Hidden Figures (2 of 2)

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Still on Hidden Figures and the moments that had me squirming in my seat, sighing deeply, or straight bawling my eyes out…

Yesterday’s Wooden Door is Today’s Glass Ceiling

A few days ago, a girlfriend of mine called me, completely distraught.  She has been working on a difficult work project for months and just as she was finally approaching a note-worthy breakthrough, a senior leader took the project and assigned it to someone else.  She felt disregarded, invisible, unimportant.  How many of us have felt this way in the workplace at least once? You work hard on something only to have it snatched from you in the moment of glory.  Kat must have felt the same heartbreak each time she was asked to work behind the scenes only to have a White, male counterpart take credit.  In the final scenes of the movie, she solves a complicated and life-altering problem, and as soon as she communicates the solution, the door is shut in her face. Literally. She is shut out from seeing the fruits of her labor.  She is shut out from the glory and recognition.

If I Go Up, We All Going Up

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Dorothy finally receives an offer to move into a new, more prominent role after having managed a group of Black women analysts.  We watched as she authoritatively insists on bringing her team along with her.  She not only achieves this but passes on her self-taught knowledge on the new IBM to them! Her strength, her foresight, and her purity of intention warmed my heart in that scene!  Do we see this happen in today’s Corporate environment? Do Black women in Corporate look out for each other? Or do we step over each other to get to the next level? Especially since many of us have accepted the role of the token?   When you find yourself promoted into a senior leadership position, have you promoted Black women along your path? Even if you do not have such authority, there are other things you could do.  Have you ever taken the time to mentor an up and coming, Black intern? Have you helped her network and meet the right people? Have you spoken up for another Black woman when she is being maligned in her absence? Have you willingly shared knowledge to help her advance? I for one, think we could all use a dose of the Dorothy spirit every now and again.

The Charming, One-Liner White Man

So this one was profound for me as well.  I couldn’t even find the right subheading to capture it perfectly.  Let me try to explain.  Has anyone ever encountered this man in their Corporate environment?

Popular.

 Loud.

Somewhat obnoxious.

 “Funny” or something.

 Full of clever one-liners.

 Has no original thought of his own when it comes to work and thus is…

…great at rephrasing and piggy-backing.

Great at networking.

Looks the part… Your “All-American”, handsome, young, expensive haircut, clothes & car.

Hardly does any actual work and thus, makes this ish look easy.

We see him in John, the astronaut who is propelled into space by Kat’s genius.  Each scene had him cracking jokes, spitting out clever repartee, and just being…very comfortable in his skin. This by the way, is a sharp juxtaposition to Kat’s demeanor the entire movie…unsure, anxious, frazzled, timid.  There are many days where I am like Kat and I am surrounded by men like John.  When I first started out at a Big 4 Accounting firm in VA, I didn’t have a car so I relied on public transportation. It would take me 2 hours to get to work every day.  No matter how meticulously I planned my appearance, I would inevitably get to work a sweaty, anxious, insecure mess, as I hurried in from the bus stop across the street, and walked in to work next to Johns who drove fancy Porsches.  Kat must have felt this way each time she had to hustle clear across campus, 1.5 miles away to use the bathroom.

If this resonates with you, the next time you find yourself feeling this way, remember this.  You are here! Despite everything you deal with.  You are a success.  You are just as good.  No screw that.  You are better.

 

Hidden Figures (1 of 2)

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I saw Hidden Figures on MLK day.  I haven’t written in a while but I couldn’t stay away after watching this film.  I don’t recall any movie ever touching me quite this way.  My only regret was having to watch it in a theater full of old, White folks who annoyed me with every exclamation.  Like, honestly, why are you collectively gasping at the sight of the “Colored Only” coffee pot or bathroom?  This wasn’t that long ago…you were an adult then.

I felt so much during and after this movie and I couldn’t wait to come home and share. Given how rich this film is, I will share my thoughts over the next couple of parts to do it justice.  Btw, Spoiler Alert!

