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You know you are borderline old when things you learnt in PSYCH101 in first year of university eleven years ago start making sense? (Lol). One of many Sigmund Freud theories is that; your conditioning as a human being, your experiences between the ages of 1-5 years old are the most important in shaping the human being you become at a later stage in life.

When I think back to what I (can possibly) remember for most of my life, being raised by a single parent- my mother, brother, aunts and uncles in my immediate space adored me. I had (have) a number of nicknames, I was incredibly shy growing up and I found joy in doing things for others. Now- what kind of an adult do I believe this has turned me into?… A love-full, conscientious, serving human being where this is required of me.

Let us talk a bit about work spaces- you agree to signing an employment contract; which pretty much dictates how you will live your life over an agreed amount of hours over a certain time period of your life. We all know theory does not translate flawlessly into reality…not where human beings who are informed and conditioned by circumstances worlds apart from each other converge. BUT- this is where things like being “professional”, having a “corporate/organizational” culture, having “values” etc. comes into play. There are number of (BULLSHIT) issues that come with shared spaces where people who do not have shared values converge. This is why wars exist, this is why people form empires/cliques, this why “hierarchies” are (BULLSHIT) important.

Give someone who did not experience love growing up some authority over a combination of human beings and watch the movie unfold…just watch. You know, I attended a gathering an evening not too long ago, and a lady said: “the way we are raised and conditioned as black (females) folk, does not prepare us for (white) corporate spaces…we do not speak up, we use respectful prefixes to the names of elders like we do at home (uncle this, aunt this, sis that, ma that)…”…my interpretation of this anecdote is- whilst trying to climb this monstrously steep mountain thing (called corporate), as black folk (regardless of background), your starting point is equivalent to carrying say six- to- ten of those large travel suitcases; what we call “umthwalo” in the Nguni dialect. Now- every single person has a perception about you, every single person shares these perceptions with people they trust who share it with people they trust and in no time…a stew of perceptions has brewed about any and everybody in this organisational/corporate space you all have to share.

How does one genuinely lead or be genuinely led when we are operating off:

1. Childhood construction (playing out)
2. Different loads “imithwalo” (we are each carrying)
3. Perceptions (right or wrong)

What has completely thrown me off in my seven years of working (five in two different corporates and two in a small enterprise) is that this type of behaviour is projected by the majority of individuals you meet in organisation/corporate spaces; by individuals at all levels. Now remember- there is a perception that individuals at different levels of the corporate food chain behave differently. This is where I always go wrong in life- it does not mean the higher you go the better the behaviour up the corporate food chain (oooh child!)…HUMANS!

– I am a sensitive person; this does not make me a weak person
– I do take the other persons mental and emotional space into account before I open my mouth
– I am aware of some of the perceptions people (in corporate) have about me
– I am exhausted of the insensitive BULLSHIT that comes with organisational spaces

Give a loving, intelligent (not necessarily intellectual), ambitious, self-actualised person power and give a non-loving, intelligent, ambitious, non self-actualised person the same power and observe how the scenarios play out. You know how people can “tell” at first engagement whether a couple is genuinely happy or whether a home is a loving versus a cold home-in the same vein, environments that these two different type of humans “lead”/”steer” is distinct.

A peer who works in a different company in the same industry (financial services) was sharing her experiences with her boss; she said: “before each meeting, he asks me and encourage me to have 3-5 key speaking points in the meeting, he will then expand on my points by saying as *To add to what *Lizeka said, I think…, he refers to me as *his colleague in meetings, not as *this is the girl that works for me…”…the rest of us who were listening to her speak- eyes popped out and jaws almost on the floor had never experienced such…well I had experienced a similar leadership style twice before in my seven years of working.

Tell me; why do tertiary institutions and society mainly gear us up to enter into a workforce where we will encounter mental and spiritual abuse on a daily basis?…*White people do not view you as equals, senior people do not take you seriously because you are “young and inexperienced”, other black women see you as “useless” because you happen to know less than them in certain instances…why do we put ourselves through this?…why?…

The only things in my survival kit in seven years are:
– I come from love and nothing, no one, no experience will change my true nature,
– Find a mentor who is: present for your growth, for guiding you and supporting you in dealing with challenges that are a part of navigating life, who will connect you to opportunities he/she may feel you are ready for,
– Have a friend/colleagues that lighten the load and remind you of: who you are, your dreams and goals and that everything is a temporary state.

Honour your truth dear friends, be cautious how you make others feel with your words and actions; especially when roles of a higher order are bestowed upon you.💫

4 comments on “Navigating Corporate Bullshit- as a (black) female

  1. Gilles Ilunga says:

    Working in the corporate environment I have personally experienced or seen a number of the scenarios mentioned. The sad part is that it is not getting better… for black females. Hear me out. Men in the corporate environment are not the smartest. They are the loudest, unapologetic (ly black if they are), they back themselves, but more importantly have the backing of other men. It disgusts me to see the low level of support woman, especially black, give to other woman. In order to climb up the corporate ladder, you need allies, a brand and people you can trust. My sisters, stop putting each other down. You are your worst enemy. Be leaders we know you can be. I will hide while I get hate mail.

    1. Hello Gilles,
      Scary that you say you have experienced this untoward corporate culture/behaviour. Gender empowerment…could this be a myth?… “Be leaders we know you can be…” more importantly, leaders the women know they themselves can be…it all starts with the self/individual.

  2. Thank you for this article, but most importantly the positive and funny angle you have given it, I genuinely enjoyed reading it! At some point in my early years of working, I even wondered whether “I was meant to be there or not” which is the worst attitude one can have (self-doubt will stop you from achieving even the simplest of tasks)….In my case, on top of being “black and a female”…I am an African immigrant, so you can imagine what went on in my head, lol!…Luckily (more like through divine grace), I must commend most of the bosses, friends, supervisor and mentors I have had and owe them much of where I am today. Indeed they were demanding but mostly supportive and encouraging which worked wonders for my self-esteem in my darkest moments of doubt. The only way “out” is for us (black females) to keep having these conversations honestly and truthfully (there is some healing magic in the ability to share experiences and find resonance either in a friend and/or colleague that looks like you), and hope our younger sisters are better prepared, do not take it personally and certainly do not let it discourage them from their professional aspirations as it does get easier with time.

    1. Hello ASA 🙂 We are so glad you enjoyed the article and that you could resonate with it. It is sooo tough, but we forge on! As you said, we absolutely nee d to share these experiences and encourage those that come after us, to do better.
      Mbewu Movement

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