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Role: Designer

Location: Toronto

Salary: $80,000 CAD

Size of company: 100

Total Years Working: 15

Age: 31

Industry: Tech

A couple years back, I got the call I'd been waiting for: I got the job. I'd been interviewing at a Company X, a tech startup in the real estate space, and I really wanted the role. It wasn't that I was so excited about real estate, but this company seemed to have what my current company didn't: a number of Black staff. I loved my job, but being the only Black person on the team took a toll. When I interviewed with company X, I saw myself a bit more. In fact, I don't even think a single white person was involved in my interview process. Sure, the CEO was white, but I expect that; in my 15 years in the industry, I've never once worked for a Black CEO. X also had a real HR team, which was something I saw as a bonus after years of "figure it out" career development. The values on their website stood out to me too. They said they valued diversity and inclusion, mental health, and honesty. They seemed to really care. I happily accepted the offer, even accepting a lower salary. They said it was non-negotiable, and I felt grateful just to be somewhere I could belong.

After a short while, things were clearly not what they seemed. I realized that while I did have Black coworkers, none of them were in leadership. Soon, I was passed over for a promotion, which was awarded to a white woman on the team. It wasn't just that I felt skipped over, but that she didn't have experience in my field, and now I was reporting to her (and training her). Still, I was hopeful that this could be a good place to work.

Then, in May 2020, everything changed. The killing of George Floyd hit me so personally and rippled through corporate life as companies struggled to formulate a response. At my own company, debates raged over whether to post a black square or not and what to post instead. Though DEI was not in my job description, I still cared about this company. I wanted it to be what I thought it was. So I volunteered my time. I reviewed a draft of the statement, written by a white coworker, and it was full of basic problems:  Black wasn't capitalized, and there was no real firm stance taken to condemn violence against Black people. Overall, it seemed like a lot of platitudes, and well wishes were simply not what Black people needed in that moment. I canceled my day's plans and rewrote the statement for them.

"Well wishes were simply not what Black people needed in that moment."

The next day, I was confused when a different statement went up, without any of my edits. I checked the google doc; no one had even viewed it. Things spiralled from there as the company received negative feedback online and from current and former employees. I was asked again to help them fix the mess and help them do better, but this time I was less willing. I told them I was unhappy doing more volunteer DEI work, on top of my regular workload. I was really upset but worried about coming off as the "angry Black woman", so I ended up giving them a few more pieces of advice. Still, no one listened, and the situation worsened. I felt at odds with senior management and seen as a problem when I'd simply been trying to help a company I cared about. I didn't feel safe there anymore, and in the end, I left. I got some severance money, but it felt dirty, like they paid me because they knew I had a strong network and might expose them. But I took it because I didn't have a new job lined up, and I needed the cash.

I ended up leaving the corporate world entirely and starting my own business. I love the freedom and the empowerment of working for myself. As a Black woman in the corporate world, you have to do extra due diligence on whether a workplace is safe or not. Often, even if they said the right things, there was no guarantee that it was true. I was tired of thinking the next company was going to be the one where I finally felt supported only to be disappointed again after the honeymoon phase. I simply couldn't do it again. While companies are figuring out where they stand, Black people are sitting in psychologically unsafe environments every day.  I never saw myself as an entrepreneur, but there is no point in begging for a seat at a table that was just not built with me in mind.

*Editor's Note: Some details have been changed, at the writer's request, to protect their anonymity.