Two months ago, I started my first big girl job. Fresh out of college and ready to face the challenges this new transition would throw at me, I could not wait to get started. Before I interviewed with the company I would eventually accept a position for, I did my research by searching their website. As I scrolled through the “Leadership Team” page, an impressed grin spread across my face; the CEO (a woman) and COO (younger man) were both black. Lit.
Now I have definitely had black bosses before, but none of them were making 6 figures and had CEO in their title so…again. Lit.
Anyway, fast forward 3 weeks. I am loving my new job. I start the same day as another girl with the same position that I hold. We do not see our big bosses much since everyday we spend most of the day training with our immediate supervisor. At some point, my immediate supervisor tells us that although the office is open from 8am-5pm, we could work 8:30am-5pm with a 30 minute lunch break. Although she said this, my COO, who is her boss, had told me prior to my first day that I should come in at 8am. So I continue to come in at 8am and leave at 5pm with everyone else. Meanwhile, my coworker, continues to come in a few minutes before 8:30am.
I’ll take this opportunity to say that my coworker is super sweet and I like her a lot. In no way is this story pointing a finger at her. I would also like to note that while my coworker is actually Puerto-Rican, she easily, though not intentionally, passes for white. With pale skin and straight, brown hair, she often has to correct people that make this assumption about her. I mean, I guess technically she is white Latina, because she is also Spanish – I don’t know. Anyway-
So maybe a few days after the conversation about our work hours, it is the end of the day and my coworker packs up around 4:40 and heads out, 20 minutes early. I’m like…
So you just gonna leave early like that?…cool
No one said anything to her and I honestly did not think much about it after the fact- until a few days later. It is about 4:45, I am exhausted, I have literally no work to do because my immediate supervisor had left for the day, and I am red-tah-go. I pack up my stuff and tell everyone have a nice evening.
The way my office is set up, in order to leave you have to go through a space that lies between my CEO’s office door and some file cabinets. Today, of all days, my CEO, COO, and the director of the department next door are all standing in the space talking. With a innocent smile, I say excuse me and navigate cautiously around them, a cheerful ‘goodnight’ poised on my lips.
Almost simultaneously, my COO dramatically looks at his watch, and my CEO shoots me a look like..
So I stop dead in my tracks and look back and forth between them. The director of the other department laughs and says, “Why are you looking at your watch? What’s wrong?”
“She tryna dip out of here early,” my COO says.
“Well I got here at 8, took a 30 minute lunch and thought I could go ahead and leave,” I offer.
“Umm..he’ll talk to you about it later,” my CEO says (talking about my COO) “Bye.”
“Oh, I can stay…” I trail off.
“No, have a good night,” my COO says.
I sauntered off feeling uneasy. When I get home, I explain what happened to my stepmom. To my surprise, she nodded with a knowing chuckle, “My presumption is that they probably are going to be harder on you because you are black. Especially if you are telling me they didn’t say anything to the other girl who’s white.” Even more frustrated, a series of mini-rants ensued. Half the reason I went to non-profits was to avoid this type of predicament. On top of that, both my big bosses were black. Yet, I still had to face differential treatment because of the color of my skin. I basically was walking around like…
The next day, as my coworker, COO, and I were leaving a meeting, he turns and goes. “Oh yea, so I just wanted to remind you guys that you are still in your probationary period. You should be doing everything you can to show me and [my CEO] that you want to be here. (insert more lecture about going above and beyond because we are new)”
My coworker interjects, “Wait, did something happen?”
“Yea, Joy here tried to dip out early yesterday. You guys are supposed to work the entire 8-5.”
The surprised look that came across my coworker’s face gave me the impression that she knew she slid by that one time. My COO continues,
“Yea and so you guys should be doing everything you can to ensure you make it past your 90 days. Especially you, Joy, being a black woman. We are going to be harder on you because automatically everyone isn’t going to think you belong here. That just makes what you did yesterday that much worse. You have to prove yourself more that anyone”
Bam, straight from the horses mouth.
My coworker’s mouth dropped open. I would have laughed if I were not so distraught.
So the story remains the same, just in a different format. I wanted to tell him that if anything, they should be easier on me because I was a black woman and everywhere else I go I have to work harder, be smarter, learn faster, and make less mistakes than my white counterparts. I wanted to tell him that having them as bosses was supposed to create a safer space. Why am I finding myself still having to work harder to prove myself?
My stepmother made a valid point when we talked about it later. Black managers tend to be harder on their black employees because they must somehow prove to their white counterparts that they made the right decision to hire them. Also, the familiarity from sharing the same race and having similar backgrounds tends to present these situations as a right of passage. ‘I went through it, so you will too.’ Finally, black managers may feel like they are doing their black employees a favor by being harder on them because it will somehow prepare them for future interactions with white supervisors who will have that prejudice.
It is unfortunate that these types of relationships exist when there is so much room to foster an environment where a black, female college grad is not constantly on her toes and afraid that any wrong step will land her in trouble. I completely understand that as a new employee, you must show your employers that they made the right decision. Could I have used better judgement that day I got in trouble? Absolutely. Is it possible that my coworker, without my knowledge, asked to leave early that day? Yes, but not likely. Also recall that she shows up to work almost 30 minutes “late” everyday without any repercussions. Again, I am not pointing fingers, I just notice the the differences.
I love my job. I really like my bosses. They don’t treat me any different on a daily basis, and I am even let in on a few jokes and stories because they correctly assume that I would understand or could relate based on being black. I get praised when I do good and corrected when I make mistakes like everyone else. However, early on I learned that I would have to go above and beyond to show my worth, and it did not matter who I would have to show my worth to. I am not completely okay with it, but I am extremely grateful they gave me a chance, and for now, that is enough.
~Striving for peace, love, and poetry~
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