I want to start by adding a disclaimer, and being crystal clear. This is my personal experience. I understand my experience may be the polar opposite for another person, but this has been my experience in the corporate space for the last 20 years as a Black female. I can tell you that white males have consistently been my advocates, and most often than not, white women have been my adversaries.
I’ll start at the beginning, this was around 2000 when I worked as a call center representative for a technology and financial company. I excelled in my role, and was quickly promoted to a Senior Representative. The Learning & Development department needed additional help to onboard and train new hires during their peak season. Myself and two other Senior Representatives were offered temporary roles in L&D to get them through the peak season. I facilitated training sessions, and all of my surveys from our new hires were stellar. At the close of peak season, the two other representatives and I knew that we would be returning to our original roles as call center representatives.
The Learning & Development department gave us a grand send off. They gave us individual thank you gifts, cards signed by the entire team, and a cake. It was bittersweet. I was glad to return to the call center with my team, but I also enjoyed working with L&D, and learning more about what went on in Human Resources & L&D.
Not even a week back in my original position, there were rumblings from the call center that someone was being promoted. I worked the evening shift, but I was asked to come in early one day during the week. I was met by the Vice President of the L&D team, who I will refer to as “The Bambino”, because he loved baseball, and I can’t disclose his name. He commended me for going above and beyond, assured me all of my hard work was not unnoticed, and that he created a position specifically for me in his department; if I wanted it.
This was an amazing opportunity to move from the call center to the corporate office. I didn’t hesitate and immediately accepted the offer. For context, the two people that were selected to help during peak season with me was a hispanic, and caucasian woman. When I saw the hispanic young lady, who we will refer to as “Lauren”, after the news was communicated that I was promoted. She ran up to me and gave me the biggest hug. Through a huge smile, she said how happy she was for me, and noted that I had the best survey scores and was deserving of the opportunity.
Queue the caucasion woman, who we will refer to as “Casey”. Casey avoided eye contact with me for weeks, and acted as if she did not know me. When I finally saw her and tried to speak, she wasted no time to let me know that she did not think it was fair that I was given the position over her. This was despite the fact that her survey scores were awful. She was always present, but not truly present and she only did the bare minimum. Casey thought that she was entitled to the position, despite the fact that I worked harder and earned it.
Throughout the years working for “The Bambino” I learned a lot. He was like a father figure, nurturing and helping me develop in my role. He saw potential, and he knew that I was capable of doing more than the role he hired me into. He continually did things to help me develop professionally. He had zero obligation, and did not have to do any of it. Whether it was sending me off site for training to learn soft skills, sending me to training to learn how to say “no” diplomatically, because I had an issue with wanting to help everyone. Sending me to training to learn a new software, or teaching me valuable lessons that I still defer to today. For example, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my hormones were a mess. I’m normally a strong person, but this particular day I started to cry in his office after a slight annoyance. While he was empathetic to me, he explained why as a young woman, crying in the workplace was a no, no. He passed me tissues to wipe my face, and as I exited his office, he said “remember there is no crying in baseball!”.
Now let’s go to 2009. I was working for a Higher Education company as a Benefits Coordinator, supporting a population of 8k plus, all while grossly underpaid for several factors. In 2010, the company shifted to Six Sigma methodology adoption, and there was a big push for process improvement. I am the person that can tell you what is broken, while offering multiple solutions on how to improve it. So naturally, I was selected to lead a project for the Human Resources department. This required a commitment working closely with the Process Improvement department from start to finish.
The project I led was successful, and had a huge cost savings. Within a couple weeks of completing my project, the Vice President of Process Improvement came down to the HR Suite to speak with me. Everyone, including myself, was confused why he needed to speak with me. I assumed he had benefits questions, so I looked at his employee profile to make sure I could answer any immediate questions. He asked me to follow him outside of the HR Suite, so we could speak privately.
He explained that he thought I was intelligent, articulate, everyone on his team adored working with me, and he wanted to create a role for me in his department. But only if I wanted it. Sound familiar? I was ecstatic! I told him on the spot, I wouldn’t need to think about it, I was certain that if he created the role I would take it. He explained he needed to create the role, budget, get it approved, and he anticipated I could be in the new role by the next month.
As soon as I walked back in the HR Suite, I immediately went to my Manager, a caucasian male who we will refer to as PJ to inform him. He was happy for me, because he felt I was working below my capacity. His excitement turned to sadness, because he realized that he would be losing me as a direct report and he loved having me as part of his team. He joked that he didn’t need to do any work as long as he had me around. Despite the loss that it would be for him, he was still happy for me and wanted me to succeed.
