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Dec 2, 2020

In all of the HR/recruiting departments in which I have worked over the past 26 years, their idea of diversity was typically one Black person, usually me. Far from inclusive.

It’s like a couple adopting a child from another race and saying, “OK, I’ve made my contribution to society.” Then they ignore the child and leave them out of family outings. They feed and clothe the child, but do not give the child an ounce of affection and no sense of belonging. That is what it is like for many Black people in corporate America.

As a Black woman, that’s what it’s been like for me.

“Show Me Your Grades”

My introduction to human resources and recruiting started when I was in my early 30s. I was working for a company that had a group of urgent-care centers throughout central Virginia. Because I had been a medical-insurance claims adjuster, I was hired as an HR assistant to process the company’s own medical claims.

Very soon the job became more of a generalist role processing turnover reports, assisting with EEO reports, and recruiting for a variety of clinical positions. I learned about certification and licensing requirements, navigated through workforce shortages, and processed open enrollments.

It was ironic that my manager, who was a VP and a nurse, and I had the same birthday and that we both named one of our daughters after ourselves. She shared her knowledge and encouraged me to grow. That experience may have been the first and last time I felt “included.” 

Eventually, a medical director position opened at one of the clinics. Generally, this role was held by people with medical degrees, but due to the administrative nature of the job, the company changed the requirements to consider college-educated professionals. A white male employee and I were the only internal applicants.

I interviewed for the position with my VP and her Senior VP superior. Toward the end of our conversation, the senior VP was visibly agitated. He asked me if I could get my college transcripts. My VP called out his request for being out of line, but it had no effect.

So I contacted my college and requested the transcripts, but none of that mattered. In the end, the senior VP told me that he went with the white guy because that candidate was expecting his fourth child and hence, would benefit from a promotion with a higher salary.

I can almost hear you say as you read this: “But that’s a violation of the Civil Rights Act!” Yes, it is. But had I lodged a complaint, it would’ve become a public record, which risked impacting the rest of my career and life. 

A Toxic Staffing Agency

When the company moved its corporate office to an area that created more than an hour commute for me, I took a job in one of the clinics that reduced my commute to just 15 minutes. As a front office supervisor, I managed a team of 14 employees, but the pay was not very high. So I managed to keep this position on a part-time basis and simultaneously take a full-time job as a recruiting assistant for a small staffing agency. Soon after, I was promoted to account executive/recruiter.

The staffing agency was at its best a toxic environment. There was a constant tug of war about who owns which client or candidate, creating confusion about who would get commission. Additionally, most of the employees in the office did not show up for work until after 10 a.m. and often left by 4 p.m. Meanwhile, I showed up at 8 every morning and often did not leave until 6 at night. I was managing over 60 temps and placing a couple of permanent positions a month. 

I also juggled my work with time related to several groups to which I belonged, including the local SHRM chapter, the National Bankers Association, and the National Medical Association. I attended their meetings regularly and served on the board of the local SHRM chapter as a diversity chairperson. I also went to City Business Association meetings, which were usually held in the early mornings. 

Regardless, one night, everyone had left but me and a new technical recruiter. I went into her office to ask her how she was doing. She immediately began complaining about her position, grumbling that our boss had duped her about the number of clients and candidates she’d be taking on. The number was far less than had been told to her. So I gave her a pep talk and gave her tips on securing clients based on my own experience.

The next day, I came into the office only to be verbally accosted by our boss. He accused me of telling the new person things that were not true and of harassing her about her performance. Essentially, this technical recruiter had relayed her complaints to our boss, but positioned them as my complaints. I suspect because she was white, our boss instantly believed her. Still, I told him that I had not said certain things and that I was very upset that he immediately took her side, even though he had known me for about four years.

Later that day, I tried to call my co-worker three times to ask her why she had said those things about me. I even politely apologized for offending her, though I didn’t believe I had. She never picked up, and never replied to my voicemail.

The next day, my boss storms into my office in a rage to fire me. I replied that I made well over my monthly allotment with commissions. Plus, I was the only one generating income for the company at the time. However, he relayed that my accuser was threatening to quit because I had supposedly harassed her. 

Our back-and-forth went on and on until there was a soft knock on the door. The woman came in and told our boss that, indeed, I had been very polite and that she felt my behavior wasn’t actually harassment. Wow. 

Of course, I can’t prove that my race was a factor in what had transpired. (Most issues of discimination and prejudice are hard, if not impossible to prove.) But I believe it was. As a result, two weeks later, I found another job and quit. (And no, I did not get any of my commissions.)

The Persistence of Prejudice

I’ll end with this: I am continually baffled by the claims some companies make about not being able to find qualified people of color, particularly when 4.6 million Black people in this country have a 4-year college degree. Nevermind that often, a Black person must “qualify,” while a White person must have “potential.”

It’s a shame, because HR and recruiting professionals are a company’s gatekeepers. They have the power to help mold their organization’s path to success. That can’t happen as long as inequities persist. And they do persist. Today, I often still feel like that adopted child.

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