turn to shine. They had had their turn several times over and would still continue to benefit from opportunities regardless. I didn’t realize how far I was from the truth.

The minute the global racial reckoning happened and companies started announcing that they would do more to diversify their ranks, s*** hit the fan for me. Colleagues that I had considered friends became saboteurs. They talked behind my back, ganged up against me, withdrew resources, and undermined me. I felt endangered on several fronts and realized that I couldn’t trust anyone anymore. It was a very difficult time — knowing that there was no one I could confide in or depend on.

When you realize that we spend close to 30 percent of our day at work, you can see how stressful it would be to feel insecure for such a large part of your day. Colleagues did not even hide why they had so much animosity toward me. They’d frequently admit that Black Lives Matter and the woke movement were forcing the company to hire more Black people, people that they didn’t even necessarily feel were right for the job. One colleague even said that along with being a Black woman, if I was also a lesbian and disabled I’d be able to get any job I wanted. The vitriol and cynicism were untenable and reason enough to push one to the edge. But I persevered, hashtag: #mouthstofeed.

I realized however that sitting there and hoping the situation would resolve itself eventually wasn’t going to work. The animosity just kept on growing and leadership was either oblivious or didn’t want to engage in what could potentially become a contentious situation. Meanwhile, however, Black people were quitting, quite quitting, or getting frustrated or burned out by the status quo.

The reality is that what needs to happen is dialogue. Change is challenging for most people, but this type of change, the one that I talk about above, is seen to threaten the very livelihood of white people. They will not take it sitting down, they will fight, and this means using all the tools in the arsenal to destroy the opponent. It might sound cruel, but it’s the truth.

Companies cannot just take a back seat to all of this. They have to be proactive in helping Black people make their way in these organizations. They need to communicate better why diversity is important for the sustainability of companies. They need to educate their employees to understand that their livelihoods are directly linked to the diverse environment that the company is trying to instill. Anyone who doesn’t see the value of this shouldn’t even be in the company, that’s the long and short of it.

Companies have been getting away with half-a***** diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts for a while now. Generation Z sees right through this and if these same companies want redemption, they are going to have to do things properly. Hiring a Black person and not investing in their integration into your company is never a good idea. After a while, your reputation will suffer because people will ask: “Why don’t Black people stay in that company?” The assumption that follows this statement is “That company must be too racist”. And from there, you lose access to Black talent.

At the end of the day though, toxic work environments lower productivity levels. Any company that wants to be as profitable as it can be must systematically and consistently look out for the welfare of all its employees because a “happy” employee positively impacts the bottom line.

Thank you for reading my perspective.

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