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Black Women at Work: What Employers Can Learn from What Happened to Mo’Nique

Photo Cred: People.com – Lee Daniels and Mo’Nique

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past several years, you have heard something about the disagreement between the Comedienne, Mo’Nique, Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels, and Tyler Perry. I am going to focus mostly on Lee Daniels, as he was the most vocal in impacting public perception of the actress/comedienne.

Mo’Nique starred in the 2009 film, Precious, alongside Gabourey Sidibe. I will not go into the details of the movie since the trailer is linked, but to make a long story short, Mo’Nique was paid $50,000 for the role. At the time, no one had any idea that Precious would turn out to be an epic success, eventually winning the star an Emmy. As the buzz spread around the world, Mo’Nique was asked to travel far and wide to promote the movie. None of these responsibilities were included in her original contract and Lee Daniels, the film’s Producer, neglected to offer any compensation for the change in the scope of her work.

The actress refused to do additional work that she was not being compensated for and was immediately labeled “hard to work with”, “bitter”, and “angry”. Eventually, these stereotypes placed on her led to her being blackballed from the film industry for the last twelve years. To add insult to injury, when Steve Harvey invited her on his show to discuss that matter, he chastised her about how she addressed the matter, belittled her, and minimized her complaints. Mo’Nique’s words fell on deaf ears as public opinion had been formed based on the misinformation primarily pushed by Lee Daniels. Mo’Nique had her career stripped away in the blink of an eye for demanding to be paid for the work she was expected to do. Her “attitude” and her mouth were blamed for the loss of her livelihood.

Most people would have crawled in a hole and wallowed in self-pity, but not Mo’Nique. Now she was truly angry. That’s the thing; Black women at work are often treated in a way that would logically make any human being upset. When we finally do get mad, the bias is confirmed and the narrative set. In 2020, Mo’Nique filed a discrimination lawsuit against Netflix. Mo’Nique had been offered $500,000 for a comedy special on the streaming platform, while her white counterpart, Amy Schumer had been offered $11 million. In addition, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle had received $40 million and $60 million respectively for their own specials. Mo’Nique believed that she had been underpaid due to both her race and gender. Prior to filing the lawsuit, Mo’Nique attempted to renegotiate the deal and was denied the opportunity. The case is still pending with the last update in 2020; Netflix attempted to dismiss the case and was denied.

Fast forward to early 2022. Mo’Nique gained an unlikely ally in the rapper and TV producer, 50 Cent, who is currently on a high in Hollywood due to the success of his hit show, Power. 50 happened to see Mo’Nique’s stand-up show on Super Bowl weekend and was so impressed by her that he vowed to put her back on top and reconcile the fractured relationships with Lee Daniels, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey.

Apparently, 50 Cent’s voice carries weight because after twelve long years, Lee Daniels showed up to her comedy show in Staten Island, New York to apologize. He admitted to blackballing Mo’Nique and corroborated her story. After over a decade of being called a liar and constantly victim-shamed, her experience had been validated. The negative words commonly associated with Black women that refuse to stay ‘in their place’ had disappeared. Mo’Nique had won. But in a show of absolute humility, she immediately accepted Lee’s apology and hugged him. I applaud her for that because I am not sure how many people would have been so receptive after what had happened to her. As a show of good faith, Lee cast Mo’Nique in his upcoming Netflix film, Demon House, giving her the first appearance there since she filed the lawsuit against them.

