Home, Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

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

Want to read more articles like this? Subscribe below

Home, Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

The Curious Case of Kanye: Why His Problems Have Nothing To Do With Black Women

Photo Cred: TMZ.COM

Another day… another prominent Black man is using his blackness to garner support from Black women. Let me start by saying that I have no problem whatsoever with interracial relationships. I believe that all human beings are entitled to and should love who they love. I do have a problem with Black people justifying their self-worth by their proximity to whiteness. In addition, nothing bothers me more than those same Black people getting shunned by the white people they have aligned themselves with and returning to the Black community for support in their self-imposed plight.

I remember when Kanye West first hit the scene with his College Dropout album. He was raw and gritty, from the streets of Chicago, had just survived a terrible car accident that inspired his debut single, Through the Wire, and had been raised by his mother, Donda West, for whom he had the utmost love and respect. We could relate, as most of us had been through or knew someone who had experienced some aspect of his life. He was the ultimate story of overcoming. Black women’s reverence for him was further solidified when he dropped his single with Jamie Foxx, Gold Digger. One verse, in particular, caught fire:

“So you stick by his side.
I know there’s dudes ballin’, and yeah, that’s nice.
And they gonna keep callin’ and tryin’, but you stay right, girl,
And when you get on, he leave yo’ ass for a white girl.”

I couldn’t personally relate to the lyrics and could not have cared less who any man chose but knew this was a strong narrative circulating amongst Black women. The belief that some Black men would stay with us while they struggled, using our loyalty to grow and flourish, then move on to white women when success hit was hurtful to many. Kanye understood. He, too, could relate. He put Black women’s pain to pen and paper and hit a gold mine. I was skeptical, as I knew the history of people using Black pain and suffering for profit.

As the years went on, Kanye seemed to change. He lost his mother, married, and created a family with Kim Kardashian, appearing to have followed the blueprint he laid out in Gold Digger. His supposed slap-in-the-face of Black women was the catalyst for Poet, Jasmine Man’s 2015 poem, Footnotes for Kanye. As the years went on, we watched him spiral into an abyss of perceived anti-blackness. He allowed his wife to repeatedly appropriate Black hairstyles, mimicking and exploiting the aesthetics of Black women. He supported Donald Trump, who publicly and aggressively sought to disenfranchise Black voters among many other terrible things. And let’s not forget the “Slavery was a choice” thing. Over the years, Kanye has successfully dismantled his reputation in many circles of black people unapologetically.

Fast forward to today. Kanye is in the midst of a messy divorce from Kim Kardashian. His unstable behavior over several years had led to the decline of his marriage. Last year we watched as he begged his wife to take him back. She seems to have ignored his pleas and since then, we have seen him publicize his co-parenting drama time and time again. Then today, Kanye issued the following statement on Instagram:

Divorce and co-parenting problems are not new or exclusive to Kanye West. With almost half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s entirely possible that many of us have experienced the same. Expressing one’s feelings on social media is the new norm. Although not ideal, many people do it to gain support, get sympathy, or simply to vent. But something about this post really bothered me.

The use of the word “BLACK” and the context it was used in feel inauthentic and in my opinion, take away from the real problems that Black people experience. In the first instance, Kanye talks about claims that he put a hit on Kim and how easily these false accusations can impact the lives of Black men. You have to be living under a rock to not understand the impact of police brutality on the Black community and the frequency of Black men being locked up, based solely on the testimony of white women. Although this is a valid concern, I believe Kanye is bringing it up to exploit the emotions that Black women feel when confronted with racism and injustice against Black men. It’s common knowledge that Black women are at the forefront of the fight for racial justice. He knows that and is using that for his own personal benefit, whether warranted or not.

In the second instance, Kanye uses the word “BLACK” in reference to his children, implying the need to protect them. Black women have a history of being viewed as nurturers and living up to that stereotype. Whether being forced to care for the families and nurse the children of slaveowners while ours went neglected, and even feeding our broken and battered men from our breasts when they were deprived of food or the expectation that we are the empathetic caretakers in the organizations, Black women are often given everyone’s burden to carry. When it comes to children, especially Black children, our natural inclination is to protect them from the unique dangers they face in this world. As the son of a Black mother, Kanye gets this. Instead of dealing with his marital woes like a man, he is using his platform to lay his problems at the feet of black women. Words have power and he is yielding that power to play on our emotions.

As a man with the resources needed for whatever legal custody battles he faces and undoubtedly, a team of “yes” men and women surrounding him, ready to jump at his every beck and call, there is no financial support that we can provide him in his time of need. But that’s not what he is looking for. What he needs is our anger, our empathy, our maternal instincts toward his Black children. Kanye wants to win in the court of public opinion and he wants to enlist the help of Black women to wage emotional warfare on his soon-to-be ex-wife. Make no mistake about it. There are some of us that have already internalized his plight and decided that we are ready to get in the trenches to protect this man against the racial injustice he is apparently facing. I am not one of those women and you should not be.

