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.

Mental Health & the Corporate Black Woman

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I have been contemplating this topic for the last several months but every time I started to write about it, I found myself discouraged by the weightiness of the subject.  You see, Black women, Black people in general, rarely talk about mental health, though most of us, if we are honest, probably know at least one person in our families that is not quite mentally healthy. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I decided to push through and get this out.

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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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5 Things I Did On My Recent Staycation

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You know one thing I’ve seen several colleagues do throughout the years that makes no damn sense? Give up their vacation days! So, most of you in Corporate are probably familiar with the term “use it or lose it” as it relates to Paid Time Off. This essentially means that you are required to carry a balance of no more than x hours of PTO at any given time. Thus, if you have more that the allotted amount, you will end up forfeiting those hours.

You may as well be returning a portion of your paycheck to the company. How crazy is that? Why?!

I know a few close African friends who feel guilty and undeserving when they take time off, perpetually waiting for “the best time when things calm down at work”. Let me tell you what I tell them. There is never a perfect time. Trust me, the building will not burn down if you take a few days for yourself. And if waiting for the best time means giving those days back…not worth it.

I value every single day of PTO just as much as I value my pay check.

While I enjoy travel, I have actually come to appreciate and prefer the beauty of a well-planned staycation.

For one, you save some coins and you spend way less time prepping and stressing as you would planning a vacation.

3 weeks ago, I took 5 days off and staycationed, coming back feeling more recharged and reset than I have ever felt on any vacation. Here is how I spent my time:

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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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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…

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