Mammy in Corporate America

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One of the most exciting things I have recently observed in the media is the evolution of the portrayal of Black women. Although this development seems slow, arduous and definitely long overdue, it is somewhat encouraging to see these early signs of progress. TV Shows like Issa Rae’s Insecure or Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar are making steady contributions to this cause, and creating a space for Black women to exist freely, without archetypes. You see, dating back to…hell, forever ago, Black women in real life and consequently in the media have been typecast into one of the following categories: The Jezebel, The Angry Black Bitch, and yes, The Mammy.

The Mammy (noun): The obedient, doting caretaker who often nurtures others even better than herself or her family. We’ve all seen these roles and images repeatedly.

The Mammy unfortunately lives beyond the TV and movie screens. She is alive and well. Even in Corporate America. It is most interesting to discover that many Black women play this role in their Professional lives without even realizing it.

When you first entered the Corporate workforce, yes, you wanted to excel. But you also wanted to fit in. As the only Black woman at the companies you worked for, you wanted to be liked by your White colleagues. You wanted them to find you relatable and approachable; to counter the negative impressions you knew they had of Black women in general.

Yes, there are genuine interracial friendships that develop in the workplace. But many are not. Here are some tell-tale signs to watch out for:

1) You laugh at their humorless, even off-color and inappropriate jokes. We all know they think we don’t smile or laugh. The kind of laugh that haunts your soul later once the mask is off. Like, why did I laugh at that?

2) You spend hours listening to stories you care nothing about. Stories of their rebellious kids and drunken ski-trips. You go well beyond the normal expectations of interpersonal workplace interactions. You know, the obligatory 1 minute small talk as you share the elevator ride down to your cars after work. You have become unduly emotionally invested in their lives. At least they trust you, you’d think to yourself.

3) You look out for them. You let them take credit for work you had done and for which they had zero input. You let them “piggy-back” on your ideas, pretending not to notice.

4) You are always having your “brain picked”. Expertise you have gained, courses you have paid for on your own dime are being leveraged by them, for no reward. You may even be the person who trains everyone else. The “subject-matter expert”. You train them, they get promoted, leaving you behind.

5) You even let them get away with throwing you under the bus a few times. To avoid being seen as aggressive, you wouldn’t object.

6) You are the go-to, resident Black token. Essentially hawking your Black skin and culture for their acceptance. Whatchu need? Black skin for the company brochure? A Black employee to parade around when trying to attract a Black-owned client? The “Black take” on the latest Beyonce album? Or even someone to decode “urban” quips? You know I gotchu!

I could go on and on.

Here’s the kicker.
These friendships, if one can call them that, are entirely one-sided. They don’t take a genuine interest in getting to know you. They don’t really care what you do on the weekends or vacations. They ask you the same questions over and over, indicating they really aren’t listening to your answers. When you get passed over for promotions you’ve earned, and still have to come in the next day, they don’t notice the subtle change in your demeanor, the heaviness of your feigned smile. They bypass it and go on to talk about the next concert or beer tasting. Their acknowledgement of you is entirely superficial, as they judiciously notice changes in your hair length or style but nothing else.

And worse yet, issues affecting communities of color, issues you care about, such as police violence are completely avoided since it makes them uncomfortable. And it’s all the same to you, though. Right? Seeing that as a Corporate Dual Citizen, you don’t really trust them with your true thoughts and feelings anyway.

I have been where you are and I know the feeling. If any of this resonates with you, contact Intelle Coaching Solutions for a free consultation. You too can begin benefitting from interpersonal workplace relationships instead of being sabotaged by them. Visit Intelle for more details.

Corporate Startup Culture & a Young, Black, Introverted Woman

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In a recent blog post, I hinted at a previous job transition I had made going from your typical multinational corporation to a smaller, younger company with a more start-up vibe. At the time, I was ecstatic about this change! Finally, I was leaving a place that had too many rules about the wrong things i.e. what I wore to work, whether I could work from home, exactly when I could take lunch, etc. I was going to a place where I could make an impact, where my voice could be heard and my expertise valued. A company whose values aligned with mine. Not only could I relate to its products, I liked what the company stood for: health and wellness.

It’s ironic but, well is not how I would have described myself after working there for a year.

Many corporate startups/smaller companies pride themselves on their company culture and use this as a major recruitment tool. Shortly after the words “our culture” is spoken, it’s followed by things like: in-office yoga, free food, ping-pong, cornhole sets, no dress code, and in my case, free kombucha. Since I loved kombucha and couldn’t afford to pay for it as often as I’d like, I was sold!

But as Krisserin Canary alludes in her article 5 red flags every woman should look for when considering a job at start-up, these perks do not a culture make. She goes on to indicate that for a lot of these misguided companies, culture is an “arbitrary set of attributes that define what a person who works here looks like.”

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“I Love Your Hair! It’s a Weave, Though, Right?”

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In this post, I wrote about my initial hair-related experiences in Corporate America as a Black woman. Sadly, after over a decade later, I still experience the unsolicited, often annoying commentary regarding my tresses. And I must say, I have still not gotten used to it. Even though I have come to expect it, I still find myself getting worked up. However, judging by the number of hair-related tweets that were featured in the #BlackWomenAtWork twitter eruption this week, I am not alone.

Recently I worked with an amazing, fast-paced, startup – unbelievable perks, flexible environment. The kind of place that has essential oil workshops, Wednesday in-office yoga and free vegan food at our fingertips. This is the company of my dreams…with one exception. I am the only Black woman that works there. The only raisin in the proverbial cookie. Let that sink in for a minute.

So I essentially have two jobs. One is the job I was hired for, a Supply Chain executive, while the other is the more tedious, unpaid responsibility of representing Blackness.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into work on Monday, doing my usual route – walk in, head to kitchen to drop off lunch, fix my breakfast smoothie and eggs, before heading down to my desk. I should mention that this kitchen is unlike that in most offices. Equipped with a full range, pots and pans, a Vitamix and free food, our kitchen is often the office hangout, as someone is usually making breakfast or baking vegan goodies for everyone. Anyhoo, as I walk in, one of my White, female coworkers (let’s call her Becky) engages me in the following exchange:

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Get Out

get outAm I the only one who lives for all the intelligent, positive, thought-provoking films for and by Black folks coming out recently? Like honestly, I am still feeling the tingles from Hidden Figures and am often reminded of some of its scenes. Last Saturday was date night and I grudgingly agreed to go see the movie Get Out. To be honest, other than seeing the trailer pop up on social media a few times, I hadn’t paid much attention to it. I thought to myself, “this is probably your run-of-the-mill horror movie and um…ain’t nobody got time for that”. Plus, I am not a huge fan of Peele’s style of comedy. 

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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.

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“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.
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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:

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