Q: My white, middle-aged co-worker is a scammer. I’ve talked to the people in charge but because they aren’t here day to day, they only know what I tell them. I’m a 24-year-old Black lady. You can best believe there’s a racial dynamic to why I’m not being heard.
She’s been late, refused to come in and almost quit because she felt she “needed to.” She’s such a bad employee I received a raise. She has knowingly been around people with COVID-19. I know she has lied because her timeline is off. She can’t keep up with her lies. Our supervisor asked that she be tested for coronavirus and let her off when she said her symptoms didn’t qualify to be tested.
If the roles were reversed, I would have been fired a long time ago. What’s the best way to navigate racial politics in the workplace? — ANONYMOUS
A: Sometimes co-workers do the very least and the very most simultaneously. Yes, racial dynamics are at play here. What white people can get away with is vastly different from what everyone else can get away with. I understand and share your resentment.
There’s not much you can do about most of her behaviors. She’s a bad co-worker. It’s common. She’ll scam her way out of a job, sooner or later. In the meantime, ignore her nonsense and focus on your work. Document anything that affects your job performance or well-being. And fire up the group text to vent about the unfairness of it all and get emotional support.
Navigating racial politics at work is complicated and maddening. A lot of it is picking your battles so as to preserve your sanity. If you fight every single battle, you will run yourself into the ground. How does it help you to get riled up if she comes to work late? It doesn’t! It’s unfair but ignore it! On the other hand, if she is exposing herself to COVID-19, she is putting you and your co-workers in danger. That is a battle worth fighting.
Remember that you cannot solve systemic racism because it is not your problem to solve. But you can and should advocate for yourself and others because the status quo will always fail all of us.
Share your experience (strategically)
Q: My (large, multinational) company sent out a diversity and inclusion survey. Some of the questions ask if we’ve ever had experiences where we’ve felt discriminated against (I have).
They ask how we feel the company is doing in general on D&I. Every single management position is filled by a white man. I want to fill out the survey and point this out. I want to talk about my own experiences with the countless jabs about being a Hispanic woman in this white male-dominated world. I’m so tired. But I really and truly couldn’t afford to lose this job. I support my entire family.
It’s not clear whether the survey is anonymous. Am I being a coward? What if the very few other people of color are filling it out truthfully and my voice could lend power to theirs? — ANONYMOUS, PENNSYLVANIA
A: You are not being a coward. Most surveys are anonymous, but I understand your fear. When you’re a person of color in a predominantly white institution, you might identify yourself with your answers, particularly if they ask demographic questions. But you’re not telling them anything they don’t already know if you point out the lack of management diversity. And they should know how you’re treated in the workplace.
You shouldn’t be fired for sharing these things, but it’s not unreasonable to worry that you could be. You need to be smart about how you articulate your concerns. You have no way of knowing if other people of color are completing the survey truthfully, but let’s assume that they are. Several voices are louder than just one.
Get out of your way (and stop baking)
Q: I am a year into a new job I enjoy, am decent at, and there’s room for growth. But I’ve put up mental barriers I can’t overcome. Previously, I was in a different career but was forced into an arbitrary performance improvement plan. I would have been fired had it not been for our union. I did improve and meet the agreed-upon goals but was still told to either take severance or be formally disciplined.
The loss of that job has shaken me to my core. I’m carrying emotional baggage to my new job. I am getting good feedback. I appreciate that my colleagues are so straightforward and kind. But deep down I feel like they’re holding back to spare my feelings, that they all hate me. I bake everyone brownies every day so they all love me, which I recognize is ridiculous. How do I get my confidence back so I don’t ruin my second chance? — ANONYMOUS, MINNESOTA
A: Being forced out of a job would undermine anyone’s confidence, and I’m sorry for what you’ve been dealing with. It’s easier to believe the negative things we tell ourselves, but you’re doing so much to rebuild your professional life. That should fill you with a lot of confidence. Congratulate yourself for every day you go to work and do your best. But you do want to get out of your own way.
You’re an adult professional, not a child. If they didn’t want you there, you wouldn’t be there. Your colleagues have no reason to hold back or spare your feelings. And while it’s charming that you’re baking brownies every day, that is not a realistic way to ingratiate yourself. You don’t need them to love you. You need them to be good colleagues. If they like you, that’s an added bonus.
If you can, please do see a therapist to work through these anxieties, which are completely understandable but holding you back. You might also find a mentor who can help you regain your confidence. You don’t want to doubt yourself out of a good job. I wish you the very best.