Nothing like a Black Sista Circle

Kat, Dorothy, and Mary from the very beginning, exuded a strong bond and an acceptance for each other that is … precious and enviable.   When Black women love each other and stand together, we create a support system that is nothing short of true sisterhood; a kind, I think, is unparalleled in women of any other race.  Seeing these women accept Dorothy’s love for all things mechanical, Mary’s smart mouth, Kat’s quirkiness… made me long to call my girlfriends.   When Dorothy opens up about feeling left behind while Mary and Kat’s careers seem to be moving forward,  her comfort in her vulnerability speaks volumes about the closeness and genuineness of their bond.  How many times have you felt a twinge of jealousy amidst genuine feelings of joy at your friend’s success? Do you share this with them? Will your friends wait hours for you so you can share their ride, pour you a drink and crank up some music when you feel down, nudge you towards Mr. Right when you want to run and hide from past hurt? If yes, hold on tight.  They are keepers.

Be Ye Perfect, O Black Woman

Despite many challenges, these women were the best in their fields.  They were surrounded by mediocrity and yet, were still not allowed a seat at the table.  If you’ve read most of my posts, you know how often this happens to Black women in Corporate.  Like Dorothy, we are often passed up for promotions we are deserving of, even after doing the job for years.  And yet, we are expected to suck it up, smile and nod and keep giving our all.  While today I am free to use any bathroom I choose, I find myself in a Corporate environment that is, uninviting at best, to someone like me.  I am constantly battling micro aggressive behaviors and comments and there are days when I feel inadequate and out of place.  On those days, I do not get a pass.  Not only can I not scream and cuss people out like I want to at times, but I must feign a light-hearted, relaxed persona like my White counterparts.  Perfection. The unwritten qualification every Corporate Black woman must possess to be just as successful as her mediocre peers.

The Benevolent White Man

This is one of the themes that struck me the most.  The idea of a tough but kindhearted, White man who goes against the grain to “save” the Black woman from the system designed to gobble her up.  We are first introduced to him in the form of the police officer in the first scene who helps them when their car breaks down.  We meet him again in Kat’s boss Al, who is seen dramatically destroying the “Colored” bathroom sign, allowing people to use any bathroom of their choosing.  Throughout the film, he grudgingly elevates Kat when it becomes clear she is head and shoulders above the rest of his staff.

I have met this man in my career in Corporate.  A White male boss I had during an internship, who “went to bat” for me with senior leadership and had to fight to keep me on even though I had received raving reviews.  Another who offered to help me in salary negotiations because he noticed I was earning much less than others within my tier (who were White).  While I applaud these men for taking unpopular stances to support Black women, I cannot ignore the structure that creates and fosters this power dynamic.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!

Can I Be “Unapologetically Black” like Kendrick?

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Did you see the Grammys last night?  I did. I rarely watch award shows, or TV in general for that matter. However I happened to be at the boyfriend’s last night and we ended up watching it.

So…Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Kendrick Kendrick! My mind is so blown, I am not sure where to start. That performance stole the entire show! His spirit, his fire, his lyrical talent, his artistic vision, his message! I was so proud to be Black in that moment.  Throughout his entire performance,  I was completely enthralled, not caring who else was in the room and what they were thinking or experiencing. Not caring if his passion and directness made anyone uncomfortable.  It was for me. He was…

Raw.
Untempered.
Uncensored.
Authentic.
Unapologetic.

Unapologetic. Not feeling or showing regret or shame. Without apology or qualification.

This is such a sharp contrast to the general conduct of Black folks in the Corporate workplace. The last thing the average “dual citizen” wants at work is to be recognized or characterized as Black or African or Nigerian. Rather than be proudly associated with our heritage and culture,  we shy away from it because in truth, we are worried about the perceptions of others.

Will I make them too uncomfortable?

Will they like me enough to promote me?

Will they think I’m lazy or unqualified?

Will they think I’m too ghetto? Too loud? Too stereotypical?

If I hang out with other Black folks, will they feel threatened? Left out?

If I speak with my authentic accent, will they understand me?

As a result of being overly concerned with these, we limit ourselves drastically and contort ourselves to fit into a mold that was never designed to contain us. We conform to standards of behavior that in fact have nothing to do with actual job performance,  but everything to do with creating a comfortable feeling for the White majority.

Kendrick is in great company. We have always had socially conscious artists throughout history. Artists like Nina Simone, Public Enemy, Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def are a few that come to mind.  Beyonce’s Superbowl performance of Formation lent her powerful voice to the ongoing conversations. However, with race relations remaining persistently strained in this country, it is increasingly important for Black people to….wait for it…

just…

Be Black & Proud.  In whatever field or, industry,  through what ever medium. Just be You. 100%.  Take up space. More space. You are no less qualified to be here than anyone else. Do not confine or refine or define yourself by the standards of anyone else. Why should anyone dictate how you are to be?

