‘They excluded me’: Confessions of a Black director at a digital media company who felt ‘invisible’
The media reckoning brought on a wave of new internal diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and corporate self-evaluation on racial and ethnic representation of staff at most large media organizations. But without the support and resources necessary for employees of color to perform a job well — all of that is hot air.
In the latest edition of our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for candor, a former employee at a large digital publisher shares her experience of being the only Black director on her team — as well as a lead on one of the company’s Employee Resource Groups — and how she feels Black employees are often “set up for failure” in the workplace. She quit after she noticed a pattern of the support and tools she requested getting denied and instead going to her white colleagues.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Tell me about your experience and why you left your job.
I’ve been in the media for 10 years. I’ve been through this a lot. But this was the worst. [The media company where I used to work] does a lot of stories on being woke, and they aren’t. The sad thing is that the Black employees in there know it, they see it, they say it, we all talk about it — but there’s nothing we can do. There’s nothing that’s done.
When did you start to notice problems at your job?
I was brought on to do a specific job and I never got that opportunity. Within the first 90 days I knew I needed support, more tools and technology — for myself and for the team. I was overseeing the largest portfolio. My own boss — before she quit a few months into me being there — told me: this job is inhumanly possible for one person. So I asked if there was a budget for assistants. I asked: Can I get a coordinator? An intern? I was told no, there is no budget. But my colleagues got what they wanted. When the company had a reorganization while I was there, two of my white colleagues got managers to directly report to them and I never got one. And I had the biggest portfolio. Another employee got promoted two times in her first year, and got a manager too. A path was created for my colleagues. Did they create a path for me? No. They cried, and they got what they wanted. Black women, we can’t cry. If women of color cry, we are seen as weak.
You weren’t getting the same resources as your white colleagues?
Seven months into the role, I remember telling my boss that all my network can only get 20% of me. I’m not able to do good work. I’m not able to focus because I’m in back-to-back meetings from 9 to 6, five days a week. I wish I was lying. The days that I had a break I was so burnt out I couldn’t focus. And I was so transparent. I told my managers in advance. I told them: I need help. They excluded me. One of my white female colleagues said she vouched for me and that I should get a [manager to directly report to me], and not her. When she got a manager, she said I don’t know why I got one — I don’t need one. She even said to me: you don’t just need one, you need three. My colleague’ voices were heard. They were valued. When it came to me, it was like I was invisible.
Who did you turn to for help?
When I came on, I had biweekly meetings with the head of DE&I. He knew about all of this. But he couldn’t do anything about it. It’s not his fault. Let’s be real. What can DE&I really do? He didn’t have the power to do anything. He was a soundboard and a cheerleader for me. He told my team before I came onboard to give me the same support as they do to their white employees. I could have continued doing the job if I had the support, fairness and tools for success. DE&I is a facade. It’s a way to say “Hey guys, look at us. We are doing something.” They don’t actually use it as a correct tool to dig into these departments with predominantly white people.
You’ve mentioned that you could’ve contributed to the company in other ways if you hadn’t been so burnt out. Did you feel this way about the ERG you were a part of?
I was really dedicated to it and I wanted to do more. But every time I asked to be a part of [other initiatives at the company], my bosses would say: do all the stuff that we need you to do first, then do that. Both of my bosses didn’t value [my role at the ERG]. There was not one day in my one-on-one meetings where they asked me about the ERG. They never brought it up. I don’t think it was important to them. Some companies see it as an extracurricular activity.
What ultimately led you to quit your job?
I wanted to see if they could create a lane for a Black employee like they do for non-Black employees. I just wanted to see if they would do it. So many people got hired, and when new bosses come in you would see new roles created for them. They didn’t do that for me. [I wanted] to see if they were going to treat me like they treat their non-Black employees. I saw that they didn’t. Racial discrimination and systemic racism is real at [this media company]. I saw that when everything I asked for that my white colleagues were getting, I’d asked for before them. I was so honest. My colleagues all knew what I was going through. I told my new boss: I’m sinking. I’m drowning. But they looked at it as, she can’t do the job and that’s why she’s sinking.
Earlier you mentioned a moment that you called “the last straw.” Can you tell me what happened?
[The media company] was starting an HBCU initiative. This was the straw for me. I graduated from an HBCU. But for this entire initiative, I was never included. That’s when it became evident that I was invisible to one of my bosses, who was overseeing this initiative. It was a painful feeling. The person leading it was a person of color, but she didn’t go to an HBCU and she wasn’t Black. I was giving her ideas because she didn’t know what to do. I only stayed [as long as I did] for the head of DE&I — he [believed] it would get better.
What do you want people to take away from your experience?
There are other people of color that are looking into the media and the truth is they get pulled in by a lot of these DE&I programs that are pushed. If I’m looking for a job and there’s this wonderful HBCU initiative, you would think: this is a great company. These programs, these events… we know what they’re covering up. I know when this piece comes out, the first thing a Black person is going to say is ‘Oh no, not again.’ We are tired. I’m tired. People need to know what’s going on. There are other people who have left because of the same thing, and no one said anything. I hope this gets people to speak up.
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