Queue the caucasian lady, PJ’s manager, ‘Ms. Deville’. She was livid that the VP of Process Improvement was trying to ‘poach’ me, because she claims I was a critical part of the team, and my loss would be detrimental. As a result, she tried to stop my promotion. She didn’t ask me if there was anything she could do to make my role better, which may have made me think about staying for the team. She didn’t offer additional money or incentives to stay in her department, she simply didn’t want me getting promoted. Luckily for me VP’s trump Director’s and I was cleared to move into my new role. Not without having to meet her demands first though. I had to work a dual role for 60 days, before I was finally given my freedom papers. The 60 days were painful and some of the longest days of my life. I was working until 9p, because I knew if something wasn’t completed, she would try to find anything to get me in trouble. She made sure everyone in the HR department knew that I was a deserter, that I thought I was too smart or too good to continue working with them.
Once I left HR and was fully engrained in Process Improvement. It was amazing, it was perfect for my brain and kept things exciting. I established a great rapport with the Vice President, and his right hand woman. Another caucasion woman. Initially she loved me, she would make it a point to try to teach me as much as possible, and had me attend meetings with her. She realized I was a quick learner, and that made her switch gears a bit. She went from really nice and helpful to “you are smart, figure it out on your own”. When I would figure it out on my own, she would get upset that I figured it out on my own, because other people had to be helped or someone showed them, and I must have been lying about solutioning things on my own.
She started taking my ideas, which she would tell me would not work. Then days or weeks later, she would present the ideas as her own. I’m a classic introvert that doesn’t exactly love people, so once she started acting weird. That was my queue to simply retreat from the situation. The VP saw what was happening, and he would ask what was happening, but I would never disclose; in hindsight I absolutely should have told him what was happening. I stayed in my role for years until Ms. Deville and the right hand did a coup de grâce and got the Vice President of Process Improvement terminated. The department was dismantled and as Ms. Deville put it, they needed me back in Human Resources.
I know you are thinking, those scenarios could happen to anyone, and I don’t think that is enough for her to say caucasian women have been her adversary. But wait, there’s more and it gets gradually worse as we progress, so buckle up. This takes place in 2013, I am back in Human Resources in a dual role, still grossly underpaid, doing Recruiting & Training. I report to a caucasian woman, not to be stereotypical, but she is caucasian, blonde hair, blue eyes, bubbly personality, and likeable. Because of her normally upbeat personality, we will call her “Bubbles”.
Bubbles and I had a good rapport to start, she loved me, because as she stated “you make me look good”. I completely turned the Training department around, moved away from manual processes by automating, built a SharePoint site, managed an LMS (learning management system) that was going to be retired, because the prior admins could not figure out how to use it correctly, moved away from paper processes, the list goes on. I kept getting kudos about how great I was, and that was when I noticed Bubbles started stepping back from me.
I started receiving kudos from the field, corporate, and the hospitals on a weekly basis. During one of our standing weekly one on ones, Bubbles joked that my one on ones was just her giving me kudos and that we would need to change the frequency of our one on ones to bi-weekly, because the constant kudos was exhausting. I laughed, because she was joking, or so I thought. She proceeded to suggest that I slow down, or don’t work at my capacity or speed. Although she knew it was my standard level of work, she didn’t want my peers thinking they were inadequate, and she didn’t want our clients comparing me to my peers. Immediately after leaving her office, I received an updated meeting invitation that our weekly meetings were now bi-weekly. Okay, so she wasn’t kidding.
Fast forward during my next one on one, I provided Bubbles with my status updates. Everything was in order, but she asked me a question about the LMS and why it was that the four people that were hired and fired before me couldn’t figure it out. I explained at a high level that some people think anyone can manage an LMS, but due to the complexity the person should have Learning experience as a foundation. She stared at my mouth as I spoke, and seemed bored to death. She then looked me dead in the eyes and said “You make me feel stupid. How did your other Managers do it? I don’t know if I could work with someone that makes me feel stupid all the time. Not just me, I’m sure nobody wants their employee being smarter than them!”.
I was in shock. She was honest! She told me her truth, but I wasn’t expecting it. To make light of the situation, I suggested she be like my old manager PJ. He embraced it, and loved that he could rely on me to get things done. She scoffed, “Yeah, so tomorrow you can take my job”. I was dumbfounded, because the thought never crossed my mind. She was a Director, I was a Coordinator, and although I knew I should have been at a manager level by that stage, I was continually met by the Bubbles of the corporate world, and I knew that I would always be kept in a role that they felt suited my race, not the caliber of my work.
Now let’s get to 2016/2017 where things get spicey. I work for a caucasian male, Director, ‘Bruce”. Bruce is an amazing guy, takes care of his employees, advocates for us, ensures that we are constantly learning, a phenomenal leader. Bruce shared with me that he felt that I was underpaid, and that I should be at his level, a Director. However, he knew the obstacles and it wasn’t a fight he was prepared to take on. He ended up exiting the organization. I decided to leave the department, since our fearless Bruce leader left. I am promoted into a new role in Human Resources reporting to who? You guessed it, a caucasian woman. Same old song, same old tale. ‘Sharon’’ knows I’m smart, she loves it, because she looks good. Until she doesn’t. Sound familiar?
