A Black Woman’s Plight Inside the Corporate World
“…I cannot ignore my inner conscious which is saying there is something better, outside of my cubicle.”
Early on my parents have been expressive about the path I should take to fulfilling the American dream. It involves finishing college, working, and becoming a productive citizen. As a working woman I am beginning to question this path and realizing that it comes at a costly price. That and the issues faced at the workplace has made me rethink if Corporate America is where I really ought to be.
Is this Really the American Dream?
As children we are taught that in order to take advantage of the possibilities that America has to offer we should excel in school, work, and find our place in society. The way our parents did.
From kindergarten through the end of high school I received a private education. I went on to receive a Bachelors Degree from a University and then my Masters. I have been working for several years now at a Fortune 500 company and while the organization grows my perception of self-worth declines. I could not understand why this was until things came to a full-circle on an uneventful Monday morning.
On that morning, while I was in the office juggling tasks, questions began to flood my mind faster than emails from superiors. Why am I here? Is this the purpose of my life? Working day in and day out to help “the man” advance while I am being paid a fraction of what I should be making? Slowly, I began to realize that the same principles my parents instilled in me has caused me to question my future.
I give over 40 hours a week to a company that is focused solely on profits and in the process I lost sight of the bigger picture. My happiness and where that fits with my occupation. Right now, there is no room for it at the latter. I think of the things I am limited to because of my 9 – 5, and the freedom to do and be what I want, when I want, is one of them. While I am not complaining I understand things are difficult out there, I cannot ignore my inner conscious which is saying there is something better, outside of my cubicle.
Besides the fact that my 9 – 5 leaves me feeling as though I don’t have time for much of anything, there is a heavy feeling that lingers over me. Feelings of being unprepared.
While I spent close to two decades of my life in school, and it was the best investment I could make, I find myself ill prepared for the issues that confront me Monday – Friday.
Disparity in Income
According to the 2008 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC), for each of the 50 states, women had lower median earnings than men in 2007. The District of Columbia had the highest ratio of women’s-to-men’s earnings (93.4 percent). There was no statistically significant difference between women’s and men’s median earnings in Washington, D.C. Black households had the lowest median income in 2007 ($33,916). This compares to the median of $54,920 for non-Hispanic white households. Asian households had the highest median income ($66,103). The median income for Hispanic households was $38,679.
Maybe now is the best time to relocate to D.C., home of the largest Ethiopian community in the country. But why should I give up my Manhattan apartment? I love New York but unfortunately, my woes as a black woman doesn’t end here.
Harassment & Choosing to Keep it On the DL
It’s happened on more than one occasion, from more than one man. Sexual explicit comments and gestures can make work an unpleasant place to be. It makes me wonder if it happens to more of us and why I feel the need to keep it quiet. While something in me wants to speak up, there is a bigger part of me that wants to keep it a secret for reasons of anonymity.
Sticking Out Like a Sore Thumb
In college, a friend of mine was insightful when she said that I could make it in Corporate America because I was light-skinned. While that comment hit below the belt, years later, I find that it rings true. Whether it’s in meetings with over 200 professionals, or in the break room, on most occasions I can count on one hand how many black people are in the room. Ironically, 9 times out of 10, the black people I do find are light-skinned. This is something I don’t want to get used to and while others may not notice, I do.
Management Duties + Meager Tasks
From managing high-level projects, to being the go-to person that supplies my team with office needs, there is a large gap with my tasks. My position, for which I was hired to do, mentions nothing about ordering supplies.
Having the sense that my freedom is being stripped away and the issues that being a black woman in Corporate America brings is enough to make me quit and walk away from my 9 – 5. But for now I am stuck and so I’ll stare at the clock and as soon as its 5:00pm I’ll log off, commute home, and do it all again tomorrow.
Until, that is, I find something that can bring me fulfillment. This, I believe, is the ultimate dream.
Mimi Ashenafi, TsehaiNY.com
Published April 23, 2010