278 The Link Up with Latesha : Racism in the Workplace

On the final installment of The Link Up with Latesha, our incredible host Latesha Byrd, founder and CEO of Byrd Career Consulting, takes a deep dive into exploring racism in the workplace. She shares some of the racist experiences she’s had throughout her career, outlines action items to take if you find yourself in a toxic work environment, and more. We’d like to extend our deepest gratitude to Latesha for hosting this series – it was an amazing run!

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Zach: What’s up, y’all? This is Zach with Living Corporate. I’m coming in here to say thank y’all. It’s really two ways. I come in and I thank the listeners, but the reason why we’ve been able to even create all of the content that y’all hear–’cause I talk to folks and they’re like, “Dang, you’re dropping three episodes a week?” It’s like, “Yeah, we are,” but the reason we’re able to do that is because we have a team, a team of people that come in and contribute their time and their energy. Really, you know, I don’t work with, quote-unquote, the folks that contribute to Living Corporate. They just submit the content to me and then I distribute it, right? So Living Corporate’s flagship show is really almost like a distributor of different series and content, right? Like, we have our content on Tuesdays. We have Tristan’s Tips, then we have The Link Up with Latesha and Amy C. Waninger alternating on Saturdays, and it’s been incredible. Like, I’ve been very thankful because we’ve been able to create such consistently insightful content, and I know it’s insightful not just based on my own understanding of what I’m listening to but from the feedback that y’all have provided. So I’m just really thankful for this team, and it’s with that I’m sharing, and it’s bittersweet but I’m excited for her, this is the last episode of The Link Up with Latesha. So make sure y’all check out Latesha Byrd. We’re gonna have all the stuff in the show notes, especially Career Chasers. So make sure you check out all of the information in the show notes, subscribe to Career Chasers, Latesha Byrd. If you are out there and you’re a Black or brown woman and you’re looking to really elevate, continue to manifest, mature your career–I was looking for M words–then Latesha Byrd is the person you need to engage, right? She is the name. So make sure y’all check her out. Until next time. Peace.

Latesha: Thank you all for joining. I had a few thoughts. So I’ll go ahead and start. One, I think that there is a war that we are fighting. I mean, we’re fighting a lot right now. We’re fighting COVID, ’cause people still out here catching the corona. We’re dealing with police brutality. Of course that’s been around. And we’re dealing with racism, and we’re dealing with oppression. This isn’t anything new to us at all. I think it’s interesting how many people are acting so surprised or distraught or shocked at how our people are being treated, but this isn’t anything new. So one, I’m speaking from a lens of three things: first, a Black woman in the corporate space. I worked in the accounting industry for 5 years, first as an actual accountant and then I moved into recruiting before I left corporate America and really jumped into full-time entrepreneurship. My time in corporate was so traumatic that it actually pushed me to leave much sooner. Corporate was pushing me to depression and to heavy anxiety, and I just had to get the hell out, and it got to a point where I said, “You know what? I’m just gonna have to do this thing, and if I fail, I’d rather bet on me,” because corporate was stifling my growth. I wasn’t feeling valued. I wasn’t feeling respected, and I felt like they didn’t really get to know me for who I was. Like, for some reason I picked up the angry Black woman narrative, but more to come on that. Second lens is as a recruiter. So I spent 3 years recruiting in the accounting industry, and I recruited for 5 offices, 2 in Charlotte, New York, Jacksonville, Tampa. I was 25 years old leading recruiting efforts for an accounting firm, and I had direct access to the CEO. I had direct access to the chief people officer to the point where, like, I could pull up in their office no appointment. I can email them and know that I’m going to get a response. I had a really close proximity to leadership, and I used that to my advantage, but I also was able to call out a lot of things that I witnessed being someone who is on the recruiting, hiring side. And then the third lens that I’m speaking from is being a career coach. So I coach countless, you know–I’m not gonna say I only coach Black people. Like, I have white clients. I have Latin clients. I have Black clients. But my heart really goes out to the Black women that I coach because just about all of them have all shared some really traumatic experience with me to the point that they don’t even know that they’re dealing with trauma, that they’re dealing with racism every day, and they still show up to work and do the damn thing. I’m