As the most senior women executive of color in a global company (VP ) and only (1 of 3 black women in the office, only black woman executive globally ) charged for managing teams and staff, I experienced nuances of bias often.
1. Excluded from dinners hosted in the home of the founder of (one of the acquired companies). My direct reports were often invited, international vendors ( whom visited yearly for meetings with my team) were regularly invited. I was never extended an invitation to join. (this co-founder is a 70 year old white woman)
2. Cornered in my office by an overly-aggressive facilities maintenance manager (white male) after returning to the office after a company picnic to work with two people that worked for me to finish up urgent deadlines. Confronted by this male, as to why I had returned after the company event, because he had scheduled carpet cleaning. As he stood over me and berated me while I sat behind my desk, I had to stand and leave my office, he followed me around. At that point knowing I was upset and worried that I would report him. My two senior staff members (white women) had to intervene for him to stop following me. We all decided to leave and missed the deadlines we had returned to the office to make. I reported him to HR but asked that she not report him to corporate. I wish that I did.
3. CEO (white male) made inappropriate jokes about someone who I was dating, “he had actually done a background check on this person, finding out where he lived, what cars he drove, where he worked, etc.”
[He] would make inappropriate jokes about me “sleeping with him” to save the company hotel cost, to me and in front of other senior and jr. executives. On a number of occasions. This at a fortune 500 acquired company. He is still CEO.
4. Assumed to be the secretary at a huge cross-functional meeting by a visiting consultant. It’ was my meeting. (white-male consultant)
So, many stories……
When we talk about these types of discrimination, we are often told to “brush it off” or “ignore it.” This approach doesn’t work. No matter how we respond, bias effects us. Even if we “ignore” each incident, what we are really doing is turning a blind eye to the fact that certain people will never see us as fully competent, and never reward us accordingly. Our writer here experienced:
- Isolation: At work, not getting invited to a function is not the same as missing an invitation to a high school party. These semi-formal events are where camaraderie and personal connections are built that solidify people’s station at work and opportunity to advance. Our writer here was excluded from these functions and thereby denied the opportunity to build lasting personal relationships that her co-workers were able to.
- Devaluation: Our writer experienced a difficult situation where a person who had no authority over her still felt emboldened to harass her. Only when he was confronted by multiple women, of the same race, did he back down. Women of color are often the lightning rod for rage at the office. Studies show they are punished more harshly in school, given higher expectations, and targeted more severely at work. Our writer attempted to get away, physically, to no avail. Women under her supervision had to step in. What if they had not been there?
- Boundary Crossing: Over and over again, our writer experienced crossing of boundaries by people who claim to be professionals. Running a background check on your significant other is a gross imposition into the personal life of an employee. This should never be acceptable, in any workplace.
- Sexually Intimidating Behavior: Jokes about “sleeping with the boss” are inappropriate. Again, there is more to this behavior than meets the eye. Often, sexually charged comments, especially when made by people in power, are used to remind a subordinate that they are not safe, that they cannot object, and that their boundaries are not going to be respected. Subordinates are put in an impossible situation. Laugh it off and you’ll be told that you condoned the behavior, report it and you’ll be told that you’re overreacting, set a firm boundary and you’ll likely be the target of retributive behavior. There is no right answer here for the target. The truth is, in these moments, we are powerless to stop the perpetrator, and they know it. This is why we must change workplace dynamics.
Enlightened Solutions has not verified the accuracy of these stories. All stories are submitted anonymously and are published with the intent of allowing people to speak about their workplace situations without identifying information.