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Why do you think this capable, talented woman needs you to rescue her from a position for which she willingly applied? It’s condescending to assume she won’t be able to handle your office culture. I can assure you there is nothing about your workplace she hasn’t already experienced elsewhere. Your anxieties are … misplaced. As you note, she’s the best woman for the job. She’s going to be fine, or not, but she’s an adult. She doesn’t need you to protect her from reality.
You should support her the way you would any new co-worker. Make sure she has the necessary tools to do well in your organization. Set her up for success, with clearly defined expectations. Provide mentorship. Don’t tokenize her. She is a professional, not a mascot.
Ultimately, I think you’re worried about the discomfort and, perhaps, guilt you will feel when she has to work and, ideally, thrive in your problematic workplace. The best thing you and your colleagues can do is to create a supportive environment for all employees, one that is focused on inclusion and equity for all. That means thinking not only about recruitment, but retention. What will it take to evolve your workplace from where it is now to where it should be? What will it take for people of color to want to work at your organization and have room for advancement? You mention that your organization changes slowly, but that is not immutable unless you allow it to be.
In terms of your interpersonal issues with Black women: You’re going to have to do the work of figuring out why you’ve had contentious relationships with the people you’ve worked with and what you can do to avoid that in the future. It will require rigorous self-reflection and being mindful of how you perceive and treat the Black women you work with. It is difficult to say what, specifically, you should do differently because I’m not entirely clear on what you’ve done in the past. The short answer is to do the opposite of what you did previously and to hold yourself accountable.
No one should ever schedule an 8 a.m. meeting. That is, indeed, far too early. People need time to ease into the workday. Now, your colleague probably shouldn’t have shared that he needs his mornings for his workouts but if we have learned anything from the pandemic and the ways workplace culture is evolving, it’s that we are more than our jobs.
Most of us can handle our work responsibilities well and be human, making time during the workday for family, for fitness or for personal interests. Stop micromanaging your colleague. His schedule is not your concern. Surely you can be a bit more flexible with setting meetings. It sounds like he is willing to do the same. It’s all going to be OK.
I’m sorry to hear about your horrible boss. We’ve all had one and it’s the worst, particularly when you have few employment options. I’m a big believer in the power of reading, but there are some people who are so maladjusted that not even great literature can help them. That said, while I am not at all familiar with conventional business books about leadership, I do have some unconventional suggestions that will serve anyone well.
My suggested reading includes: “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin; “Notes from No Man’s Land” by Eula Biss; “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison; “All About Love” by bell hooks; “Odes to Common Things” by Pablo Neruda; “Thick” by Tressie McMillan Cottom; “Voyage of the Sable Venus” by Robin Coste Lewis; and “Borderlands/La Frontera” by Gloria Anzaldúa. These are books that have expanded my understanding of the world in profound ways, and I firmly believe that kind of expansion is what empowers people to be better in all ways.
Congratulations on landing your dream job! When your manager is overly vague in his requests, simply ask for clarification with specific questions that will, hopefully, elicit the information you need. I imagine that if you do this enough, he will begin to provide more precision in his directives.
In terms of understanding, you have to listen actively and carefully but you can, again, ask for clarification, with directed questions. Taking notes also helps so you have a written record of what you do understand. You can repeat back what you’ve heard so that your manager can confirm that you’ve understood him or amend what you’ve repeated as needed. I understand your concerns but it is not incompetent to seek clarification, and it is not racist to need some time to acclimate to an unfamiliar accent.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at [email protected].