In recent times, self-care has become a 10 billion dollar industry, buoyed by the realization of Black women that our first obligation is to ourselves. We have awakened to the idea that it is not our job to save every Black man that needs saving. Kanye cannot launch a successful career off the backs of black people, say and do hurtful things to those same people, and return to them for support when it’s convenient. He made the decisions that he felt were best for his life and career and has to lie in the bed he made. Most of us get it and take the situation and his obvious pandering to Black women for what it is… gaslighting. My hope for all of us is that we save our energy for those that deserve it and live up to the responsibility they hold as influencers. Let’s prioritize ourselves and ignore the chatter. Don’t be sucked into situations that do not involve you, protect your energy, and certainly do not allow toxic and conniving men of any race to use your Black Girl Magic reserves to fill their cups while leaving your tank on empty.

Here is a list of 9 ways to practice self-care from Essence Magazine.

“I don’t have to go around trying to save everybody anymore; that’s not my job.” ~Jada Pinkett-Smith

Black Girl Magic – Shutterstock

NyRee Ausler

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe below to be notified about upcoming posts.

Home, Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

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

Home, Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

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

Home, Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

Is it “Imposter Syndrome” or Gaslighting?

Photo Cred: Shutterstock

Over the past several years, the term “Imposter Syndrome” has inundated social networking platforms like LinkedIn. Imposter Phenomenon was first introduced in 1978 in an article entitled, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. The idea behind imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon is that despite overwhelming evidence that you are competent, you doubt your skills and abilities and have a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud. You attribute your success to luck or the ability to deceive people into believing that you are smarter than you actually are. Wikipedia provides a detailed description here. Imposter syndrome is usually used to refer to women in the workplace but also occurs in men and in interactions outside of work.

I wasn’t aware of the term in my early twenties but clearly recall the first time I doubted myself. I was working in a Payroll department with no manager so decided to apply myself and take on manager duties. The CFO of the company was happy with my performance, so much so that they decided not to hire a manager for over a year. As the company grew, the need to expand the department became obvious, so the role of Payroll Manager was opened. I had performed all of the duties and done them well, but to my surprise, an external candidate was selected and I was completely overlooked. To add insult to injury, I was enlisted to train the new manager to take on the duties I was already performing. When I got up the nerve to confront the CFO, I was told that although I could perform the job, they were still (after two years) trying to determine whether or not I was a cultural fit for leadership at the organization. As the only black woman working in a company full of white men and sprinkled with a few white women, I read between the lines and understood that I was too black to be promoted.

Despite understanding what had gone unsaid in that situation, I began to overthink every single action I took during my tenure. Maybe I should have gone to lunch with co-workers more. Could I have smiled more? Is it possible I could have handled even more work? Was I “angry” or “aggressive”? Perhaps I was not as smart or talented as I thought I was. Despite being fully aware that my skills and abilities in payroll were exemplary and receiving confirmation from numerous outside sources, that self-doubt stuck with me for several years. I would refrain from applying to positions I was qualified for and stay in roles I was overqualified for, constantly working above my title and pay grade. I was afraid of rejection; scared of finding out that I was stupid and didn’t know it. Even after realizing my worth, I continued to battle with “superiors” who wanted to keep me in my place throughout my career.

I believe the term “gaslighting” originated from George Orwell in his book entitled 1984. If you haven’t read it… Whew! You really need to. But a great explanation of gaslighting can be found in this NBC news article by Sarah DiGiulio. The article defines gaslighting as someone manipulating another person into questioning their own perceptions, recollections, and reality. The manipulator is essentially telling the victim, “Don’t believe your lying eyes.” It’s a form of emotional abuse and usually occurs in relationships, whether professional or personal, where there is a power dynamic. Sometimes imposter syndrome starts internally. Other times it is imposed on you by outside sources. External gaslighting from those in positions of power can cause you to believe that your success was a fluke or that you are pretending to be something that you are not.

Imposter syndrome is not an equal opportunity condition. As a matter of fact, according to this Equality Matters write-up by Sheryl Nance-Nash on BBC, women of color (specifically Black and Latinx) are impacted by this far more frequently than their white counterparts. With less than five percent of corporate board seats held by women of color and virtually no black women heading up Fortune 500 companies, it’s no surprise that there is an overwhelming sense that we don’t belong when considering roles in leadership or submitting our candidacy. Even more often, we are allowed to do the work but denied the recognition and compensation associated with it.

It is vitally important to differentiate between authentic imposter syndrome and being gaslighted into believing you are an imposter. A feeling of self-doubt prompted by being the only one, the first person that looks like you to be in the position, coming from a non-traditional background, or being unable to relate to the people around you is normal and can be overcome with self-work and personal counseling. But the latter, being told that you are unqualified, not ready, or not a “cultural fit” despite exhibiting competence and living up to expectations is downright abusive. Determining which is afflicting you is important and whatever the cause, taking action is necessary. If your self-doubt is self-imposed, seek help. If you believe that you are being used and abused, speak up and remove yourself from the situation. Your feelings are valid nothing is more important than your mental health. Know your worth and protect your peace.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health crisis, the CDC offers connections to various resources here.

If you believe you are being/have been discriminated against in the workplace or subjected to disparate treatment, contact the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

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.