Have you ever wondered what it’s like to win and lose at the same time?
I previoulsy worked for a company that is a major defense contractor for the government. It is a white male dominating bureaucratic and political aeronautics industry. I never thought in a million years I would get the opportunity to work for a company with such a rich and prestige history, but there I was excelling and performing like I belonged. The truth of the matter is I didn’t really belong and it would take me a while to learn that before choosing to leave.
When I was originally hired I was responsible for two major areas. One regarding food and the other fitness. There wasn’t any structure that existed prior to me starting so I built my own structure to manage my daily functions and responsibilities. In the beginning it was slow, but it allowed me the opportunity to learn the ropes and build relationships. As time went on I began to prove myself, and more responsibilities fell in my lap. I was ok with this because I saw it as growing opportunities, and I was looking for more of a leadership role within the organization. I slowly began to learn that there were some minor roadblocks simply because I was a black female in this industry.
One when I sat in meetings I was the only brown face in the meeting majority of the time.
I was used to that sort of thing working in Corporate America, but what I wasn’t used to is not being acknowledged or not getting a handshake from white men in the room. Secondly I learned that black or brown people were mainly in janitorial or in the food services area of the organization. There were very few brown people in leadership and if they were in leadership they weren’t women. Third, I would slowly realize that the culture of the organization had existing issues with discrimination and it was a common fact amongst the brown and black people working for the company –there was nothing anyone can do about it, basically get your money, go home, and be black.
I assisted a white male who at the time was my manager. Before him it was a white woman who managed me, but soon retired. She trained him to run the department before she left and he took over. I fell into the picture because I assisted him in running a fraction of the department. For some reason he saw me as competition and limited my knowledge on many things pertaining to the department. He was very unhappy with his job and soon looked for another leaving me in the dark about his intentions. He announced to the department that he was leaving after a year and a half in the position and provided me a week crash course on how to run the department until a replacement manager was selected.
With limited knowledge on how to manage I ran the department successfully for three months independently.
I applied for the position as well while I was managing the department thinking it would be a perfect fit. After three months, I learned that I didn’t get the position. When I asked why I was told that I wasn’t assertive enough or outgoing. I wasn’t the loudest person in the room and they were looking for someone that had the personality traits of the last manager. I was stunned and confused by this feedback because it was based on personality and not skill. The job was ninety percent skill and skill wasn’t even considered. I was told that my expectation was to train the new manager and bring him up to speed. I came to the conclusion that the reason they could afford to hire someone based on personality because I provided the skill. How was this fair? The candidate that was selected was described as such, he was a represented employee, Associate degree, and a electrician. I looked him up and turns out he was a white male. I had a Bachelor’s degree, was a salary employee, and had more experience.
So again I ask did you ever have the feeling of winning and losing at the same time? How is it that I exceeded all my expectations on my annual review and not deserve a promotion? How can I lead a department independently and still not measure up to a worthy candidate? Many would accept this and think they had a chance, but I knew I wouldn’t simply because there was no evidence of a black woman leading in this organization successfully. I’m not a person that will just accept anything because I should be happy that I’m in the door. I will create my own door and win not based on the color of my skin but the depth of my character. “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.