Mo’Nique was validated and celebrated. Watching her win back everything she had lost was emotional for me because I know so many Black women that never get that chance. Most end up rebuilding their confidence and personal brand over several years with no admission of wrongdoing from an employer and with no powerful ally willing to vouch for them publicly. This situation eventually worked out, but many of us are still giving Lee Daniels the side-eye. It’s a shame that it took another powerful man to finally get him to do the right thing. Because of that I have to question his authenticity, but there are a few lessons employers can take from this situation:

  • Pay employees for all the work they do – If the scope of a job changes, compensate your employees for the additional work they are doing. According to this Gallup poll, in 2018, 43% of employees believed they were overworked and underpaid. With the Great Resignation in full swing and many Gen Z and Millennial workers willing to jump ship if they are not appreciated, pay and equity are crucial in retaining good employees and maintaining the stability of your organization.
nationalparternship.org – Black Women & the Wage Gap
  • Believe Black women – More often than not Black women in the workplace are put in a position of being both the victim and the advocate when treated unfairly at work. At first, they report an incident or pattern of behavior. Next, they are disbelieved and forced to advocate for themselves. Eventually, they are labeled “angry” or “difficult” because they refused to back down. In this Harvard Business Review article, the following paragraph stands out for me:
Harvard Business Review
  • Do the right thing… Even when no one is watching – It should not take over a decade for an employer to admit they are wrong. In fact, covering up the mistreatment of an employee should never occur. On one hand, most employers get away with it on the surface. On the other hand, other employees are watching and taking notes on how you treat people that work for you. They are fully aware and will be much more prepared when it is their turn to address an issue. A testament to this is that over half of American workers do not trust their employers when reporting workplace issues. Treating everyone at your organization with respect and dignity allows space to work issues out confidentially, avoids legal proceedings and EEOC complaints, and most importantly, signal to others that you are truly a good person, even behind closed doors.
Forbes.com
  • Do not make assumptions – I can already hear some of you saying, “But all of the participants in this story are Black, so Mo’Nique couldn’t have been discriminated against.” I know it seems like a logical argument… if you are not familiar with internalized racism/oppression. To sum it up, those suffering from this affliction have a desire to distance themselves from their own race, so adapt the same stereotypes and racist practices as those of oppressors. They tend to view themselves as “one of the good ones” and have a strong desire to be accepted by the majority. The fact that two people are of the same race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., does not make it impossible for one of them to discriminate against the other.

Like many other Black women watching, I am happy to see Mo’Nique finally getting the apology and opportunity she deserves. On the flip side, I am skeptical (but hopeful) about the authenticity of the reconciliation. In the end, I would love to see those in control of our livelihoods take heed and do much, much better than Lee Daniels did in relation to Mo’Nique.

NyRee Ausler

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Friends vs. Co-Workers: Why the Two Can Almost Never Coexist

Photo Cred: Shutterstock

I can recall the very first time I came to the devasting conclusion that a co-worker I had spent time with, built a bond with, and treated like family was not my friend. I was working in Payroll/HR at a construction company, and she was a Project Manager. We hit it off immediately, going to lunch on a daily basis, supporting each other through family issues and work-related matters. She even helped to host my baby shower. Naturally, when I began to realize I was underpaid and overworked, she was my biggest supporter… privately. I shared my conversations with my manager, my stresses and frustration regarding what I felt was a discriminatory workplace. She listened and agreed, seemingly upset that I was being treated unfairly. The workplace situation escalated when I was “laid off” while on maternity leave due to a supposed reduction in force. It turned out that the company had decided to replace me with the owner’s niece, who I had trained to fill in while I was out. They also paid her appropriately. My co-worker/friend provided me with details about the office after I left the company, noting that there was no reduction in force and the owners of the company simply wanted to employ their own. This, of course, prompted me to take legal action.

After meeting with an attorney, my former employer had their company records subpoenaed. This included all email correspondence. To my astonishment, my friend at work had been passing all of our conversations along to my manager. I scanned email after email that detailed all of my personal business I had discussed with her. She had been rewarded for her loyalty to the company with an increase and promotion immediately after I left. After finding this out, I contacted my former co-worker and she was speechless, offering no explanation for her betrayal. I didn’t need one, really. She had used me and my situation to look out for herself. She apologized, but I ceased any communication with her. The situation landed in my favor, but the damage had been done. Over the years, there have been attempts by her to reconnect and I have rejected them because there can never be trust in our “friendship” again.