tired. I’m angry of what we have to go through in the workplace, and I don’t even want to talk about the workplace, but what we are dealing with in our communities, you know? What we’re dealing with at home. Some of us might be taking care of sick family members or we’re worried about our parents and grandparents and we’re trying to take care of our kids. Now dealing with not only this pandemic but police brutality and the media and just all of that and still having to show up to work every single day, it takes so much courage and bravery, and I just want to say, like, thank y’all. Thank y’all for still showing up and doing the work. I know it’s hard, but I want you to know that you are valued. I feel you. I see you. I hear you. You’re not doing this in vain. You are extremely important at work. Everything I do as a career coach is centered around career empowerment. If you follow me, you know that I’m very passionate about career empowerment. What I mean by that is you basically showing up to work knowing that you deserve to take up space and knowing that your voice should be heard. You shouldn’t be begging for a promotion when you know you can run laps around your boss and you’ve been doing his job and he can’t do his job without you. Promote me and pay me. And y’all know how I feel about that. So what I might say tonight, it might hurt some feelings, it might piss somebody off, but like I said, I’m speaking from a place of wanting to provide truth. I’m wanting to know that, again, I’ve experienced what you all are going through. I think words matter, I think language matters, and I think it’s time for us to really start to hold companies accountable to valuing Black people, not just throwing us up on the website. Not just hosting events during Black History Month. Not treating D&I as something that is extracurricular, but actually making sure that we are getting promoted, that we are being hired, that companies are actually taking their dollars and time and energy to recruit, hire, promote and advance Black people. There is no reason why Black women are the largest group of–I think we’re the largest group in corporate America or in the workplace–I know we’re, like, leading the efforts on graduating from college with degrees, so why when you look at the CEOs, why when you look at the C-suite, why when you look at leadership positions are we not represented there? And companies will say, “Oh, we can’t find diverse talent,” or they’ll say, “Well, we have two people on our team, and we’re just so proud of our diversity.” I don’t know what to be more angry at. I don’t know if I should be more upset at how companies are responding right now when it’s like, “We see you.” Companies are like, “We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.” Do Black lives matter? To you and your organization? Or are you just putting this on social media because it’s a cute post? Companies should be putting in–and this is my opinion. These are the opinions of Latesha Byrd and nobody else, no other companies. I really would like to see companies holding themselves more accountable for our advancement, whether that be metrics, recruiting at HBCUs just as much as we do PWIs and stop thinking that recruiting at an HBCU is charity work. I want to see more metrics around not only the recruiting and the hiring, but what about the retention and the promotion? Why are Black employees coming and going like it’s a car wash? Like we an Autobell on a Sunday? Companies need to create a space for marginalized employees to perform well. This is why I do this work. I just want to say that. So let’s talk about privilege. So privilege is choosing not to pay attention to a problem because it doesn’t affect you. I don’t want to give any company a gold sticker or a cookie for saying, “I am an ally and I stand with you.” What does that mean? You stand with me? Do better. This is a problem, because studies shown in 2045 the majority of the U.S. will not be white. We are getting more and more diverse as a population,a nd if companies don’t really start to change their practices, they’re not gonna be able to know how to communicate to their communities, to their customers, to their core audience, and I think that’s really actually starting to show its face right now in some of the tone-deaf messages that we’re seeing. You know, I don’t have the answers, but I would like to see leaders actually advocating for us, speaking up for us and advocating, like, for us to actually get promoted. We shouldn’t be surprised when a Black woman says, “I want to get promoted.” Like, they will legit look at you surprised when you say that. Like, “Oh, no, you should just be happy to have this job. You asking for more? Uh-uh. We gave you this crumb.” But you’re giving Joe and Billy and Tom over here a whole meal and an appetizer and a dessert, and you’re giving me a little crumb and you expect me to be happy with that? I can’t even get a real drink. Y’all giving me a glass of water. Come on. If I can give any advice here, I would just say to hold your