E.P. works as an independent consultant, with experience in the entertainment industry, finance, and tech.
“I didn’t realize how someone in a dominant position and also of a dominant culture could change your life instantly.”
What inspired you to participate in this project? It’s important for Black women, and women of color in general, to have a voice in their workplace experience. Right now, there’s a lack of awareness about what women go through in the workplace in general. When you add that intersectionality of a woman being a person of color or a Black woman, it gets to be more complex. I would like to participate in the movement, making our experience common knowledge, so through knowing, we can work toward a more fair and civil workplace for marginalized groups. And if the only thing that we can do right now is share our stories then hopefully this will create familiarity, awareness, and connection to these experiences. So allies can understand, “Oh yeah, I know somebody like this. This person is dynamic and awesome and I didn’t realize how hard it was for this person to accomplish their goals.”
How did your experiences affect your health? In one of my roles, I worked in an HR department. My supervisor – the head of HR – was known for being a poor leader. You do not realize it until you are in it, but who do you go to when you’re having a problem with the head of HR? We experienced some conflict. When we sat down, I expected to have a conversation, and because you work closely, I expected it to be something similar to what you experience in a family. You hash it out, you talk about it and then you move forward in a positive direction. Not necessarily, it was not that way. It was more like “nope this is it, bye” type of thing. The conversation we had didn’t go well for many reasons, but mainly because I was a young professional, not experienced in conflict resolution, and I was the person with less influence. I didn’t realize how someone in a dominant position and also of a dominant culture could change your life instantly. That experience was the most emotionally and physically taxing experience I’ve ever been through. I enjoyed my job, but I was exhausted. Reflecting on the situation now, I realize I wasn’t being managed for success. I was not being supported in my role and when you’re young you might not pick up on all of that.
It’s also important to remember that the entertainment industry is very competitive. It’s prestigious, it’s fast-paced, and there is a lot of daily stress involved. I had been in the role for nearly six years, doing the job of 2 or 3 people, so I was at an energy deficit; definitely burning out. After leaving the company, it took me six months to get back to adequate energy levels. The aftermath was pretty bad.
Outside of this experience, it takes a certain energy level to adapt to other people. To a large extent, you worry about people accepting you. Doing all you can by modifying the little things to make sure you are not being excluded for any reason is very taxing. It’s just too much energy – as if thinking about your core competencies and how you can be the best in your professional career isn’t hard enough. But if you didn’t have to think about the differences you have (what you look like, what you sound like, your background) and the other cultural differences involved, you could be spending all that energy being good at your work. A lot of POC [“people of color”] report spending a lot of time making others feel comfortable. A good example of this is editing or holding back words, which impacts natural communication and comfort levels. It’s taxing to have to think through your communication several times before anything is even said.
How did your experiences impact the trajectory of your career? Prior to going into battle with that leader, I had more confidence. I was clear on what I wanted to do. I had been with the company for many years and was a high-performer, but knowing that a person in power could do whatever they wanted with my career never felt fair to me. This rocked things up for me. I ended up on the right path and went into consulting, but I didn’t know how to navigate as confidently after that. It was hard and because the effects lasted so long – it was clear that I had a post-traumatic experience. Whenever I ran into somebody that was at the company, I would just get sick inside. I didn’t know what they heard about the situation. Also, the entertainment industry is very “rumor millish”. I ended up going to consulting, which took me away from L.A. Basically I was traveling the world for years after that and it was good because it took me away from a triggering environment. A lot of people have to remove themselves when they go through such an experience. It can be from burnout, PTSD, or something similar. Burnout feels similar to having post-traumatic stress. It’s very helpful to remove yourself from an unhealthy environment. You might need to leave your own city or state, it can be that extreme. The data shows that qualified POC tend to have fewer work opportunities in comparison to white counterparts, so when I look back having to go through all this makes me sad. This situation had the potential to alter my livelihood. I’m resourceful and strong, so I attribute that to me landing on my feet, but what if I were not?
Did you have anyone you could consider an ally at work? I think when things get tough, then you truly know who your allies are. It frames the discussion. Who believes you, who doesn’t believe you, who’s willing to stand in your corner. Who’s willing to put stuff on the line for you. People think they have allies, but I think there’s less of that, especially when you’re talking about a corporate environment where it is competitive and people just want to keep their jobs. They don’t want to ruffle any feathers. I think this becomes more of the case when you’re talking about POC or marginalized groups because they have more to lose. I remember I had a boss that I considered to be a great ally. I think he was focused on trying to lift up POC in the organization but I think an ally is only as good as their level or sphere of influence. If I had moved out of his department, there would be less help there for me, even though he was very high up in the organization. I had some other great allies, but they were mostly from marginalized groups, they were not white men or white women.
If you had any Black female co-workers, did they provide support to you? Or did they create additional barriers for you in the workplace? I felt very supported – those relationships still continue to this day. But in a competitive work environment, there were certain people who moved up and were focused primarily on their careers. They were not necessarily focused on helping others below them, even if it was simply having a conversation. I felt there were barriers with certain women once they hit a certain level in the company. [Amber: Have you thought about why that might be the case?] What comes to mind is competition. You’re one of few, you’re trying to focus on going up and it takes energy. We talked about energy and how much it takes just to show up sometimes. I don’t fully know what they were going through, but I’m sure it was a lot, so maybe they didn’t have time to help others. That was something that I had to accept. I didn’t know their entire journey, so I don’t want to judge them on that.
Are there any additional comments you want to share about working in a PWI? I think it was really amazing that the CROWN Act passed because to my earlier point about appearance, there were times I didn’t go to certain functions because I felt like I couldn’t get my hair to be the way I wanted it to be, or I felt like I had to have the perfect outfit. I believe there were messages passed down from my parents that were passed down from their parents, and it was about always being impeccably dressed for every occasion. Always having your hair perfect. There’s this perfectionism that was woven into everything, from academics, to work, all of that. That was also pretty exhausting, but I think that was what they felt would protect us. They wanted us to be the best we could be and they knew the potential obstacles that could face us because it was even harder for them. I think that pressure doesn’t allow you to be your best self. It’s important to show up, and you should be able to show up comfortably.