When friendships formed at work go awry, it is not always this dramatic. There are, however, variables in place that can prevent the relationship from being authentic. Workplace relationships are usually formed from compatible personality traits or a shared experience, whether good or bad. Either you are in the trenches together and form a bond or you are in a toxic environment and lean on each other to make it through a tough time.

The problem with believing that you and your friend/colleague have compatible personalities is that most people do not bring their authentic selves to work so whether you actually know your co-worker is questionable. What’s important to them? Is it equality in the workplace? How about opportunities for advancement? Does money motivate them? Do they know how to form healthy, functional relationships? I cannot count how many times I thought I knew what was important to a co-worker only to be surprised by their actions. As a dedicated activist for diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace, I have connected with many people to help them through trying times. Those connections have led to friendships. But I’ve noticed that once their trials and tribulations are over, the friendship we had formed was not the same. Sure, if they are in trouble again and need support, they reach out but is that really a friendship?

Let’s talk about human psychology. In my last blog post, Black Women: Stop Going Where You Are Not Welcomed, I talked about a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The illustration below shows the five human needs represented in this theory, starting at the bottom of the pyramid. As you move up from the foundation, each need must be met before moving to the next. One necessity cannot be fulfilled unless those beneath it have been achieved.

Photo Cred: Shutter Stock – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Once the physiological needs (food, clothing, and shelter) have been met, the safety needs, including employment, resources, and property must be met before we even think about friendship and social interaction. I would even submit that the physiological and safety needs are interdependent as you need money and resources to obtain basic needs. Let’s face it; no matter how much you love what you do or how good you are at it, most people work to provide for themselves and their families. Employment and resources equal financial security and stability and will always be a primary concern. To further exemplify this, in an article by Employment First Florida, the top two reasons people work are listed as money and independence.

To add to Maslow’s Theory, another psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed the motivation-hygiene theory illustrated below. The idea is that the hygiene factors on the left must be fulfilled before the motivation factors on the right can even be considered. The motivation factors are what people need to be satisfied and happy in the workplace assuming the basic hygiene factors are met.

Photo Cred: Shutterstock – Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory Illustration

Although “relationships” are listed as one of the hygiene factors, once relationships are established, they can be impacted by the quest for achievement and advancement. Simplified, it’s highly likely that despite your friendship with your co-worker, if the possibility of losing a job, opportunities for achievement, recognition or advancement come into play, they may through you under the bus, drive over you like a speed bump, then throw the bus in reverse to make sure you are dead. Even more will play both sides against the middle, telling you what you want to hear while simultaneously using your situation to benefit themselves. Since you, too, need your basic needs met, it’s important to consider the why in workplace interactions. Be friendly. Be cordial. Be easy to work with, but also be reasonable. Always bear in mind that everyone is there to fulfill one of their basic needs and everything else is secondary.

With that said, I will tell you that I have met some awesome ladies in the workplace and been able to maintain authentic, supportive friendships outside of our professional connections. The landscape of those relationships has changed because we are no longer having a shared experience in our careers, but the common denominator is that we have things in common that have nothing to do with our jobs. In addition, when we did work together we were upfront, transparent, and never created an element of distrust. From a Human Resources perspective, I can say that often, friendships that start in the workplace fall apart when tested with the possibility of losing stability and resources or the introduction of an opportunity. Choose your close associates wisely and set boundaries. Remember that a listening ear is close to a running mouth.

People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.

Author Unknown

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Black Women: Stop Going Where You Are Not Welcomed

Photo Cred: Shutterstock

I usually don’t write about pop culture, but this story caught my attention for many reasons. Yesterday, I came across an article on Yahoo by way of HelloBeautiful. The post talked about an incident that occurred at E11even, a nightclub in Miami. A group of black women was waiting to get in and apparently being bypassed by the doormen. Cardi B approached to make an appearance and the women advised her that they were being discriminated against. After being made aware of the situation, Cardi proceeded to “advocate” for the women by chanting, “Let them in!” until the men at the door relented.