manager accountable if you can. You have to hold your manager accountable to your performance and share your goals and don’t be afraid to share your goals, and continue to advocate for yourself, even if no one else is advocating for you. And find those allies. Call people out on their privilege. I have a couple of scenarios I want to talk about. Something that I tweeted earlier, I was just saying that as a recruiter I saw a lot in terms of how companies–I saw a lot of bias, even in our leadership, and there was one particular time when we were having a roundtable about intern performance, and there was one white intern we were talking about, and he wasn’t performing well. Like, he just wasn’t doing a good job, and they said, “Oh, well, he didn’t get the right training. Oh, no, I think we just need to give him some more training,” and y’all, this was a white intern, and just a few seconds before that every time they’d bring up a Black intern, “Oh, Such-and-such doesn’t talk to us.” “They’re really quiet.” “They don’t ask questions.” So when it got to us actually talking about white intern and they alluded to the fact that he didn’t get the proper training, my jaw literally dropped on the phone. Like, dead silence. That was a clear indication of an actual bias. Like, companies really will make excuses for those, and luckily because I was the one on the phone during these calls really advocating for my Black interns, my Black candidates, I would always put it back on them. Like, when they would say, “Oh, well, Such-and-such isn’t talking to us,” or all this bad feedback, my first question is “Did you actually communicate this feedback to them?” And it would be crickets. So why are you holding people accountable to something that you didn’t even communicate was expected? It is your job as a leader to make sure they are getting the right support. If they’re not talking, then talk to them. It’s really frustrating because it’s like two Americas, and it was so frustrating because, y’all, I felt like if I wasn’t in that call, they would’ve just not extended a full-time offer to those interns because they were quiet. I’ll tell y’all another example. There was a new Black hire in an office, and I had developed, like, a mentor relationship with her, and so she felt very uncomfortable in that office because she was the only Black woman. And again, y’all, I’m 25 years old. I’m in a leadership role in recruiting and had close proximity to leadership, so the partner that managed that office where she worked actually gave me a call one day and said, “I just don’t know what to do. She’s not really talking to us.” And then she was like, “There was a fire drill and everybody had to leave the office, and she had her headphones in. She didn’t want to talk to us.” And I was so confused, and so I basically said, “Okay, well, did you actually start a conversation with her?” “Oh, no. She just seemed like she didn’t want to talk to us.” They really make a lot of assumptions. You know, it’s like we can’t do anything right, to be honest with you. We’re expected to smile and just, “Hey, how was your weekend? How was your day?” Like, that’s just not how we are as a people, and so I had a very frank conversation with her and I said, “Maybe she doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to you all. Maybe she doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you. Have you ever thought that there’s no one else here that looks like her?” Like, “Is this really a safe space for her? Are you creating that safe space?” You as a leader, you as a person who has influence here, it starts with you, and it has to go from the top down. I’m a huge advocate of that. And I guess the question is, like, who is holding leadership accountable here? Our white counterparts are expecting for us to educate them on how they should show up for us, but we’ve been doing this work for many years. Like, we’re tired. We just want to be able to do our jobs and go home. So that’s very frustrating, and I think the other thing is that I don’t think that we should be the ones responsible for their education. I don’t. If you aren’t the type that is super bubbly–and we’re not really bubbly people. Y’all see me right now. This is how I am all the time. I’m not a bubbly person, unless I’m drunk or something, but we’re typically very direct. I know I’m a very serious person, especially as it comes to the work, so I’ll talk about what I did. So I knew that people were going to have assumptions or these biases about me because I’m not gonna walk around and smile at you and be like, “Hey, how was your day?” I don’t care, to be blunt. I don’t care. So what I did was I said, “Who are the key players, the key stakeholders? Who are the decision makers at my company that I need to really build relationships with,” and when I say need to build relationships with I mean who are the ones who can actually make decisions on how I grow here, and those are the folks that I took the time to really know and I set up recurring meetings with them, and maybe if you