I know that this is not easy. We have “learned” to be the way we are now and may not even realize when we are being regretful or shameful of ourselves. So here are some small ways I plan to start making a change.

  • Eat what I want at the company picnic…I actually happen to love watermelon above all fruits.
  • Stop trying to force my natural hair into a ponytail so that it’s less…”whimsical”.
  • Hang out with other Black people at work.
  • Stop trying to soften my voice to sound more… “chipper”. Didn’t realize I was doing this but when you sit around 20 – something year old White women at work, all of a sudden you start noticing the extra depth in your voice compared to theirs.
  • Do not censor my likes or dislikes when talking to my White coworkers. For starters, when discussing the Grammys, I will be proud to say my favorite part was  Kendrick.

Because his performance reminded me of something very simple, yet important. To live an authentic life. Unapologetically so.

Any take aways from the show? Please share your thoughts and experience on race relations and Corporate America.

Surviving The Cube Life

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In this post I shared my initial experience sitting in a cubicle at my new job.  Since then, I have gotten quite used to this new environment by employing some simple tips. My general theme is peace and relaxation at work. See if these work for you.

Music

This is a constant for me. Especially with the high noise levels in the bullpen area I sit in. Tip: To avoid the embarrassment from this post, make sure your headphones are properly plugged in. I personally prefer softer sounds so easy listening, smooth jazz and some R&B.

Tea
I am a huge tea drinker. In addition to the numerous health benefits, the right cup of tea can calm your nerves which is essential when you do not have your own walls to keep away the nonsense.  While green tea is great in the morning, I prefer an oolong, peppermint or rooibois as the day wears on.

Space

 Those who know me know that I am a bit of a neat freak. I can’t stand to have clutter. Same goes for my desk at work. When my space is cluttered, so is my mind.

Along those lines, I used to be one of those people who was extremely minimalist when it came to my work space. My mantra was…if I had to leave the company today, I wanted to be able to pack in 2 minutes flat. So for a long time I had no personal effects at my desk. I would go to great lengths to create a nurturing and rejuvenating space at home, but would put no effort to recreate the same effect at work. The unfortunate truth is that we spend most of our waking  hours at work. So why not create a space that is welcoming and nurturing to your soul? Things like crystals, lighting, plants, inspirational sayings, pictures and other personal belongings have helped me achieve this effect at work.

Quiet room

My office building has a lot of these spread out throughout each floor. These are tiny rooms with comfortable seating and a phone. You can pop in for a quick private conversation or take a power nap. Up to you. When I feel the need to leave my immediate work space,  you can find me in one of these room doing anything from eating lunch to meditating. If your employer doesn’t have this,  schedule 5 or 10 mins every couple of hours to leave your cube. Take a walk. Outside or inside. Sit in your car…whatever you can do to get some alone time. Hugely important.

Be friendly with your neighbors

While you may not be the loudest person in the bullpen (and you shouldn’t be!), you should try to get to know at least a couple of folks in your area. Sitting in a cube farm helps when you know and like the folks in the same boat as you. A quick chat always helps break up to monotony of work and helps alleviate tensions.
These are not new.  They are just simple reminders to help make your cube experience…bearable.  Hoping at least one of these resonates!
Any tips you have used and want to share?

“I Am Old Enough To Be Your Father”

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OK, so no one actually said this to me directly.  Not in those words anyway.  I put the quotation marks to rattle you. 😉

All kidding aside, the sentiment behind the title is one I have encountered countless times as a young woman in Corporate America.  Given the fact that I am often the youngest person at my level at each company I have worked at, this isn’t surprising. Having a coworker or supplier throw their years of experience in my face has become somewhat of a daily occurrence. Usually it’s prefaced with the statement, “I don’t want to date myself…“, but their intent is to do just that. To let me know they have been doing this job since I was in diapers. That my “fancy MBA” cannot compete with their hard-earned on-the-job training.  Other times they say things like “In the good old days…” or they find a way to work in the even-less subtle “I have a daughter/son about your age…” in the conversation.