Although we can all appreciate the Latina rapper stepping in to make sure these women were able to drink, dance, and party the night away. As a black woman, I experienced some serious secondhand embarrassment. Before I get into the reason for that, I would like to say first that Cardi B has no obligation to stand up for me or you or anyone. With that said, instead of leading a “Let them in” chant, I would have preferred she left a club that refused service to any people of color and took her talents and fans elsewhere. But I digress.

Black women throughout history have fought for the right to be seen, heard, and treated fairly and equally. We have protested for the rights to vote, read, write, against police brutality, escaped the horrors of slavery, and came out of Jim Crow and segregation. We have come from some of the worst circumstances to become who we are today. The stakes have been high, and we have always risen to the occasion.

Today is a new day, though. Collectively, black women are becoming well-aware of their worth no longer settling for mediocre treatment, and foregoing inclusion in spaces that make us feel like an outsider. Whether it be a job that is devaluing us, a relationship where we are settling for less than we deserve, or establishments that make it clear that we are not a part of their target demographic, we are just saying no. So it astonishes me that a group of grown women stood in the face of rejection with such low stakes and collectively begged to enter a nightclub that did not want them there.

I get it; human beings have an overwhelming need to be accepted. According to this thoughtco.com article explaining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings have five requirements to be happy in life:

  • Physiological food, shelter, and drink. These are the basic things you need to survive. Without meeting this need, nothing else matters.
  • Safety – the need to feel safe from harm and have stability in a predictable environment. Without feeling safe and meeting your basic needs, it’s difficult to consider less pertinent necessities.
  • Love and belonging – this applies to romantic relationships, family, friends, and social circles. People must feel loved, accepted, and included.
  • Esteem – self-confidence and feeling good about oneself along with being valued by others. We need to feel that we matter and that our contributions are valued by others.
  • Self-Actualization – the feeling that we are walking in our purpose; the idea that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.

Assuming that the women that pleaded to be granted entry in this nightclub had their physiological needs met, my guess is that their actions were taken in pursuit of love and belonging, and esteem. From code-switching to attempting to meet Eurocentric standards of beauty, black women have long felt the need to fit into spaces we were never intended to be in; despite what we thought about ourselves we felt forced to compete with the barrage of non-black images inundating our daily lives and labeled the epitome of beauty. Even with our black features and vernacular in high demand, these attributes were still unacceptable when paired with black skin. A lot of progress has been made and black women have decidedly shown up authentically wearing natural hair, full lips, and covered in black girl magic. Even still, there are many of us that want to be accepted into circles that are not interested in us. Some of us want to prove we are special by getting validation from places that have forsaken us in the past.

These ladies waited outside in the December cold, overlooked and ignored, imploring a woman who has allegedly been colorist toward women that look like them in the past to throw them a lifeline. They were finally admitted as a negotiation to secure the presence of the said non-black woman. Perhaps they felt the need to be included in the social circle that E11even represented or maybe they felt that entering this business would prove to everyone around them that they were among the women that were considered beautiful by the patrons and staff. Either way, it was a sad sight to see. The disappointment I felt in my heart for these women that settled for being treated like second-class citizens while contributing to the offender’s bottom line was heavy.

I will sit in my house alone for the rest of my life before I allow myself to be marginalized, disrespected, or mistreated anywhere. But I don’t have to. There are people and places that respect and appreciate black women. There are social circles that you will be welcomed into with open arms; cultivating your sense of belonging and boosting your self-esteem by connecting with people that wholeheartedly believe that black is beautiful.

Below are a few resources with black businesses to frequent and support. A simple Google search will turn up many more. We no longer go where we are not welcomed and in the words of the amazing High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, “You’ve gotta learn to leave the table when respect is no longer being served.”

Thirty Black-Owned Restaurants Throughout the US

82 Black-Owned Clothing Lines

27 Black-Owned HairCare Brands

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A Blessing or A Lesson? 8 Ways to Turn Life’s Losses into Wins

“I never lose. Either I Win or I Learn.”