guys don’t want to do something formal the way I did you can make it a little bit informal, but you do have to get in front of the people who have the power to make, you know, you get promoted, a raise, whatever it is that you want. You have to create visibility for yourself, and you can’t really depend on anybody else to give it to you. Think about this, and here’s what I see with a lot of the Black women that I coach. They’re very, very, very good at their jobs. Y’all know we can go in and run a company real quick. “Get this together. You over here. Uh-huh. Sit right there. Send that email. Get the memo together.” Like, we take command and we take charge and we’re very good at that, okay? So what happens is so many Black women get pigeonholed because they’re too damn good at their job and their boss doesn’t want them to leave. Why would our boss want us to get promoted when we’re already doing his job and we’re making them look damn good? So this is why you have to be strategic. So with that being said, you have to advocate for your goals and for your growth, because leaving it up to the person you report to, they might just want you to stay where you are because you’re doing a really good job and you’re making their job easier. Y’all have to remember that, y’all. Literally that is what oppression looks like. That is what oppression looks like. There is a Medium article, “From Office Pet to Office Threat,” and that’s exactly how it starts. You know, Black women are, like, the token. “We love Black girls. Like, we want to talk to you about your hair, we love your outfit, you’re just so fly,” and then when I’m real fly in these agendas and leading these meetings, now you’re scared and intimidated. What happened to that energy you had before when you really loved me and thought I was great? So this is why you do have to be strategic. If your boss is literally in your way of you getting promoted, you’ve got to figure out an alternative. You have to go around. If you’re talking to your boss and you’re like, “Look, I’m ready to get promoted,” and he’s like, “Okay, just check back in 5 years,” you’ve got to go around him. You have to. And this is why you have to build relationships with other people, not just the person you report to, and it has to be people that are in leadership. Here’s another strategy. This is why you have to be really observant, and I think we are as a people. We’re typically very observant and a little bit cautious with who we deal with anyway. So you’ve got to figure out the people that are in positions of power and, like, who’s in close proximity to them, and you’ve got to get close to them too. I don’t care if he’s on your team or not on your team. Like, figure out a way to finesse. That’s all. And if you have to be willing to leave that company, leave. Please. Leave your companies if you have to. You do not have to stay there, and I think that’s another thing that we forget sometimes. We have a lot more power than we give permission to really recognize and acknowledge. Always keep your resume updated, and I have plenty of podcasts that I’ve done that I can share on how to make sure you’re ready at all times. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. The other thing is some of the best jobs when you’re not even looking. You do have to be ready for that as well. So keeping your resume updated, always networking, and you have to have relationships with I think other people that look like us at other companies to just ask them, like, “Is this your experience too? Are you dealing with this as well?” A lot of people have asked me about interviews. “Is it okay if I ask the company about their D&I initiatives and how they’re combating racism in the interview?” You can ask them all day, but you know what they’re gonna say? “Oh, yeah. We celebrate diversity, and we are inclusive. We just had a Black history program, and it was great. You can see our website. We just volunteered and gave back to the Black homeless kids.” Come on, y’all. Do y’all think they’re gonna tell you everything that you need to know in the interview? No. This is why you have to talk to other people. You gotta know people at other organizations. You have to know Black people at other organizations that will really tell you the real deal. Companies will say, “Oh, we got a Black person interviewing here? Okay, let me go get our only Black employee to be in this interview with you.” Y’all know the games, y’all know the vibes. So be willing to leave if you must. You are never stuck. Don’t be afraid to speak up for your goals. Be strategic in your networking. But at the end of the day, I’m really on some, like, companies need to do better, and we need to start calling them out. I think that we know that we’re onto them. Like, everyone is being held accountable right now, and I want to continue to see that. Not only do I want companies to post, you know, that Black Lives Matter and that’s great, but, like, if Black lives matter, then Black lives should matter in your board room. They should matter even