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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“Where Is She Going To Go?”

 

It’s been a while, I know… much longer than I would have liked.  I have had some life changes lately that I’ll share in a later post. 😉

Anyways, I wanted to address something I have not only heard of but experienced first hand in Corporate America.

Flight Risk Analysis.

In layman’s terms, this is where the higher ups get to determine the likelihood of you leaving the company.  If you are a highly valued employee with high performance, and have been deemed high flight risk, then they will start working hard to keep you. This means that if you ask for something, say a promotion, a raise, flex time, you are more likely to get it because they do not want to lose you. However, if you are a low flight risk then…sigh, well…you get the point.

Up until recently, I had never been privy to those discussions behind closed doors.  A few weeks ago, I basically got the 411 on what had been said in these meetings and was extremely disappointed.

“She is a middle-aged, single mom with 3 kids. Where is she going to go?”

“You know, he’s pretty tight lipped,  but he did mention that the medical bills have piled up since his wife’s treatments.”

“Well, we just relocated him from Des Moines so he still owes us relo. He’d have to pay us 50K if he left anyways.”

“We are in the middle of her green card filing so she can’t leave for another 3 or so years either way.”

This is how they basically decided whether these employees were worth investing in or not! Regardless of their actual value or contribution to the company. And here I was thinking it had only to do with effort and those many hours spent working late to deliver.

It didn’t matter that I was overdue for the promotion. In that moment,  the only thing that mattered to them was whether I could leave or not! Which is why I had to show them. Hehe! More to come.

Here are a few tips I have picked up that may help…

Be careful what details you share and whom you share them with. I am pretty sure I have said it before but it bears repeating. It may seem like you are just making conversation, or being more sociable, or trying to fit in. But every little detail goes in a little file, a mental one, if not an actual physical file. When the time is ripe, that information will either help or hurt you. Be alert and share only the things that will help. So perhaps they don’t need to know how much debt you have, or what illnesses your loved ones may be battling, or even an expensive vacation you took. Always have your wits about you and avoid what is known as Word Vomit.

I recall though a coworker I had who went out of her way to let us know that she didn’t need the job. At every opportunity,  she would mention her husband was a Stanford-educated doctor with his own practice. She would let us know that she was working because she was passionate and enjoyed it. This seemed to work for her and she often got whatever she asked for.

Like I said, know what helps and what hurts.

Know who to trust. I’m not saying that you should be a complete recluse at work. But know when the friendships you have built are genuine and when they are not. If they are not, then be polite. Cordial. But don’t over share.

Also, having a good network will help you know what is being said in those meetings.

Make plans. Don’t be naive in thinking you are not being categorized into high or low flight risk. Just be self aware enough to know where they think you fall. If low, then make plans to change something. Don’t just wallow in it. Look for another opportunity. Change your circumstance.

I know someone who, though miserable at work, refuses to look for another job because she would owe tuition reimbursement money to the company. So it has gone from a regular job to indentured servitude.  This is a huge mistake. My advice? Please look for another job. There are companies that value you enough to pay your tuition back. You can negotiate your compensation to include a sign on bonus to cover the cost. This is not unheard of. It happens every day. Be creative!

Don’t let them mess with your self confidence…thereby keeping you from making plans. I had another coworker and friend of Chinese descent who came to the US 3 years ago. He had never spoken English growing up, although he could read it very well.  He struggled to assimilate and during presentations, he would be asked not to speak because “no one could understand him.” The  crazy thing is that although his spoken English is infinitely better, his confidence has been hurt. He is deemed low flight risk and so they have stopped investing in him even though this guy is a wicked smart, Chemical Engineering wizard! As low flight risk,  they have taken work from the high flight risk folks and dumped it on him. He won’t look for another job because as he told me (in perfect English, I might add), “I don’t think I would do well in an interview. My English isn’t very good”.

Continue to deliver and earn your paycheck. Obviously. Because trust me, even if you are a high flight risk but a low performer,  you will be shown the door.  Don’t relent in your work ethic.   Don’t be pushed out before your plans hatch.

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Resident “Alien”

Have you ever had a conversation with someone at work that left you … speechless? Now, I consider myself quite witty and have no issue dishing out clever reparte when necessary. But this was…
A White, male peer, who once sat in a neighboring office, found out somehow that I was on an employer-sponsored visa. Let’s call him Jim. Since I did not divulge this information to Jim, he must have overheard me talking to my lawyer.

Jim:

While standing in my office doorway and speaking quite loudly…

So I heard they asked you to move to France and you said no, because of your visa situation?

Me:

Uhhh… I guess.

Trying to decipher how he found out.


Jim:

Man, that sucks. It would have been a great opportunity. I hear they are offering XX thousand dollars in signing bonus if you go.

Me:

Yea

At this point I’m showing all the obvious signs of discomfort with this conversation. I have shifted away from him to face my keyboard and have begun to type an email. He continues…

Jim:

I hear they might lay people off if they turn it down.

Me:

O….k. Hadn’t heard that.

Jim:

So how does the visa thing work? If you get laid off, you have to go home, right?  What will you do? You’re from Africa, right? You would have to go back there? That would suck with all the issues going on there right now.

Me:

silence.

disbelief.

blank stare.

Jim:

well, good luck. Hope it all works out.

—————–
I have to say, I still haven’t properly collated my thoughts on this issue. But I know it upsets me.
Ever since my arrival into the U.S almost 15 years ago, I have been reminded constantly of my “alien” status. It started in college as professors and students would not only mispronounce my name, but do it so dismissively. Like they couldn’t be bothered. I dreaded that roll call first day of class.  Just as I had begun to get used to this feeling, by my second year, I started realizing that I was not allowed to go after certain internships I was otherwise qualified for, because I was an “alien”.
Once I got my first “real” Corporate job, still on a visa, I remember this nagging feeling of being…unsettled. I didn’t feel like I could lay down any roots. I didn’t buy any nice furniture, much less think of home ownership. I would even use disposable utensils.  Because, who knew? I could be asked to leave at any time, and even though I had spent my entire adult life here, I would only have 30 days to pack it all up. I can tell you that this is not a good feeling and really does hinder your quality of life.
I commend every non-US native, Corporate-American who has endured this. With all the struggles of the job and life itself, you have this to contend with as well. And you do it with grace. Without letting them see how unsure you are about your future.
To the ‘Jims’ of Corporate-America, I have some choice words for you, but I will opt for a more…diplomatic route :).  Please treat this topic sensitively as it is sensitive for us. In case you are that obtuse and can’t tell, we really don’t want to talk with you about this. It is really none of your business. I choose to discuss this topic with friends and family, people who genuinely care about my well being. Many have come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Much like your ancestors did. Do not ask annoying questions about our immigration status. It is difficult enough to try to do a great job and compete (as we are often have to work harder to prove we are good enough), without adding your tactless comments to the mix.
And please, can someone think of a different term to refer to non-US natives  that does not include a word also used to describe extra terrestrial life not originating from Earth?!