I have been wanting to write about the Black/Brown workplace experience for a while now. Then, I began thinking about our experiences with mental health on top of that.
**I asked for contributions on social media on this topic so those responses will be shared here as well**
The General Workplace Experience
I wish that I had been better prepared for the trials that would come being a Black Woman in White corporate America. I went to predominately white schools for most of my life but it still did not prepare me for what I would face in my career.
I have always felt misunderstood, for lack of a better term, in the workplace. I have not had many Black supervisors and even fewer have been female and of course the majority of co-workers have been White. I have experienced both supervisors and co-workers taking my actions out of context. For instance, I had one supervisor that I did not particularly care for so rather than kissing up to him as many others did I stayed to myself and just did my job. Well, he didn't like that apparently because I lost my job. People apparently get offended by us not socializing at work but the minute a supervisor gets wind of people socializing too much and things not getting done who is the first to go down? Of course. But, it goes back to when we were in elementary school and our mom taught us that we were not at school to socialize...we are there to learn and get our work done. So, when we take that into the professional world it is read as being standoff-ish and is offensive. In other instances I have seen co-workers be quick to run and tell a supervisor about something someone did but will never approach the individual. This has all been difficult to navigate.
...working in advertising, it's difficult enough to be a woman, but add being usually one of the few if not only Filipino-American in the office, makes it even harder. At times I came across differing values between Filipinos and Americans- and when I see those values be challenged at the workplace, especially when I was younger, it can influence my thought process of what's right and wrong. | @elishario, Twitter; @erio.arttherapy, IG; dontforgetthehyphen.com
I am lucky enough now to have a supervisor who is not only Black but also a woman. Not a Black woman that I feel I have to compete with or that looks down on me but truly is doing her best to do a good job. We have had the chance to speak about some of the feelings of being misunderstood as black women and it was such a relief! To finally have someone who understands the struggles is a priceless blessing.
In the workplace Black women are expected to perform high level tasks with minimal support, resources, and training. When we struggle to complete tasks or ask for help, the usual passive aggressive or indirect response calls into question our professional experience of being suited for the position. While in staff meetings or in group emails we observe our White colleagues with similar challenged being coddled and asked how they can be supported. | @ariesjthepoet, IG
She is absolutely right! I know when I was struggling to meet the numbers expected of me with a previous supervisor there was no trying to understand at all. Now, none of my other co-workers in the same program were getting the numbers either but for whatever reason I needed to meet it regardless of what anyone else was doing. So you know what I did? I kicked ass and got it done! And guess what, there is STILL no one else in my program meeting the requirements.
Adding Mental Health in the Mix
While I am glad that mental health is getting acknowledgement they are not always talking about us. I think people forget that Black men and women struggle with mental health also. Maybe this comes from us not allowing ourselves to accept it or it could be the other way around. Either way, our struggles are just as real as anybody else's and honestly probably has more layers than many due to our history. But, is that acknowledged? No. We are often told that we are whining and making excuses. I'd dare to say that the majority of my supervisors did not care that I was not doing my absolute best on my work because my depression and anxiety were barriers...and I WORK IN THE MENTAL HEALTH FIELD!
I've had many times where I set aside my family values to work really late in the office- thus affecting my mental health in ways where stress and the needs to have things done right away and perfect got to me. It took me away from making my family a priority and later on as I looked back at this experience, I felt a sense of guilt I never thought I could fix.I've learned a lot since then and have been better at being transparent and setting boundaries at work. It's aided my own mental well-being and peace of mind knowing I had my priorities straightened. | @elishario, Twitter; @erio.arttherapy, IG; dontforgetthehyphen.com
So, when the work environment is contributing to negative mental health experiences, what do you do?
One idea would be to be transparent at work, right? However, I believe that looks completely different for a person of color. I believe we fear looking weak, and with good reason. What I have seen is that being honest about our struggles can often lead to being taken advantage of and it being used against us. The issues that we have as minorities unfortunately don't magically float away for the 9 hours that we are at work. It follows us in and it follows us out. Just as in the world we are expected to just figure things out and do it right the first time it is the same for us at work.
Where we can realistically start is being real with ourselves. When I first started my career I did not realize how mental health was impacting my work experience. Now that I know it is my responsibility to keep that in check. As a mental health advocate it is also my responsibility to stand up for us and start these conversations so that change can begin to take place?
What are you thoughts on being a minority and coping with mental health in the workplace? Leave a comment below and of course don't forget to share!
Thank you for your continued support.