We Deserve Better
“The toxic system is counting on our silence.” — Michelle MiJung Kim
I have had to leave more companies than not. You know, the companies that dangle the carrot and the stick leading you nowhere, but in circles. I have had unqualified managers more times than I can count. They’re unqualified to lead People of Color.
I have been othered my whole life. I am fundamentally different from the dominant groups in the spaces I share. In workspaces, I am constantly made to feel small. I was talked down to and mistreated by White folks and People of Color. Zora Neale Hurston reminds us, “All my skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.”
I have had to create my community everywhere I go. I didn’t grow up with social capital. I didn't have a family name that preceded me in social circles. I have never pursued networking with the interest of my gain. That’s not to say I haven’t met amazing people along my path who are now part of my community. I have had to prove myself over and over again to gain access to people and spaces.
“Addressing our pain is a form of liberation.” -Minda Harts
I have many stories to tell. This one, in particular, starts with an employer who made a salary and benefits offer significantly lower than what I previously made. At the very least I asked for $20k more and got it. Anything more was initially declined. I took the offer thinking that’s the sacrifice you have to make to work with predominantly Black and Brown folks in this space. However, I was still making a substantial financial sacrifice. I thought it was worth it to work within a company of folks I could collaborate with while doing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion work. I was told to, “Just go ahead, take the leap, and love who loves you back!”
The way “leaders” tell a narrative that can fracture your relationship(s) with colleagues, cross-functional partners, leadership, partnerships, and clients has me wanting to tell my story. Cause it’s never my first time at the rodeo.
“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” — African Proverb
I wasn’t set up for success from the beginning. I had to ask for a new reporting structure, which was honored. I highlighted areas of improvement the business needed and took the initiative to implement them. I created new internal processes to ensure quality and completed deliverables on time. I improved overall team performance across the engagements I led. I was brought in to clean up client relationships that were spiraling while leading my own. I did so successfully. I secured client renewals where it made sense for the client. Clients and internal employees gave testimonials during and after my internal and external engagements that they were pleasantly satisfied with my leadership.
I witnessed someone on the leadership team tell a client that their employees were leaving their company because they develop their employees so well, they leave. It was far from the truth. They also added that other companies offer too much money to hold on to their folks. When in reality, the environment was so toxic that Black and Brown folks were leaving left and right.
The last five women of color left without another job. Not to say that they weren’t looking for their next move, but deciding to stay was more harmful than leaving. Eleven employees chose to leave within ten months. A company ignoring the day-to-day realities of its employees. No HR in practice, only title. No metrics or accountability for performance. No performance reviews. Five months into my role, it was communicated to me that I was a high performer and was on track to be promoted three months later. I advocated for my promotion. The promotion in pay came, but the title change was denied. Meanwhile, still getting paid less than what I made prior.
It was made clear a new requirement was now being tied to a title change. I needed to fall in line. I needed to sell the business to new clients. The renewal of contracts did not count. Bringing in new business took precedent over employees needing processes to deliver complete and quality work. Profits mattered more than the people who worked there.
No clear plan was made to support our advancement. I was being told I need to sell. All I was bringing to clients and internal employees was not enough. Nobody at the company was able to play an instrumental role in my success, albeit I worked closely with the women in leadership.
I gave my notice to leave. I was offered an opportunity to stay longer and a chance to change my mind, I said no. I was asked if I would be open to taking on a contractor role, I said no.
When it came time to tell my clients I was leaving they wanted time to frame the narrative. I was told they would tell my clients in my absence. I advocated telling my clients in my presence similar to how previous departures were announced. There was one client my manager shared the news with while we were on the client call. The client gave me my flowers for leading our $90k 4-month engagement successfully. I was grateful this relationship was being honored. Unfortunately, the others were not.
Furthermore, I partnered closely with two women on the leadership team. They both told me they would be more than happy to write me a recommendation. They said I did a great job leading and managing my engagements and noted the value I brought to the company. However, when I formally asked for a recommendation, they both sent me a variation of a copy-and-paste response about how it is a company policy to not provide recommendations. The response and approach are intended to be harmful and damaging.
“I wasn’t aware before but the leadership team cannot provide recommendations to employees. It’s a company policy. Our attorney has advised we are only at liberty to verify employment. I’m sorry that I cannot do this for you, as I think the world of you. Thanks Again for everything and wishing you all the best!”
My senior quote in high school was, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great.” I’m grateful I have prioritized my self-worth and self-care throughout my workforce journey. Sometimes I stayed longer than I should have, yet eventually, I left.
Companies are relying on The Great Resignation narrative to justify why employees are leaving their companies and not holding themselves accountable. When really, as Karin Kimbrough, Chief Economist at LinkedIn said in a 60 minutes interview on The Great Resignation noted, “I like to think of it as take this job and shove it measure. It’s just a sign of people saying I don’t need this, I’m out.”
We should be honoring people who remove themselves from harmful work environments. There are plenty out there. Instead, folks are looked at sideways for leaving a job “early.” Celebrate us wanting more for ourselves. To everyone this resonates with, I want to quote the great Minda Harts, “Rooting for your healing.”
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