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My experience with Racism in the Workplace!

 

With all the talk about Diversity and Inclusion, it made me think about my own experiences.  Most of us who belong to a historically marginalized group has experienced some kind of racism or prejudice, and I wanted to share my story.  

 

I have always considered myself lucky as a professional navigating the job market in Canada.  Being born in Canada to Indo-Caribbean parents (from Trinidad), our first and only language was English.  I didn’t have an accent, and aside from my skin colour being different, I never really thought my appearance or background was an issue.  My parents forced me to always speak correctly and not “ghetto” as they knew what it was like coming to Canada in the 70’s with thick Trinidadian accents and the barriers they had to overcome in those times.  They made sure I continued my education to obtain a degree and the rest was up to me.   

 

Unlike a lot of friends in school I knew who had parents to fund their post-secondary education, I had to pay my way through school.  I was very lucky to end up working at one of the main retail banks after high school that allowed myself and others in the part time shift to work as much as we can while going to school full time.  I was studying Human Resources but working in Retail banking.  It was great, I enjoyed servicing customers, and was promoted over time to Head Teller.  I always thought the staff there were welcoming and open and I never experienced any discrimination until the last couple of years at the bank.  When my manager stopped coming to work regularly, coming in late frequently, not doing his work, I was forced to work like crazy to get everything done.  I did his job, did it better, and the part time staff were happy that I was the one helping them out.  When my manager officially departed from the branch, I was nominated by my team to go for the role.  I went for it!  I thought, great, I am already doing it, I am trusted, my balancing record – for literally hundreds of thousands of dollars each night was amazing.  Then after a week or so, I was introduced to my new manager, someone who was a supervisor in the 80’s (we were in 2002).  She was the good friend of another manager there.   

 

There was no debrief on why I didn’t get the job.  She was white, and I was a young coloured girl and that was it.  I accepted my fate, I knew my career was not meant to be in retail banking, but it hurt because no one even bothered to offer another option, give me a reason, etc.    I worked with my new Manager not holding any grudges towards her and within a few months, I was back to doing the job she should have been doing.  She did not know what she was doing, she went for smoke breaks (sorry smokers) every 15 minutes, therefore I was frequently left to deal with irate customers, sign off on large banking transactions, balance all the work, no change at all.  So, here I am, getting paid as a Teller, working as a Manager, and not getting any credit for my work.  The best recognition I received was from one of the other managers after the great power outage of 2003.  The crash happened on my shift and I spent a month reconciling details manually until I was down to $50 out which was amazing.   My manager offered no support as she did not understand how to fix anything. The other manager bought me a tea... that was his big thanks.  I worked hard to correct all the issues, not because I wanted recognition, but because it was important for my work to be as perfect as possible.   

 

At that time, there was no movement for equality, no recognition of nepotism, just companies hiring and promoting who they wanted that fit their “ideal candidate” profile.  I left as soon as I graduated, not having any great job opportunities available, just some random administrative work.  I just knew I didn’t want to be used anymore.  I was happy to know she was demoted within 3 months of my departure!  Eventually new management arrived at the branch and through old colleagues that remained there, offered me a chance to return, but the anger was too deep to ever subject myself to that type of treatment again. 

 

So, what did I learn?  Though the branch management at the time would not admit to it, they had unconscious biases, favouritism was acceptable, and there was no accountability to treat staff equally and fair.  Companies have come a long way, implementing new policies to combat this type of behaviour.  However, I am still witnessing this type of behaviour.  It is not only up to Human Resources to implement and uphold policies that welcome Diversity & Inclusion.  All leaders must understand what it means to be inclusive, and how their past actions may have been preventing growth and development of staff due to old and outdated practices such as hiring a buddy’s son and daughter, and keeping marginalized groups in strictly “support” roles, etc.    

 

It’s a new day, we can all be better.  Think about what your company can do with a blank slate, it’s not impossible. 

 

My next article will focus on Diversity & Inclusion, please check back soon for more!