Written by: Its Me Shak
If you’re like me, a first generation American and first generation post undergrad degree, you probably haven’t been groomed for Corporate America. So what does this mean? I was lucky enough to have one parent that worked in Corporate America so I had a vague idea what to expect. When I actually started working, I realized everything was completely unexpected. From those experiences these are some things I think you should know if you’re venturing down that avenue.
Surviving Corporate America As A Person Of Color
1. Don’t be anti- social: I try not to tell people to be social (from one introvert to another… I understand), but you are in a much different pond now. You can’t (or shouldn’t) do things that your Caucasian counterparts may consider anti-social, because it’ll be very hard to shake the label once it’s been branded on to you. For example a large part of white culture is being communal. Hanging out together in shared areas, eating family style, and things of that nature. So if you have a door in your office, try and keep it open as much as possible. I know with my office I like keeping my door closed because I enjoy privacy. But the door being closed can be seen as you not wanting to talk or wanting to be separated.
So do what do I do as a compromise: I keep the door ajar. Not fully closed… but not really open either. If you don’t have an office that means you’re going to have to play the game. That means keeping at least one ear out of your headphones, making eye contact and smiling on your lunch break or walks around the office. As a general rule of thumb I have made for myself, if I get asked out to group drinks, I don’t say no three times in a row. That way I keep the invites coming. Essentially you have to learn to simply indulge in the idea of community, no matter how much you don’t want to.
2.Pick your battles: If you are even “semi woke”, and by that I mean simply not sleep, people are going to say and do things that make you raise a questioning eyebrow. You are not the spokesperson for all things black, all things Hispanic, or all things Asian. With that being said sometimes you have to go full Issa and just say “wow, I have no idea what on fleek is”. Now in 45’s America this is hard. Because every day there is something in the news further dividing an already painfully divided country. You don’t want your place of employment to become an “us versus them” atmosphere.
What can you do? Just don’t have these conversations. I eject myself from these types of conversations seamlessly as it’s better for me to simply not engage. But trust and believe that if something overtly racist is said I will have to fight that good fight. I don’t put myself on the forefront to avoid drawing a divide with my coworkers who have very distinct opinions. This is to avoid making my day to day harder especially if I am not doing much for the overall cause.
3. Find an ally: And no I don’t mean someone who is white and cares about the progression and advancement of POCs. I mean someone you like, who you can trust and cares about your sanity at work. My work friendship with my Korean coworker was solidified when a partner made a comment showing their extreme privilege. We both made eye contact with our WTF faces. From that moment on I had someone to bounce my “wait am I crazy or is this weird” on to. This is crucial, isolation can lead to harboring feelings that will only make your work environment worse. Don’t try to be an island if it can be avoided.
4. Remember it doesn’t have to be a nightmare: As a black person navigating the world, my parents have drilled into me that I have to work twice as hard and be at least twice as good to get the time of day. That is true, however, that doesn’t mean you should be in a work environment that is literally killing you slowly. There are places where we are valued and heard, so be optimistic. Take what you can get from where you are and move if you need to.
A lot of companies in corporate America are paying more attention to diversity because it’s a new hot thing to be cared about, or to pretend you care about. But the real reason diversity matters is because you bring a different perspective and way of thinking. You solve problems differently, you think of the structure of a problem in a different way than other people may. You notice things that others may not find important. Don’t lose sight of everything special you bring to the table just because you may not have and never want to visit the Alamo, and you didn’t go sailing as a child. You are valuable and you belong.
Now in closing. If you end up in a very toxic work environment and it is your sanity or breaking these rules. GO INTO SELF PRESERVATION MODE!! Always save yourself. You job is to go to work and do your work, that is all you have to do.
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Hey there! I’m Melissa, co-founder of Trials n Tresses, natural hair and beauty lover, binge tv watcher and lover of life. When I am not creating content for TNT, I’m busy teaching the future of society.