As someone who was raised on traditional African morals,  I have been brought up to correlate age with wisdom.  To assume that the older you are, the more likely it is that you know what you are talking about.  I respect age. I value age.  I admire age.  But I am not intimidated by it.

I think a lot of professionals with similar upbringing are nervous and timid when they find themselves in conversations, especially heated ones, with someone who surpasses them in age and/or experience.  They doubt themselves, doubt their competence, even belittle themselves indirectly.  I used to be that woman. Afraid to speak up in a conference room full of my “older peers”.  Worried that my limited experience would make them question my value.  These days however, I am taking a different approach.
My approach starts with valuing myself and acknowledging what I know, and don’t know.  It also includes giving myself a mental pat on the back. After all, I am here. Talking with you, my 57-year old, “I’ve worked here for 25 years” peer. Not bringing your coffee and not making your copies, but discussing strategic directions and negotiation tactics. And not only do I not sound like an idiot, I am giving you a perspective you hadn’t thought of before.  I ask questions, I challenge the status quo.  Yes, this is how you’ve done it for 20 years, but perhaps we could try something different?  I may be the same age as your daughter, but I know my sh*t. And you know that I know my sh*t. Otherwise, you wouldn’t resort to futile and desperate attempts at intimidation based on age.  You may have prejudged me based on skin color, gender and age, but you are quickly realizing how incorrect you are.  And that scares you.
I don’t claim to know it all.  Which is why I do listen quite a bit.  So when you see me silent, it’s not because I have nothing to say.  Rather, akin to a sponge, I am soaking up whatever valuable information is dispensed.  I go back to my desk and Google things I do not know.  I make a point to read books on topics where I still seek knowledge.
I realize that part of the issue here is your growing insecurity.  You worry perhaps that with many companies cutting back, I may edge you out of your cushy job, mess up the retirement benefits you are just a few short years away from enjoying.   You do not need to worry.  You still have your privilege and there is probably nothing I can do to take it away from you. Not that I knowingly would if I could.  This job represents a very small part of my full life.  Unlike you, I have no insecurities when it comes to my work.  Just learning and growth opportunities.  So, instead of seeing me as some kind of threat, let’s figure out how to work together and use our individual strengths to get more done.  We’d both be better off for it.

Cube Farm Life

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Have you ever had to go from sitting in a nice cushy office with one employer to switching to a cubicle with another?

Let me tell you. It is not easy.

I. miss. my. office.

In my current role, I get to work in an ultra-modern, brightly and naturally lit building with fully equipped gyms, convenient dry cleaning, fully stocked cafeteria, flex hours and…….yup, cubicles. Everyone, from the person in the mail room to director level folks sits in one of these.  I am not claiming to be above sitting in a cube. Before my last job, I had always sat in them as well. But trust me, after a 4 year stint, a girl gets accustomed to certain things. Such as  having a door and being able to shut it on occasion. Lol.

All of the below happened to me in my first 2 weeks of being in a cube:

1. I like listening to music at work. A little Sade, Yuna or Amel goes a long way in alleviating work stress and tuning out the bs. In my office previously,  I would have just played directly from my iPad,  no headphones, low volume. Here, headphones are a must, of course.

So, I plug in my headphones and crank up the volume. But for some reason, although I can hear it, the sound is not projecting as clearly as it should.

Turns out, my headphones were broken and the entire floor was treated to “I’m crying everyone’s tears…King of Sorrow”.

Yup.

I heard their collective heads turn to behold the new, afro-haired, Black woman with a love for Sade. Sigh.

2. Along these same lines, on occasion, a friend will send the funny Instagram or Facebook post, designed specifically to serve as comic relief and break up the day. A few days in, I received one of such IG posts, involving a video of Chief Obi (my non-Nigerians, please google). So yea, I must have accidentally clicked on the post, and my office was delighted with this wonderfully humorous skit in a highly exaggerated Igbo accent. I couldn’t hit STOP fast enough! I’m not sure I’ve lived this down yet. Lol.

3. I have also had to explain my food more than ever because I have had a few working lunches. You know from this post, how I feel about that.

Other things that make the cube farm life fun include:

People literally watch your comings and goings. Everyone knows when you arrive in the morning, how often you leave your desk, and when you leave.