NyRee Ausler
Women WInning – Photo Cred: Shutterstock

I don’t know who originated the quote above, but throughout the years, I have made it my own, internalizing it and applying it to every aspect of my life. I strongly believe that everything that happens in life is either a blessing or a lesson. Every success is an opportunity to celebrate and every failure is a chance to learn a valuable lesson; I consider both epic wins. This mindset has been pivotal in my ability to bounce back, reinvent myself, and create new opportunities. I have compiled a list of 8 ways to always win in life, even when it feels like you’re losing.

Change Your Perspective:

In times of challenge, it’s easy to see the glass as half empty. Early in my career, a company I was at suddenly made the announcement that they were shutting down and laying everyone off. I immediately started to panic but when I settled down at home that night, I realized that I no longer had to endure a three-hour daily commute, had run out of opportunities for advancement, and was only there for a paycheck. I enrolled in training courses and secured a higher-level position that paid more, offered growth and provided continuing education opportunities. Every time one door closes, another one opens. You just have to decide on which door to try.

Self-Analyze:

It’s easy to blame other people when things go wrong. Having the ability to be introspective and identify how you contributed to a failure or an unsatisfactory outcome is important in turning that loss into a win. No one is perfect, so there should always be something that you can find to improve on or do better next time. The fact that you survived and are able to look back at the situation is a success in itself.

Empathize:

I used to believe that any time I lost, someone else had to have won. In my mind, there was always a supervillain behind the scenes praying for my demise and celebrating when that prayer was answered. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you catch my drift. As I’ve grown, I’ve found that there is not always a clear winner and loser in every situation. Sometimes it’s a win-win and in others, everyone is mourning a loss. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help to ease anger and emotional baggage, freeing you to find the lesson and blessing.

Stand Up for Yourself or Someone Else:

I’ve always been a fighter. I stand up for what I believe in and refuse to stand by idly watching as another human being is treated unfairly. But when I started my career, I toned it down; as a black woman at work, I was careful not to be labeled as “aggressive” or “angry”. I wanted to fit in and not make waves. Every time I stood down when I should have stood up, I went home and almost couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t long before I decided to be myself; no more going along to get along, no more code-switching or smiling in the face of disrespect, microaggressions, or disregard. Standing up for myself and others taught me to deal with my emotions and conflict effectively, what motivates others and what circumstances to avoid in the future.

Identify Opportunities:

I was once working as a payroll specialist but doing the work of a supervisor. When the supervisory role opened up, I figured I was going to be selected; I had proven I could do the job and do it well. My manager thought differently. She hired an external candidate and asked me to train her in her supervisory duties. I asked about why I have been passed over and was told that it was because I didn’t have a payroll certification. That day, I signed up to take the certification exam and began studying. After passing a few months later I moved to a supervisor role elsewhere. I decided that no one would ever be able to hold the lack of credentials over my head again. Even in times where you know you’re being treated unfairly, there are things that you can do to eliminate that roadblock going forward.

Find Clarity & Direction:

One of the first places that I worked for several years was at a cell phone provider. For years, I received accolades as a top customer service rep. I had built my phone persona and no matter how many customers cursed me out, yelled at me, and disrespected me, I stayed in character and did everything by the book. The company loved me. After a few years, employees were notified that the organization was relocating and I got offered a chance to move with them. I recalled the dread I felt pulling into work every day and the willpower and self-control it took to listen to people verbally assault you in one call after the next. I declined and dedicated my efforts to my payroll and human resources career. Sometimes we are well aware that we are not happy with the status quo, but need a push to move in the right direction.

