As black women there are many lies and myths that we are told about our womanhood and where we fit in society and this world. I think the biggest lie I have ever been told is to “stay in my lane”. The term “stay in your lane” is telling someone to focus on their own life and not worry about someone else life, achievements, and failures. It is supposed to “check” those gossips, haters and those who are jealous and envious of you. However, the term can also be used to shut someone down so they should not reach for more, they should “stay in their lane” because they should not be so vocal, competitive or ambitious. I think that’s the biggest lie I have ever heard. It is misleading and allows people to settle when they have the skills and abilities to do well in their lives.
Last year, I found myself working in a company that had 3 black people and it was a ticking time bomb. It had been some time since I was employed so I was just happy to be there. I was happy when I realized that I was getting paid more than I expected. I was happy that my 3-month review was a success and they had decided to hire me full time. The only problem was as a foreigner I needed a work permit. My boss at the time agreed to help with the permit, and I even went and got a police clearance. I was ready to go home and get this work permit. I was so happy that something was going right for once. It had been 3 years since I had graduated and I just was not able to get full-time employment. Unemployment chipped away at my ego and self-esteem. I just did not understand where I was getting it wrong. I mean I had 2 degrees and I was extremely educated.
As time went on, the company began to unravel and the turnover was very high. In one month, 4 people left and team’s morale was low. My line manager and I had issues and she almost got me fired which would have been the worst thing ever and absolutely embarrassing. How would I explain that to my parents? I decided to just play the game and be the perfect employee. I would get to work before everyone and leave after everyone. This strategy worked because I ended up winning employee of the month. I was on cloud 9, but to my surprise and relief, my line manager was leaving to pursue other opportunities. Two weeks after my line manager had left, I started feeling dissatisfied with my job. I was being completely sidelined and doing work that was beneath my position.
One spring morning, my boss at the time called me into the boardroom with another colleague and told me that she had promoted me from Public Relations Assistant to Junior Account Manager. I was over the moon and I was going to be running an account all by myself. All the hard work and waiting had finally led to something substantial. My boss agreed that she was going help more intensely with the work permit. In that moment, I felt like I had won the lottery but it was definitely too good to be true.
First, my boss was being wishy-washy about when I could leave to get the work permit. Then she kept changing the dates and then claimed that I needed to stay longer than initially agreed upon. In a bold move, I said if I had to stay longer could I please have a pay increase that would go well with the law. She agreed and when I sent her the email with the amount that I thought was suitable. She began lying and trying to use the work permit against me. The situation became so ridiculous that she made me meet her husband who was at times the part-time HR manager. It was crazy now that I think about it. I explained to her husband that I needed to move forward in my career and she had promoted me and it is my right to have a pay increase and the work permit. He decided that I should go back to my home country and get the work permit. She was not in this particular meeting.
After I spoke to her husband and the so-called HR manager, my boss behaved as if everything was fine but she was secretly scheming and plotting. She started giving me a tremendous amount of work even though I was already very busy. It dawned on me that she was trying to illustrate that I was incompetent. This tactic is used by white people and men to show that people of color and women are not good enough for the job. I was already doing my work and helping other senior account managers, so obviously I would be overwhelmed. Her treatment became so bad that she blamed me for other people’s work. She said that she wanted to look through my work. It was all strange and surreal because 2 weeks earlier she was praising my work ethic and results.
On a fateful Thursday, everything came to head because she was stressed with a launch that was coming up and took it out on me. She claimed that I am not stressed which is dismissive and cold. I think as humans we are allowed to feel what we feel. I found myself in tears. Then after the launch, she again blamed me for everything and someone else work. I was shattered because I had worked so hard and been up since 5 am just to get everything right. Even my other colleagues came to my defense. We later had a meeting and she accused my work as “glaringly bad”. I had a panic attack which she thought I was faking. It was all a mess.
To cut a long story short, I quit the following week to her surprise. I was ashamed of quitting because my parents did not raise a quitter but I felt so disrespected by her. What made matters worse is that she went and told other colleagues that I had lied about having a work permit and randomly asked for a promotion. To be kind let’s just say she has a selective memory.
Going back to what we spoke about staying in your lane, my boss did not expect me to know my rights and to stand up for myself. She expected me to take the promotion without paying me for it. That is exploitation she does in her company. She purposely hires young people so she can underpay them but expects a high standard of work, it’s a vicious cycle at that company. My thing is, I needed to move forward in my career, and I should be paid accordingly for the work I put in. I am happy that I did not stay in my lane because I would be taken advantage of and not know my worth. I think she was even shocked that this timid Black girl would not put up with her BS. I think I may have even earned a bit of her respect.
In life, there is a place and time to stay in your lane and I think as black women, we should not think we can do the bare minimum. Our self-worth, talents, and skills should be appreciated and we should stand up for ourselves and not stay in our lanes. Society takes advantage of the notion that we are just happy to have that job, be his girlfriend, or just be earning a small amount of money. I think that is trash. You are a queen and if you want that job and have worked hard for it, DON’T STAY IN YOUR LANE.