Toxic Workplace Aftershocks: Recommendations

I reached out to people via LinkedIn to get recommendations for my previous jobs. Even if my work didn’t blow minds I know I produced pretty well. My yearly reviews were actually really great. I also had a great relationships with people in various levels in the company so I felt relief that even if my managers weren’t viable, I had options. They presented themselves that way.

I reached out to them via LinkedIn. I personalized the requests and was also specific to what I needed to make the task painless. Many of my requests went unanswered. One of the responses was simply “our policy doesn’t allow this”. No additional sentences were written, nothing about this policy applying specifically for LinkedIn or written recs etc.. It felt like this person wanted no parts of this. I was surprised how cold the response was, and I was overall hurt because these were a handful of people I thought would come through for me.

During my time at these jobs I dealt with bullying, and overall negative/toxic environments. It usually started with one person. The manager or the supervisor/”mentor”, who wanted to control or hold me by an imaginary leash. Whenever I acted as a human or didn’t “sit” on command, it threatened, or angered them. It did not matter if the partners or staff loved me or appreciated my contributions. I just want to do my job and do it well. They refused to let me grow and consistently got in the way of doing my job. As they worsened their behavior, they spread misinformation. They worked hard to change the perspectives of others, preventing me from doing my job in different ways. Suddenly, like a virus I found myself battling more than one person for respect, and for the chance to do my job. It still boggles my mind the amount of time and effort put into their tactics, and bullying. Time I see better spent reaching goals and completing tasks on behalf of the company.

The thing is, I have been lucky that my personality and work ethic has connected to that CEO, those key partners, that director, all of whom were above all that. The stern man that is really only about work, the client, and the closing of those large deals; do not bring anything else to him. That Director who loves initiative, and how efficient and well a job is completed. The CEO who is ok giving autonomy to those who will try, problem solve, who can make mistakes because they have resolutions on deck, and learns from them. These are the people who have saved me to some degree (they are a part of the same system that attacks me in the long run). They did not like anything outside of what was making them or company money, and completing tasks. Or they were so skilled they were able to stay above the fray, kept to themselves and did their work. My personality and the way I worked fit well with these types. Their bias never showed up in my presence or affected me personally. Because of them I received a steady stream of substantive work, I was able to learn, grow. I was given the chances and the ability to succeed and when I did, I was able to do my job well.

So in each case I stayed a bit. I stayed to learn as much of the job as possible. I recognized my own issues, be it being timid, not speaking up, talking too much, changing approaches etc. I figured, I’d try to turn things around. I figured I was in these situations because of something I lacked or didn’t know. I needed to learn the lesson or lessons attached and maybe I can stop the pattern and prevent the behavior. I only see now this wasn’t the answer. I do not regret my choices at each job. I made the best choices possible being the person I was, with the support and understanding I had. I do see that I wasted some precious time.

I thought my relationships and most importantly my work would speak for itself and I would be able to rely on at least one person at these jobs to speak to it. The truth is they were all a part of the same oppressive system. The “Karens” didn’t want me to do well while I was at the job. The company as a whole didn’t want to help me after I left. They understand what this can mean for me and they’ve made their decision. This just adds insult to injury, because I was blocked so well in learning. The growth I achieved was mainly from my own doing. My own fight to be included, to take initiative. As I looked to learn lessons, I learned to adapt and survive in the circumstances, but being outside of the situation I see I still am at a loss overall. I don’t have enough, or as much I deserve to move forward. It is hard not to blame myself for what I did not know. It just looks as if I worked years and do not have much to show for it. And if I am looking at it the way these “Karens” has, that perspective says they were right about me. It paints a pathetic picture, one with the wrong but seemingly popular perspective. Depending on who you’re surrounded by of course.

I am trying to reconcile all of this. The dualities of being a Black woman, from the projects of the Bronx, being a boarding school and college etc. graduate, who lived in various places, who occupies multiple lanes, and is simultaneously discovering and defending her many values- has made this journey confusing, disheartening and difficult. I’ve been told to know my place, and to stay in my lane. My value is often assumed, denied or ignored. As a forever student and researcher I realize the problem is not me. It is how limited my understanding was. I needed to adjust my understanding of myself, this world, the types of people in it, and the history of the systems in place. At the moment I am upset, I lack confidence and I am depleted. Yet, I also realize the cultures of these companies are of issue. It is the fact the world of corporate America, certain industries, and most employer’s hold white voices and people with more value because of values rooted in white supremacy. The racial, gender, ageist biases against me is natural response for many, and in most cases whatever way I choose to manage it, will be an issue.

I am not sure what I do now. I still sit here with knowledgeable, but with less knowledge that I deserve for the years of hard work I put in. Temporarily unable to oversell or upsell myself because of who I happen to be, and because PTSD has left me needing some healing. My healing journey is going well. I am studying, researching and growing. In addition to personal growth (with great professional support) I am already learning the ways to better choose my work cultures and environments. There is so much to come.

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