“Heavy are the feet of those who plod in uncharted territory but are guided by a falsified dream. ”
I prayed for this job, I surrendered my home for this job. I left my family behind to pursue a Masters Degree for this job. I told my child that it was for a noble cause. I got the interview. I got the job.
That cost me $100,000…in debt.
As a Caribbean Afro-descendant, I was told that I couldn’t even enter the door to approach Security without a Graduate Degree. Although there were known exceptions, my nationality meant that I was not one of them.
From early on I was attacked. My credibility, my qualifications, my background, my attire, my right to be there. I was self-confident, well traveled, worldly, qualified and eager to contribute. I wore pants suits every day, walked upright and exuded a lawyer aura. All this unnerved some coworkers.
It was assumed that I was “the diversity candidate” and standards were dropped “to let me in”. Never mind my advanced law degrees, impressive references and 7-10 years of directly relevant work experience. Yes, I was different, I was unique – I ticked a lot of boxes and I made Management look good.
I wore my hair natural in a puff, and it was so enticing a coworker couldn’t help touching me. I got so upset. My fellow female colleagues (some were women of colour) suggested that I be less sensitive, be less assertive, that I change, that I adjust. Basically, the way they have.
She touched my hair. Then she touched my breasts.
I said no.
She did it again, in public.
She assaulted me. In. A. Meeting. And I lived in terror as she tried again and again to publicly break me, once at an office party acknowledging that she knew it was harassment but she “couldn’t help it”.
There were witnesses, no one helped me.
I endured. I was open game, unprotected and unwanted. I found no mentor within Management, no sponsors amongst the senior officers, no allies willing to perform a rescue. I re-read all the right books and realized that I could gain no more insights into evolving beyond my situation. Indeed, a rescue was essential…but it never came.
Instead, the bullying became my everyday reality.
My work was taken away. I was removed from a meeting room for a white would-be-hire to sit. A senior officer designated to train me on the job, liberally shared her conclusion that I was dumb, after my first and only 10 minutes of asking her questions. Another coworker routinely screamed at me that she wanted a male to verify that I knew what I was doing. Someone taunted my accent. Others called me articulate and asked how I could have finished school since I must have been on the beach all the time back home. They insisted I should marry, have more children, wear make-up and skirts. Apparently, I voiced my opinions too much, contributed thoughts too confidently, and I “called out” man-interruptions too often.
Conclusion: I didn’t know my place.
My dehumanization wasn’t complete until I was attacked in my office and injured my body as a result.
A co-worker ripped me to shreds in a vicious tirade, telling me that I should never have been hired and I wasn’t acting grateful. I reported it. They made her apologize and that was it. It went all up the management chain and I said my goodbyes since there would be no redress. I was made to understand that I couldn’t leave just yet, and certainly not on my own accord. Someone confided that it would mess up their diversity targets since Management had already fired so many others of colour. Summer would be more convenient…the financial year ended in June.
I was trapped. I felt the lesson sink in, I was worth less than my white colleagues and the male counterparts who immediately gained mentors, promotions, excellent performance evaluations. They got job security. I was promised it, but did not…and the office knew that.
It was the preview to even more abuse that I wouldn’t imagine could take place in the halls of the world’s largest and leading development institution.
A professional assessment recorded Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — I suffer nightmare interruptions if I do sleep. I cry while unconscious and choke on my sleep aid. I jumped whenever anyone entered my office and flinched when hands were raised towards me. I dreaded going to the building in the mornings. I throw up even.
I had a mental breakdown and couldn’t return to work. My brain stopped, my memory shut down and my body pained. My immune system tanked. I had emergency surgery.
My health is shot. My debt is not.