Take a Break:

Nothing is more important than your mental health. In a culture where accomplishments, titles, and wealth rule, finding the time for self-care is hard. As many know, I left a “good job” six months ago. The pay was good, but not what it should have been for the work I was doing. The company was international so I was online early in the morning and late at night to meet with co-workers in various time zones. I had no job lined up and didn’t care. I needed a break. Since then, I have pampered myself, grown closer with my family, rediscovered my love of writing, and released years of stress. You can’t win in life without your health and mental wellness. Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Don’t sell out your God-given talents to make a buck or fill the emotional tanks of others while yours is running on empty. Plan, prepare and take a break when you need to.

Let it Go:

I used to hate when people told me that forgiveness is for me and not for the person being forgiven. I always felt as if I were being too passive by moving on from the transgression. However, the person that had wronged me would be past the situation and living their best life as if it never happened. I finally recognized that I was staying in a negative place and inflicting further suffering on myself. I began to practice the art of letting go. When I encounter something that I consider to be a bad experience, I ask myself two questions: Can I change it? If not, is there a lesson to be learned? If I can’t change it, I take the lesson and move on. If there is a lesson to be learned, I write it down, meditate on it to avoid a recurrence, and move on. If I can find no lesson in it, I stop the proverbial bleeding and move on. Either way, I move on. Erykah Badu famously said, “Bag lady, you gone hurt your back… dragging all them bags like that…” in one of my favorite songs, Bag Lady. The message was about moving on and not carrying excess baggage with you. So change things if you can, take in the lesson and lighten your load.

Whether the loss of a loved one has taught you to love your family while they are still here, you are starting out new with a fresh outlook on life, or you have simply cut your losses and kept it moving, every situation in life has been a stepping stone to get you to where you are today: alive and of sound mind with a world full of endless possibility at your fingertips.

Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

The Inclusion Illusion: Black Women Are Opting Out of Corporate America

Photo Cred: Shutterstock

Last night I dreamed that my teeth were falling out. The dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I ran to the bathroom fully expecting to see nothing but gums when I opened my mouth. This prompted me to search do a quick Google search for the interpretation of this dream. I came across a post by Delta Dental. To summarize, this dream is associated with starting anew and insecurities surrounding embarking on an unfamiliar path. The dream analysis seemed to represent exactly where I am in life.

I always felt smart. I read early, got good grades, and when I finally took my first job in Payroll and Human Resources, I expected to work hard and climb the ranks to the top of my field where I could really make an impact. I did my part; I worked hard, learned something new when I identified an area where I was lacking, and always worked well above my title and pay to prove I had what it took to be promoted. In my naivety, I believed that the playing field was even and that everyone that worked hard would be rewarded. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

I first became aware that I was held to a different standard than my colleagues in my early twenties. I was working a hybrid role as a Human Resources and Payroll Specialist. I caught on quickly and was “rewarded” with more work but my title and pay remained the same. The company grew and decided they needed a manager in my department. Although doing the exact work for over a year and receiving accolades, I applied for the role. I was overlooked and someone with less experience was hired into the role. After it was decided that they could not keep up with the workload, the organization came back to ask if I was interested. I wasn’t so I moved on.

That was not a unique situation. My career progression has come at a staggering cost. Many times, the only way I could be promoted was to apply for a new job. I always hoped that new leadership would see my value and give me the opportunities I worked so hard for. I cannot think of a time where that was the case. My leveling up has always been a hard-fought battle, leaving a bad taste in both mine and my employer’s mouths. They believed I should just be grateful to work for them while I believed I should not have to work two times as hard as my peers in order to be valued.

The beginning of the end of my Payroll and Human resources career came this year. I came into an organization because I believed the CEO was a true ally. This time would be different; he understood the plight of black women in the workplace and was doing something about the inequality, or so I thought. After a year and a half of working at a Director level while being paid and titled as a Manager, I left the company. Right after leaving, I heard the CEO discussing issues such as mine on a podcast and decided to reach out on LinkedIn. I believed that by sharing my experience, I could help to make the company a better place for those that came after me. I thought he cared and would appreciate my insight. Instead of simply thanking me for my feedback, I was given first-hand experience with performative allyship. Although proclaiming his support publicly, this leader became defensive, even going as far as to blame me for the experience (more on this in my upcoming book, The Inclusion Illusion). The experience was so shocking and traumatic that I spoke with the company’s legal team but opted to end discussions as I wanted to maintain my right to speak out about what happened to me. Far too often, people that look like me are offered severance pay in exchange for their silence allowing these problematic employers to continue inflicting damage on others while sucking the lifeblood out of them.

