After seven long weeks of training at my current job, the group of new hires and I were treated to a graduation lunch. We had a delicious taco bar and a great speech from one of our managers and our manager’s manager. At this moment, I had never felt more appreciated and respected by a company I worked for. I was beaming, ready to appreciate them back, to learn, to work hard.
I couldn’t help but notice the lack of respect from the others. Cell phones were out, a huge infraction, hushed conversations were had over the speech. This wasn’t even the first time for them. This had been going on since day one.
At the age of 20 I am the youngest of the group. Unlike everyone else, I have never made more money in my life. But at this company, no matter who you are or where you came from, everyone starts on the phones. So a lot of people are only there to get promoted as quickly as possible. And I have a feeling that these are the exact people who will get the opposite.
Although I am now realizing my true calling, I am honored to work for this company while I achieve my dreams (and even longer if my dreams are not realized). There are a lot of great opportunities and we are allowed to treat customers like regular people instead of forcing them into a cookie-cutter mold. We can be relaxed. We can be ourselves. And if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you will have opportunities coming right to your desk.
Anyway, I bring up this graduation party because something was said that stuck with me. But a little back story is required.
All the women in the group this time around, including me, are black. And all of them, except me, have bad attitudes. I cannot connect with any of them. The men are fine, very mild-mannered and polite. But just being around those ladies can soil my image in the company.
The closest to a friendship I had with one of the ladies is with Janet (of course, not her real name). Although with a full-on attitude of her own, and also with the intent to get promoted as quickly as possible, she knows how to carry herself professionally. She is willing to work. So much so that she complained about this job not being worth the money and resolved to get a second job in the same breath. This is my type of girl. She, too, is on some sort of journey up her waterspout.
But it was she who said what haunts me as I write this. It was something along the lines of, “Do you notice that none of the managers look like us?” She meant to say that none of them are black. One of them are, I reminded her.
She went on to say that other agents expressed their concerns for the same issue. This, I hadn’t heard yet. But my first thought was that clearly these people weren’t putting in the proper amount of effort to go anywhere. I reminded her that there are only handfuls of managers for thousands of agents. I also mentioned that there are tons of smaller opportunities that people of color have taken.
My goal was not to trample her thoughts with mine. I was trying to coax her to not fall willingly from the position she held on her own waterspout. Those beliefs of being helpless because we have black skin are being yelled to us from the ground, and perhaps from those who have not yet discovered their waterspouts. They are being screamed by our peers at our very place of work.
Those on their journeys up various spouts can still hear those screams and may fall prey to them. They may release their grip on the steep climb to be caught and gobbled up by those negative-thinking spiders on the ground.
Perhaps there are jobs out there like that (in fact, I know there are). Maybe this job is even one of them. “And if that’s the case,” I told Janet, “they will lose the hardest working and most capable agent they have.”
Even with the news stories out there and other propaganda, I remain a chameleon with one eye watching my destination and the other staring down and trying to make sense of it all without bias. And I encouraged Janet to do the same.
FEATURED IMAGE FROM WSAV