Phone conversation can be difficult. If you want to have a spur of the moment call with a business partner, those are challenging  because noise levels tend to get high. I had a supplier call me at my desk. As I was speaking to him, my cube neighbor decided, at that precise time to engage in his own, very colorful convo. If you want to have a personal conversation,  you must leave your desk, or be an expert whisperer.

Although I have an issue with trying to maintain my privacy, I am equally disturbed by people revealing TMI during personal loud phone convos. Like, did I really need to overhear you talk to someone about your bunion surgery? Or your yeast infection? Or hear about your crazy ex? Doubtful. Now I can’t help the ensuing side-eye I give you when our paths cross.

Oohh, this one is good. Your computer screen. You need to take measures to secure your screen from the peering eyes behind you.

I have also had to be very…stealth about more personal things such as quickly shoving a tampon in my pocket before rushing to the bathroom.  Or more embarrassing things like hoping no one could hear my stomach growl either from hunger or worse, gas, like the day I had bad Thai food. Lol.

In my next post, I will share tips I have been employing to make my Cube Farm life more…bearable.

What have you experienced while sitting in a cube environment?  Do you like it or dislike it? Please share.

Who Taught You To Be Confident?

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If you’ve read my last few posts,  you may have noticed that I am a few months in with a new employer. As I’m sure you know, there are definitely challenges and growing pains that come along with any major transition. Mine has not been easy but I’m making it work.

My new role involves being a senior team member with the responsibility of helping to develop an up and coming team.  One of the team members is a young woman; smart, personable. She was very welcoming of me to the team and she frequently expressed her gratitude for “having someone she could learn and grow from.”  Over the last few months, we have developed an informal, but close mentoring relationship where I not only coach her through specific job tasks, but her career overall. This excites me! I have struggled to find my path in the Corporate world, wondering if there is a way for my double consciousness to intersect seamlessly. I know now that whatever I end up doing will involve coaching and mentoring young Professional women.

We have spent a great deal of time together, mostly over lunches or even text  messages.   Over the course of many conversations with her, I found that her biggest obstacle is self confidence. Shortly after this realization,  it occurred to me that she reminded me of myself 10 years ago. I then pondered on how many people I’ve met, women especially who still struggle with understanding their value and place in Corporate America.

We spend so much time and money educating young minds on technical knowledge  and no time on the emotional and psychological mindsets required to succeed in this crazy world. When I think back to the preparation I received for Corporate America,  I remember Math, Accounting, Finance, Supply Chain, etc. Don’t misunderstand me; these are necessary. Without those key words on my resume, the doors would never have been opened to me.

But what about the less tangible skills around dealing with harsh criticism from an insatiable organization?

What about learning how to navigate a severely “matrixed” organization, where it’s impossible to know who your true boss actually is? One where you really do have to please everyone to succeed?

What about maintaining composure and feigning motivation when you keep bumping against that glass ceiling, and have been passed over time and time again for promotions you worked for?

We hear that women make $0.78 to a man’s dollar.  What we never hear is how young people should prepare for that and not have their self esteem shattered by it.

What about staying “professional” when your male counterpart adds a few extra levels of bass in his voice, as he obnoxiously interrupts you in a meeting in front of your entire department,  to steal your game – changing idea, and then eventually win an Excellence Award for it? Oh, and by the way, you had mentioned the idea to him and he brushed it off as “completely infeasible and way off mark”?

I could go on and on…

Are we just assuming that young people, barely out of school are inherently equipped to deal with this? That they know innately to keep their heads up and not cower even when that is the most natural reaction? Clearly not, or I wouldn’t have come across so many like the young lady I described above. Really smart, knows her stuff, but steadily receiving a daily dose of confidence – eroding, microagressive feedback from bosses, coworkers and the system in general.

I think this is a huge miss. I think courses targeted towards building your self esteem should be incorporated squarely into the curriculum of any B school or any Professional academic institution for that matter.  I would argue that possessing the ability to successfully navigate the Corporate American environment, having the stomach and mind for it, may even be more valuable than having the “head”, the technical expertise for it .

I know I cannot effect a massive overhaul of anyone’s curriculum overnight (or maybe ever). But I do plan to continue to invest my time and resources into filling that void, by mentoring young women who come my way, making sure they never lose sight of their true value. And that’s how this dual citizen plans to make a lasting contribution in both worlds.