Since leaving that organization early this year, I have been involved in a plethora of job interview loops. I have sat in many Zoom interviews, explaining to people that did not look like me or relate to me why I am a good fit for their organizations. There have been times that I made it to the end, but another candidate was selected. In those situations, I have asked for feedback and been told repeatedly how great I was and that the only issue was location although each role I applied for was remote. Other times, I have discovered red flags about companies that have led me to drop out of the process. The thought of getting into another role where I am overworked and overlooked creates extreme anxiety in me and I am no longer sacrificing my mental health for financial gain.

Then yesterday it hit me. On a plane ride home from my grandmother-in-law’s funeral, I had the epiphany life is too short to be unhappy. I already knew that, but told myself that I had put so much into my career and could not just throw it away. It was familiar and stable but it was not my dream. I realized that although I had left one workplace, I was still constantly interviewing for roles that would put me right back into the position that I had so desperately wanted out of. I accepted that Corporate America was not set up for black women and that it would be a long time, if ever before we found ourselves on equal footing. With that, I went home and canceled all of my upcoming interviews. I immediately felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and a true sense of freedom.

The decision to walk away from something I have dedicated my whole life to was not an easy one. It takes financial preparation, a clear sense of direction and self-worth, confidence, support from family and friends, and most importantly a sense of exhaustion with the status quo. My dream about losing my teeth represented all of those things and came right after I made the life-changing decision to let something that I have worked so hard for die in order to give life to my true calling. I am not alone in this. Black women are leaving Corporate America in droves. We are tired of working twice as hard, proving ourselves repeatedly, and going unrecognized. We are exhausted with ignoring microaggressions, silencing ourselves to keep the peace, and being overlooked. We are opening our eyes to the possibility of successfully launching our own ventures when we stop asking for a seat at the table and decide to take a seat at our own.

Black women are starting businesses at breakneck speed. With organizations refusing to do something tangible about the lack of equality in the workplace, the economic landscape will change drastically over the next decade and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We will do what we do best; survive, overcome and thrive. But the absence of black women in the workplace will have a negative impact on companies for many years to come.

Life of a Writer Blog

The Problem with Being Strong, Black & Woman

Stressed out black woman
Photo Cred: Shutterstock

For as long as I can remember, I have been groomed to be the strong black woman I was intended to be. After all, my parents had survived poverty as children in Arkansas and started a family of six kids together as teens; all while raising my mother’s six siblings. They were the epitome of strength and endurance.

I was eleven years old the first time I remember being fully aware that the expectations of me were completely different from those of my five brothers. I was in the middle with two older siblings and three younger ones. My maternal grandmother has passed away and my parents were driving two hours away for the funeral. None of us kids had ever witnessed death, so they decided to just take me since I was the one that “could handle this kind of situation.” I did.

After that day, I began to notice that I was treated as a responsible adult while my siblings were allowed to make mistakes, have failures and be irresponsible at times. I was proud, though; I relished the idea that my parents believed that I could handle anything that life threw my way because I was smart, mature and strong. I was trusted to be where I was supposed to be and do exactly what I was supposed to do. When my brothers left the house, my mom was concerned over all of the possibilities of what could happen to them. When I departed our home, everyone assumed I would make the right choices and avoid any real trouble. They were wrong.

