Meghan works as an Operations Manager in the public school system.
“Having conversations with people about race and equity normalizes the conversation, helps create a safer space, and manages expectations.”
What inspired you to participate in this project? You are providing content all Black women need to hear, and as equally important, you are providing content for everyone who does not identify as a Black woman needs to hear. It is expected that we assimilate to a culture that we aren’t allowed to contribute to. Then we are left creating a toolbox to help us navigate a space that was not designed for us. We shouldn’t have to create a toolbox to live our lives. It is irritating. Because I identify as a Black woman, a social worker and a manager – this is a conversation I should be a part of and one that we should all be talking about.
If you had to describe your time spent at PWIs in just a few words, what would they be? Feeling like I have to wear a mask. I have to pretend to be a different person in order to be respected and when I go home, I take it off. You are always wearing some type of mask at a PWI, but it can feel less heavy when you have very clear and direct conversations with people and manage expectations. Essentially helping others better understand my Blackness. Which in reality, is just as exhausting. I recently attempted to explain to my white male supervisor how exhausting it is to code switch. I still don’t think he understands and we have worked together for ten years.
How did your experiences affect your health? I would like to say that it hasn’t made much of an impact on my mental health, but that would be a lie. However, it is what I tell myself sometimes, so I can move on through my day. In reality, living within a PWI world is exhausting, especially since I am still having the same conversations with my colleagues and classmates as I did 20 plus years ago. I’ve been in a PWI, whether it was school or a job, since I was a kid. Everytime the conversation about race and equity comes up in conversation I think to myself, “Lord, you know that I know that you know how much I hate repeating myself, but yet, I am having this same conversation AGAIN – WHYYY!?!?”. Although my frustration is emotionally exhausting and stressful, I recognize that the conversations are important for progress and are as equally important as seeking out support.
Going to graduate school for social work helped a lot. It provided an environment where respecting difference and accepting self was the norm. Having had this experience not only keeps me grounded but it also gave me hope, empowering me to push through the challenges the PWI world presents.
At this point in my career, I’m super honest and straightforward. Having conversations with people about race and equity normalizes the conversation, helps create a safer space, and manages expectations. I do less code switching when being your authentic self is normalized from the beginning.
What kind of support do your allies at work provide? They provide a listening ear. However, many of white colleagues are either actively involved in diversity and inclusion work professionally, or have a social work/psychology background. My white colleagues that don’t fall into this category, they try. I can give them a B for effort and for their heart being in the right place, I guess. Serving as an ally, requires one to wear their listening ears but also requires one to take action. Speaking with my allies at work that listen about the reality of being a POC [person of color] at a PWI is helpful, just not as helpful as actively being involved in changing the system. It is a mixed bag at work, which is unfortunate since I work in the public educational system in a primarily Black student and family population.
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? In this current role, I had a Black female coworker and we would talk about all the foolishness all the time. We would always have these sidebar conversations about what’s actually happening in front of us. It’s just a whole other perspective and a viewpoint. Then she left, and I was really nervous about not having access to a colleague with whom I could speak my truth. There are other Black women that work in the office, but they’re not colleagues – they’re my direct reports or a colleague’s direct reports, and as a leader of an organization, there are some conversations that I cannot have with them. We recently hired another Black woman. She’s cool, but there is still an informal interview process that happens when you meet a new Black work colleague. Are their eyes open and willing to talk about our experience or have they drunk the PWI Kool-Aid and come to do their work and go home? You figure it out eventually. For me it is about being honest about my experience and then paying attention to how new Black colleagues react.
I had a Black female supervisor at my first “real” job. It was so interesting because it was clear that she was catering to the white male owners of the company. She prioritized and assimilated to their needs, their vision, their culture, and their communication style. It was fascinating to see how she even changed her laugh and speech patterns when she spoke with them. From my perspective, she looked like she lost her own identity and came across as “fake” and inauthentic. I never really had a close enough relationship with her to see what was past that. I always went home asking myself, “This can’t be real? Who do I work for?”. I knew then, as I do now, I have very little patience or desire to put on a performance and/or internalize a character created to appease my white colleagues at work. I know how to put on my mask like most Black people are taught at some point, but it is not my goto move in life.
What is the most impactful microaggression or discriminatory act that you can remember experiencing in the workplace? In addition to racial microaggressions, I identify as a woman. Combating sexism in addition to racism at work is a double whammy – can a sistah get a break?! With white men and women I encounter tone policing and watching unqualified white men and women be promoted while I am told that I am qualified but it will be too hard to promote me at this time. With Black men, I have to address issues with ego, the impacts of internalized racism or the inability to see the parallels of racism and sexism. I have had Black men yell in my face to belittle, tell me my opinion is irrelevant and they don’t care if their behavior or comments were inappropriate. I am expected to get over it. Both racial discrimination and sexism in the work place have impacted my career growth and overall well being.
How did your experiences impact the trajectory of your career? As a social worker, I innately take on the role of an advocate for other people but have failed to do it for myself. I have supported a white colleague get a promotion and back pay, but have allowed my requests for myself get ignored. I question my inability to push just as hard for myself as I do for others.
I have my theories. Am I just used to carrying the weight of others that it has become the norm? Am I so used to playing super woman and not receiving credit, that I don’t think I deserve it? There are several thoughts that cross my mind when I think about how my race and gender have impacted my career trajectory. The experience is then supported by my colleagues. I am thanked for my efforts and told off line how I should be treated better in the workplace, but they fail to take any action or speak up on my behalf like I do for them. This has been my experience at all PWIs and what I have seen happen to my Black colleagues. It isn’t until we go against the grain regardless of the consequences that we’re treated fairly. We have to make a demand before we are heard or recognized.