2019 was a difficult year for me in my day job.
In fact, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve had a difficult 2 – 3 years in my day job.
While I loved the HR team I’d built and many of the co-workers I interacted with from day-to-day, I was having a really difficult time with the organization’s leadership and some of the folks allowed to have influence over key decisions surrounding policy and culture. The environment had become toxic for me for a multitude of reasons … antiquated systems, unclear policies and procedures, unfair and inconsistent practices, unaccountable managers, and a general attitude of profits over people … I was losing hope in myself and my profession the longer that I stayed there. And it was effecting every other area of my life — my physical and mental health, my relationships with family and friends, my finances.
Thankfully, I have moved on from there. I am now in a much healthier work environment and I am getting my HR mojo back, slowly but surely … but I almost didn’t make it. I’m still figuring out what to do with that truth and all the emotions that go with it.
We are taught and conditioned to fight the good fight. We are taught and conditioned to expect and accept a certain level of mistreatment as normal. We are taught and conditioned to keep going along to get along to keep our check and good benefits.
When we can’t fight any longer … When we can’t normalize our mistreatment … When we can’t suck it up and just keep going to collect our check, we feel like we somehow failed.
Like we are somehow weak. Like we somehow misrepresented for Blackness … It is silly and sad — but true. We would rather continue to be mistreated and marginalized than walk away.
But at what risk?
For me, that risk kept getting higher and higher until I found myself having full blown anxiety attacks at work, unable to focus or function. Unable to sleep. Unable to eat. Unable to feel good about taking part in my normal activities.
I know I am not alone or unique in this. I have heard so many other Black women and marginalized groups share similar stories of their workplace experiences.
How they stayed for years waiting for the raise. How they stayed for years waiting for the promotion. How they stayed for years waiting for their work to be acknowledged. How they stayed for years waiting to be paid fairly. How they stayed for years waiting to be included. How they stayed for years waiting for the company to live up to the vows they espoused and enforce the policies they published.
They waited for relief that never came.
And in the end, they had nothing to show for it but scars and regrets.
The great Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm said “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair” … and I would never dare to contradict her.
Sometimes, you have to stop waiting for your boss or your company to invite you into a space and just make space for yourself. Ask for time on the agenda. Ask to sit in. Ask to present your proposal for that new initiative. Ask for what you want.
Yet my recent experiences have me wondering if there was a more specific reason the honorable Ms. Shirley Chisholm chose to say “folding chair” over some other kind of chair.
What if she told us to bring a folding chair so we could pack it up and walk out when necessary?
Because at some point, you have to put yourself first. At some point, you have to fold up your chair and walk away from the table.
Where will you go when you get up from the table?
Maybe the next step is to build your own table … Black women are the highest growing percentage of entrepreneurs and new business owners right now. I believe this is because we are tired of the nonsense we have to deal with in traditional workplaces. We have reached the point where we would rather face the struggle of building our own table than to keep fighting for unseasoned scraps.
Maybe the next step is to put your chair at someone else’s table … We cannot all lean out. We can’t all walk away. We all don’t want to be entrepreneurs. As long as we are being respected and smart with the investment of our time and talent, working for someone else is not an issue and it is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Either way, you are always better off taking your folding chair then getting up, standing up and walking away from any table that clearly doesn’t want you there.