outside of diversity and inclusion. Black lives should really matter a lot more than a freaking Instagram post and a caption. So I really want them to be about that life, and if you can, if you are in a position of leadership, if you’re able to advocate for another Black employee at work when they don’t feel seen or when no one’s speaking up for them, like, please do that. You might make people uncomfortable. Black lives matter 365 days of the year, not just the 28 days in February. You have to be okay with making other people uncomfortable as well. I think that if you are up for it, as a Black employee this is a good time to be transparent with your leadership if you don’t feel well. If you’re not emotionally well right now, it’s okay to say, like, “Look, Karen, I’m not doing too hot right now.” I think that we should be able to say, like, “What I’m dealing with right now is Black trauma. I am traumatized but what’s going on in my community. I’m traumatized by what I’m seeing in the media. And I also don’t feel comfortable, you know, being the only Black person in this space. I don’t feel seen.” I was having a conversation with the Career Chasers community earlier, and during their team call when it came to everyone talking about their weekends they were talking about how they had a great weekend and spending time with the family and they were able to get out and enjoy the weather, and it’s really like we live in two different worlds. So if you’re not good at work, don’t say that you’re good, you know? We are uncomfortable pretty much all of our time in corporate. We are always uncomfortable. So you trying to, you know, ensure that your co-worker isn’t uncomfortable, why? Why? This is a great time and a chance for you to really talk about how you feel, but it is not your job to educate. It’s also not your job to lead this effort of change in your organization unless you’re really up for it. I’m never gonna say don’t do it, but you don’t have to, and it should not be all on you. This is where even those individuals that lead the Black resource groups or the Black employee groups, you know, at their job, we all know that leadership has to support it and, like, we need white leadership to be involved. It can’t just be a Black thing. That’s not the sole point. So speak up for yourself. Let them know how you truly feel. If someone is on some BS and they’re saying all lives matter at work right now, like, that is an issue. I think we have very strong intuition too, so, like, you know what is the right thing to do. Listen to your spirit and let that guide you. But if someone is really on some racist BS, I think that that is intolerable, and I would let your–whoever the power might be, let them know that you don’t feel comfortable. It’s not okay for anyone at work to be screaming “all lives matter” right now when, you know, we are brutalized for the world to see, and not even the U.S. Like, there are so many countries now that are protesting against police brutality, but you’re still screaming “all lives matter?” Get out of here. So if you are experiencing that, figure out who you can speak with. Maybe it has to be anonymous. You know, I don’t know, but I think we’re past that, you know? We’re past that at this point. We are adults. This is not second grade where, “Ooh, I don’t want to be a tattletale.” And I’ve had this conversation with a lot of my coaching clients. If you are being discriminated against, if you are being dealt with racism, like, blatant, flat-out, direct to you racism, you’ve got to figure out a way to call people out and hold them accountable. It’s not okay. And don’t be worried about telling on folks. Like, we’re grown as hell, and if this person is in the way of you doing your job, like, you’ve got to speak up because that’s only going to hurt you in the long run. So thank y’all for listening to my rant. Like I said, I don’t have the answers. I think that I just want to see so much more for us and how we’re treated in the workplace because, you know, our companies, your company, it needs you even more than you need them. So for those of you that might be feeling discouraged, you know, or feeling unseen, feeling unheard right now at work, just know that we see you. Like, we see you, and if you ever feel discouraged, you feel like you just can’t go on, like, tweet me. Hit me up. I don’t know how I can fully support, but I’m in your corner. Know that there are a lot of folks that feel the same exact way that you do. I wrote an article on Medium, and the article was about kind of what we’re talking about right now, but the article just states to give yourself some grace right now. Like, you are doing the best that you can, and if you need to reschedule meetings, do it. If you need to push back a deadline, do it. And I tell people all the time, like, “We’re not saving lives,” unless you are, like, a legit doctor, you know? You’ve got to take care of you first. So I love you guys, and thank you for listening. Have a good night.

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