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.
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.”
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:
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…
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.