Updated: Oct 17, 2020
Recently, the Black Female Anonymous released a scathing article about the disastrous workplace culture of Essence Magazine. It brazenly provided devastating insight and details into the hostile work environment, clear nepotistic efforts to retain power and the unmerited pressures that many of the women experience. No longer bullied into silence, the Black Female Anonymous found their voice to express the blatant inequalities they face as Black women at the hands of other Black women and one named Black man, the now former CEO Richelieu Dennis.
As a Black female, I couldn’t help put to read with furrowed eyebrows and whisper, “Fix it…” with an occasional “hmph!” As a former employment litigator, I couldn’t help but to think about federal and state claims that exist. As a conflict resolution coach and workplace culture consultant, I couldn’t help but to yell out “damn it!”
I wrote a response on Medium to send the Black Female Anonymous a message - keep going. The reason why I told them to keep going is because there they are setting a strong precedent for other Black women who have a tendency to keep quiet and simply shoulder through it pain, heartache and sadness in the corporate space.
I know this to be true because I was one of those women. When I was pregnant with my son (back in early 2013), I worked for a small firm as an Associate. One of the Partners began bullying me in the form of aggressive questioning, yelling, slamming doors and essentially creating a hostile work environment. Everyone was impacted but I was the target of her rage. I would often sit in great disbelief because I remember reading cases about what was happening to me. In fact, it was less than a year where I had just represented a client on a federal Pregnancy Discrimination Claim in front of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. How could this be happening to me - a junior lawyer, pregnant for the first time. "Perhaps this was all in my head..." I thought - doubting myself over and over.
So when I read the letter that was written by the Black Female Anonymous, I believe them. I believe that they fear for their jobs. I believe that some women returned from maternity leave, to only get dismissed in the most unusual of cases. I believe that they felt silenced by the fact that they couldn't raise anything to Human Resources because it was under the leadership of the CEO's wife.
Corporations, regardless of who owns them MUST treat their employees kindly and equitably. Corporations must intentionally drive a good work culture because it slows the rotating door (which costs thousands), it drives people to speak proudly of the products and services created (impacted the consumer base) and it also ensures that the goodwill of the organization is maintained. Here are 4 quick tips that leaders can do to better the culture in their organizations:
1. Listen to your employees. By listening to your employees, you may find common themes that need to be addressed with immediacy.
2. Seek to understand. After hearing these themes, seek to understand how such actions have impacted the interworking relationships on your team (and ultimately the bottom line).
3. Take corrective actions. If there is a situation that needs to be addressed and corrected, do so with wisdom so that the employee can still work with dignity.
4. Keep applying the learnings. Culture isn’t built overnight. There are opportunities to reassess and develop and keep “at it” in an effort reapply what you’ve learned in different situations.
The chances of leaders of Essence reading this blog post is very rare but if they are reading, I hope they are able to anchor their own resolve to truly making the workplace better. Growth of an organization is not simply the bottom line - it is also about growing the employees that have dedicated years, time, tears, resources and efforts to growing the company. I believe that things will get better for all of the employees of Essence, regardless of level. My message to them (and to you if you are encountering such experiences), take a break when you can, breathe, pull on your community and when ready - keep going.