Earlier this week I had an interview with a woman-owned company that sells to national retailers. The owner of the company is a white woman who doesn’t have a college-degree and refers to herself as "self-made". Most of the employees are also white females. Though, scrolling through their team online, I did see several Asian males and females and a few polished white males. The recruiter who connected me to the position let me know they had just hired a Colombian man to join their international sales team — but, basically, in the office and on the website, there were no brown people.
With this context in mind, I reviewed the feedback they provided after my interview:
I got very similar feedback to this after a phone interview with another company more than a year ago, so I wanted to deeply consider this feedback. For reference, the interview with the other company was also an interview with a white woman, who owned her own business prior to taking her current role just a few months earlier. Since it was a phone interview, I don't know whether race was a part of the equation, but a simple LinkedIn query would reveal me as a black woman.
I often feel white women pride themselves on their independence, but are intimidated by that same characteristic in women of color.
Why is thriving in an independent contractor role a detriment to my future role? Because I enjoyed independence, does that mean I can't also enjoy collaboration? Getting past the initial disappointment in failing to land the role, I spoke with several friends and professional coaches who validated my feeling that this was an instance of white saviorism and white feminism.
My experience has been that white women want to support black women, but only on their terms and conditions. These white women wanted a new hire to add some diversity, but if they had the option of hiring a black woman who demonstrated a past of failures and hardships, rather than a successful black woman who was "self-made", would they have?
I shared the feedback in an email thread of close friends. A white male colleague responded briefly, “it does seem like a coded way of saying they think you’d be difficult.”
The thread was forwarded around and landed in the inbox of a white female hiring manager who thoughtfully responded with the following analysis:
This experience is different than not landing a job because you are overqualified or because you didn’t pass a personality quiz. This design director leading the interview commented that she was “wondering about how [I] would mesh with [owner of the business].”
That statement seems like an opportunity to bring me in for a second interview, to meet the owner of the company. Why wouldn't I get along with the business owner? We were both, after all, “self-made” women. Her background is in industrial design, mine is in fabrication and architecture.
The idea that I wouldn’t be a good “culture fit” and that I might be difficult to work with, after spending less than an hour with me, felt problematic. I don’t think a culture fit is something a diverse workplace is looking for — I think a cultural fit is something that the agency and the employee should mutually work toward.
Black women have historically been excluded from feminism, and it felt important for me to share this modern-day encounter with a women-owned business in this current climate of white-centered female activism and inclusive hiring practices.
This happened earlier this week — then today I interviewed with an Asian male creative director at an agency. I spoke about my experience building a direct-to-client design service over the past several years. He shared that, “many people who work here have that entrepreneurial spirit.” I’m sharing all of this to say…. As WOC in the workplace we can reclaim our power by recognizing that we are also interviewing potential employers. If your assets are being perceived as burdens or if your past experience is being perceived as intimidating, then you have to ask yourself whether that workplace is the right fit for you.
// written by Kelsi Sharp