By Nomalanga Mhlauli-Moses
One day I woke up feeling so drained of energy that I just did not want to get out of bed. I forced myself out of bed, showered, got ready and hopped into my car and went to work. At work, I went through the motions as best as I could even though I felt like was about to collapse. That evening, as I sat on the couch at home, away from my children and my husband (they could all sense that it was best to stay away from their cranky mother/wife), I came to a realization. I was dying, slowly, but surely.
Every day, I woke up, took a shower, put on some make-up, did my hair and then walked, as a sheep, to my own slaughter. You see, the reason why I was dying was because I allowed myself to work in a work environment where there were people who were killing me. They didn’t hold a gun to my head or stab me with a knife. That would be too outrageous-right? Instead, they did it slowly and I was no better than them because I was a willing participant. When they poked at me, I reacted! When they talked about me and I heard about it, I cried and believed what they were saying! Every day I went to the building that the slow killing was taking place and I thought that a measly check, given to me every two weeks, was enough compensation for my own death-a slow death but a death, nonetheless…
What I have just described is my life as it was some years ago before I left the particular job that I had at the time. I have heard a number of friends and family members describe a similar set of circumstances where they were “the only one” at their work place and experienced negative treatment.
The terrible part of what I and many women (and men) of color experience is that it can be very subtle. It can be a feeling of being micro-managed or having your errors being paid more attention to than anybody else’s. Sometimes it’s as casual as returning from the weekend and everyone except you is talking about how much fun they had together over the weekend. Sometimes you step out of your office and everyone is gone… They have all gone for lunch and you’re the only one they didn’t invite.
My reaction to this experience was to find a new place to work. One of the “non-negotiables” in my job search was that the workplace had to have a lot of diversity and have inclusion as one of its core initiatives.
Can anyone really ever escape the effects of being excluded because they are different? I don’t think so but I do believe that staying in a work place that constantly erodes your self esteem and self worth is an unhealthy way of living one’s life. Some might say, “You’re being excluded because you’re unpleasant to be around.” Well, if that was the case, I believe that every person who left a workplace that was not inclusive would continue to experience the same treatment everywhere they went. Instead, most people who leave jobs that are lacking in diversity among their employees usually report a better working environment when they are not “the only one” somewhere else.
Nomalanga helps Black Women thrive in their lives and careers. She is a Social Commentator, an Editor at Your Black World , Assistant Professor of Professional Studies and the reigning Mrs Botswana. Visit Nomalanga’s blog at successfulblackwoman.com