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Cheyenne Tyler Jacobs: Changing the Workplace Conversation

“The most disrespected person in America is the Black Woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black Woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black Woman.”

Malcolm X (1962)

I have worked a variety of different jobs: everything from nursery school aide, grocery store bagger, life skills counselor, non-profit management…yes I have worn many hats. I say that to set the foundation for this conversation that personally is filled with much passion and emotional labor. The conversation of “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace”. For those of you who are still like huh? It is a fancy way for our institution to say, “Ways to make sure we are allowing marginalized folks the same opportunities and a potential seat at the table”.

Well…

I want to take a new spin on this “Diversity Inclusion in the Workplace” conversation, specifically when speaking on including Black folks, especially Black Women in the workplace. Ever since I was able to hold down a job, which was at the age of 14 (yes I worked under the table #securethebag) I was always the person who “Knew What to Do”. Even at the age of 17 when I was a teacher’s aide at a daycare I was used as the person to tell the parents the bad news, stop fights, and basically anything no one else wanted to do. I took it as a compliment until I got older and realized what was really happening.

“Too many companies still use black folks as the help.”

One of my go to techniques for people to consider in their work environment is Used vs Utilized. It may be a tricky concept. It definitely took me some time and a few jobs to catch on but I realized I was being used at most jobs. Because at no time was I ever fairly compensated, recognized, or even thanked for going above and beyond my job description. In fact when I presented projects or started conversations about moving within the company I was always told I did not have the “qualifications needed” at that time. I have heard that story time and time again from Black Women at their workplace. The scenarios look a little something like this:

  1. People quit their job and office management decides to give job duties to Black Women at the office without promoting them or compensating them for their new job description.
  2. Management hiring unqualified folks to management and executive positions instead of promoting the qualified Black Woman at office.
  3. When an unqualified person fails their job duties at work, office management assigns Black Woman tasks of “cleaning it up” but will not acknowledge their qualifications.

In fact many go as far as trying to document reasons Black Women should not be promoted in business.

I say this because we have to stop having meetings upon meetings about hiring Black folks and how to support them without acknowledging the elephant in the room: that too many companies still use black folks as the help. We need to start holding other employees accountable for their actions and lack of qualifications and at the same time, stop using Black Women to clean up when disaster strikes at work.

“Stating that we want the boardroom to be different doesn’t mean anything if we are simply continuing the same practices.”

We need to stop using and start utilizing Black staff in the office and uplift them the same way other employees are uplifted. Below are some action items that workplaces can do to be sure they are uplifting the Black staff and Black Woman at the office:

1. Hold other staff accountable
2. Promote your Black staff that is doing the work needed in the company
a. End the narrative of not being qualified if staff is already doing the work
Stating that we want the boardroom to be different doesn’t mean anything if we are simply continuing the same practices.
3. Stop changing job descriptions to get more work done without pay
4. Listen to understand and not to respond while in the workplace

These action items can be used across any organization to actually create a more diverse workplace. Stating that we want the boardroom to be different doesn’t mean anything if we are simply continuing the same practices.

Cheyenne Tyler Jacobs is a young black creative and activist originally from New Jersey.  She graduated from William Paterson University in 2017 and has since gone on to speak and write for numerous organizations and platforms.  She was born with a passion for writing and published her first book The Mind of the Teenage Drama Queen while in High School.  She started breaking ground with her writing after the release of her second book The Tragic Type of Beautiful in May 2018 and taking on the identity of @shewillspeak on social media.  Her words and work started being featured on numerous platforms such as Frolic, Asbury Park Press, N.O.W, NJCASA, and End Rape on Campus speaker bureau.  After the release of her second book she founded the She Will Speak Series which is a bi-annual anthology series which has a mission to empower women through awareness, education, and the arts to cultivate healing and change.

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