At fifteen years old, I lived out my parent’s worst nightmare and became a teen parent. To make matters worse, due to several health issues, no one was aware that I was pregnant until I gave birth, sending my entire family into a tailspin. My baby was perfectly healthy and went home with my parents two days later, while I remained in the hospital for several weeks. Concern overcame my parents’ initial disappointment in me. They knew that black women were two to six times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts. Although worried, they knew I would be okay because I was “strong”. Even when everyone began to suspect I was going through postpartum depression, they told me to shake it off and keep moving. I did. I worked, finished school avoided any extracurricular activities and became a full-fledged single parent at fifteen. When I decided to press my son’s father for help, my mother told me not to beg (he had been undependable) and to buckle down and figure things out on my own. I did.

The biggest display of my ability to stay strong, even in the worst of situations came at seventeen. My brother who was just eleven months older than me was shot and killed at my high school. My entire family was devastated and fell apart. Empathetic to my parents’ loss of a child, I did what I had become know for doing best; I met with funeral directors and insurance agents and planned my closest sibling’s funeral. There was no time for me to fall apart because I had to be the person that made sure everything went as planned. That had long been accepted as my job. After my brother was laid to rest, I took a moment and allowed myself to collapse in a heap of tears and screams on our kitchen floor. Confused by my sudden display of weakness, everyone assured me that I would be okay and I pulled myself together.

Since then, my life has been a constant exhibit of strength and resilience. I have taken pride in exceeding expectations, having the answers and keeping it together any time my world came tumbling down. I have always felt a responsibility to stand up when I feel someone is being mistreated. I have been called “brave” and “courageous”. This image is something I have cultivated and taken on as my identity. It has been good to me; helping me to make it through the best and worst of times and to bounce back from rock bottom. But being a “strong black woman” has been a double-edged sword.

People calling to check on me is a rarity. Most of the calls I receive are based in a need; money, advice, resources. Everyone assumes that my life is going well and never asks me how I am doing. When I am mistreated, empathy is hard to come by. The belief that I can get past anything has created a scenario where my pain is not taken seriously or even acknowledged. I observe as the most toxic and dysfunctional people in my orbit are handled gently and given multiple chances to make mistakes without repercussions. I don’t get that luxury. I am expected to be empathetic, forgiving, loving, concerned, engaged and responsible in every aspect of life while avoiding making anyone feel uncomfortable by sharing my emotions. I am expected to be strong without being intimidating or perceived as “angry”. I am not alone in this. Black women all around me have the same experience and we are tired.

There have been multiple studies on the societal treatment of black women; disproportionate treatment by the school system (especially dark-skinned black girls), a misconception and we require less protection and nurturing and are insensitive to pain and a disregard of us when we are victimized, murdered or missing. We are sexualized and perceived as adults early on, robbing us of the innocence of childhood. Even when we ask for help our pleas fall on deaf ears. Over the past several years, hashtags like #protectblackwomen #believeblackwomen and #sayhername have cropped up to highlight the indifference to the plight of women that look like me. The added stress of the pandemic, the economy and the impact on families has created a need for black women in particular to be cognizant of our mental health, practice self-care and set healthy boundaries.

Over the past couple of years, I have often analyzed how I am treated in both professional and personal settings. I have taken note of the dismissal of my concerns and feelings. In addition, I have taken care to understand the intent behind all communications I receive. Nowadays, I express my disappointment when friends, family and coworkers only reach out to me only when it benefits them. I am cutting people that have a negative impact out of my life and setting rules of engagement with those that will remain. All of us should do these things religiously. Black women are strong, but we are also vulnerable, scared at times and most importantly, human. We don’t have to be the backbone in every situation. We, too, should be given the benefit of the doubt. We need a break.

I was recently on a flight and during the pre-takeoff instructions, the flight attendant advised that parents should put their oxygen masks on before attempting to assist their children. That has become a metaphor for my life. Without first taking care of ourselves we cannot take care of others. Because black women were forced to care for others during and after slavery, the expectation has never died and has worked to our detriment. But, gone are the days where black women place the needs of any and everybody above our own. We are putting our oxygen masks on first, then looking around and deciding who actually deserves our love, strength and protection. We embrace situations and people that make us feel loved, respected and protected and say no unapologetically to circumstances that no longer serve us.