After approximately six months, Sharon starts being standoffish. She asks for updates, when I say I have everything under control, she scoffs and says things like “of course you do”, “you always do”, “when you say you got it, you mean it”. Now I know all of this sounds positive, but you are missing the tone. The annoyance of me being good at my job, the nerve of me making her department look good. As always, once people start acting weird, I act accordingly, and I retreat. Maybe I retreat too much, because at this point they always know that I see them for exactly who they are. This is normally the point of no return.
We were having mass staff reductions, and I came up with a seamless, efficient plan, which was used for our execution. My counterpart was responsible for all data, it was a massive spreadsheet with thousands of records. My counterpart who was caucasian, made a mistake on one of the spreadsheets, resulting in the wrong people being selected for termination, a lot of work on packages that was incorrect, payroll was impacted, it was a full fledged mess. I dissected her spreadsheet to see where she made the mistake, I had no interest in placing blame on anyone. I simply wanted to help fix the situation. Sharon sees this as her opportunity to get rid of me or try to get me in the hot seat. Sharon pulls in another department to do forensics on the file, you know the file I looked at to find the error, and Sharon wanted them to affirm that I made the mistake not my counterpart.
Well lucky for me, there was another person of color in that department that was completely against doing what they were being asked to do. They gave me a heads up that Sharon was planning this, and suggested a plan to mitigate without anything routing back to them. Sharon’s head was on the line, because it was her team that made the biggest blunder. She made an arrangement with the executive leadership team, with the assumption that she would be able to tie the mistake back to me. That whoever made the mistake would be terminated, immediately. I was livid, her plan was evil. I had to think fast, but luckily my counterpart acknowledged in writing that she made the mistake, and she appreciated my assistance with trying to fix it.
Sharon was livid that she had to terminate my counterpart, because that pit was dug solely for me. I was beyond angry. I sacrificed time away from my family, worked late nights and sometimes weekends for this wicked woman, for her to turn around and try to do that to me? There was no going back. The day after my counterpart was terminated, Sharon called me into her office all smiles that she was happy the other department was able to prove without a shadow of a doubt the mistake was from my counterpart, and she wanted me to trust her. She had to do what was necessary for the greater good of the team, and I shouldn’t take it personally.
Sharon spent the next five months trying to sabotage me at work. Almost every attempt, I caught her red-handed, I would document it, and she would claim that it was an error or that I was being distrustful towards her, which she didn’t understand why. When I had my performance review, she gave me a regular rating; despite the fact that I excelled like I did every year prior. Sharon laughed hysterically, she actually had to use tissue to wipe tears from her face from laughing as she communicated that I would not be getting a high increase that year. I stared at this old woman, and wondered how she could be so evil. I thought of slaves that had to deal with caucasian women like her daily and was disgusted.
After being tired of getting outsmarted, Sharon decided she would have me report to my counterpart. Queue ‘Becky’, God bless her. Sharon tasked her with getting rid of me, but she was as dumb as a box of rocks. It was very easy to outsmart her, and everything she would try, I saw coming from a mile away. She was so dumb reporting to her was painful. She agreed that I could record our one on ones. During one of those one on ones, where I asked for permission to record, she admitted that Sharon asked her to sabotage me. But Becky said she would stop if I helped her with a project she was tasked with that she was incapable of doing. Imagine being privileged to be in a role that you are incapable of doing, and asking the person that will not get the opportunity, because of people like you – to help you?
My favorite Becky moment was in the middle of a meeting, where she asked if I could stop using big words, because she didn’t understand them. I did not stop using big words, because she wasn’t bright enough to figure out how to use Google or a dictionary. I know it sounds completely crazy, and sounds fabricated. Unfortunately, this is very real. If I could, I would love to put the employer and the real names, but in a world of lawsuits, I will forgo it.
Some may say this is simply a coincidence. Based on the demographics of the workforce, it is simply by chance that I consistently run into the Hilly Holbrook’s of Corporate America. I would say it is reasonable for me to say that as a result of those experiences, I can definitively say caucasian women have been my biggest adversary in Corporate America, not the caucasian male like many people would have you believe. The caucasian male tends to be laid back, no muss, no fuss. They respect hard work, and aren’t looking to create issues, like Hilly Holbrook’s, and they want you to meet the bottom line. If they see a Rockstar, they don’t get jealous, they advocate and do whatever is within their power to help you shine.
Not enough proof? Okay, so let’s talk about my most recent experience. Part 2, coming soon.