In 2020, I was part of a workgroup slated to leave our current employer and join a university in a different state. While relocation was not required, I offered to do it if a university job could be secured for my husband, and it subsequently was. Roughly half of my workgroup had transitioned into their university positions and I was in the process of joining the university as well.
In the interim, there was a meeting during which our (white) leader – John Lyons – told my Black coworker that she looked like a “gangster”. I presumed this was because she was wearing box braids and a wool cap. There was a mixture of silence and stifled chuckling and then the meeting proceeded as usual. I followed up with an email to tell him that what he said was racially-insensitive and it made me uncomfortable, to which he responded with an apology. Two weeks later, I was told that my position with the university was no longer “my” position. I needed to participate in a competitive interview process and relocate if offered the job. Also, the funding for my husband’s prospective job with the university was no longer available. I indicated that I would not participate in an interview or relocate, as it was not a requirement for anyone else. I reached out with questions to John and my direct supervisor – Stephen Shimshock – but was met with radio silence. Instead, what I got was notice that I had been fired from my current employer and the university would no longer offer me employment.
I chose to hire a lawyer and pursue a claim for discrimination and retaliation.
While that process played out, I looked for insight on how other people navigated situations like this. What I learned angered me. Employees rarely contact their HR department or the EEOC to report workplace transgressions. Some of those who do make a report are ultimately punished (transferred to a different department or a promotion within their company is halted). A very small subset of employees who make a report, or pursue legal action, walk away with a resolution that brings them a sense of justice. The workplace is not built to protect employees, but consider the intersectionality of being a Black woman trying to seek justice within institutions encased in racism and sexism.
I developed a need to elevate the stories of other Black women who have worked in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Through a series of interviews, you’ll see that there is an unspoken acceptance of mistreatment of Black women in the workplace. The series will conclude with a collection of strategies for others to apply as they attempt to succeed in foreign spaces.