This post isn’t intended to get sympathy or make excuses not to put in effort during a job search. These are simply my thoughts about issues that I see when seeking gainful employment as a black woman in America.
I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in May. Those are words that I’ve been waiting to say for the past 10 years. I’ve gone to some extreme measures for this piece of paper. I moved to an unknown city with no money for it. I joined the military for it (and anyone who knows me knows I had no business being in anyone’s military). Since I was little, I’ve been told that once I get that piece of paper, I can do ANYTHING. Now that it’s literally almost in my hands, you would think I’d be thrilled about it, right? Well I am, but there’s apprehension mixed in with that thrill.
You see, when I was little, no one explained to me that one day I would craft beautifully-written cover letters and resumes, and send them in to jobs that I’m perfectly qualified for, but get no response. No one told me the reason I didn’t get a response, was probably because of my “ethnic” first and last name. No one told me that two factors have a bigger impact than a piece of paper: being a woman, and being black.
My most recent glimpse of this occurred when I went to a job interview after separating from the military. The interview was for a temp job as a data entry clerk at a local bank. When I arrived, I realized that the interview actually wasn’t an interview; it was an impromptu orientation. The majority of the job applicants were black women in their 20s-40s. Many wore poorly fitted business attire, and clutched onto worn handbags as they quietly waited for the next step.
After completing paperwork and fingerprinting, a staff member took another young lady and myself on a tour of the production floor. It was a cramped office space with dingy lighting and more black women sorting through envelopes at their desks. As we walked around, the other young lady nodded her head with approval and commented on how nice it looked. I was much less impressed, and impatiently waited for the tour to be over.
I left the orientation feeling emotionally drained. What I had experienced wasn’t anything new, but this time made me especially disgusted. Although I applied for this job to make extra money during school, many of those women NEEDED that job. The energy of desperation and hopefulness hit me the minute I walked into that room. It was a temporary job with low pay, no benefits, and a poor working environment, but they would take it just to keep food on the table. I wondered how many of these women had gone to school and accumulated debt just to end up here. It scared me, and it still scares me, because this can be me….no, this IS me. I have work experience, military experience, an Associate’s degree, will have a Bachelor’s degree, yet I have never made over $40k a year.
Like I mentioned here, black women are not set up to win in the traditional job market. When we do, it’s because we’ve somehow managed to dodge the bullets of corporate America and come out on top. Still, black women succeeding in traditional industries is the exception, not the rule. That’s why it’s important that we don’t fall for the hype of going to overpriced universities that we’ll spend years paying for once we graduate. That’s why it’s important we learn about multiple sources of income, rather than rely solely on the low pay that we’re expected to be grateful for.
I’m nervous about what the future holds, and if a degree will make a difference in my employment opportunities. Whether I land a job with a decent salary, I will continue to invest, work on side hustles, and pay off debt. That way I won’t NEED a job for security, and this is the reality I want for all black women.
This is such an honest and necessary post. The frustrating reality is that the system in which we are expected to work within, isn’t set up for everyone to succeed. Nor is it made with people of color in mind, especially black women. You hit the nail right on the head when you said to invest, work on side hustles, and pay off debt. Investing and monetizing skills and hobbies is something I wish was taught and encouraged in school. I also wish schools taught young people how to manage money. Posts like this is so necessary because it’s information that isn’t taught or talked about in school.
I share similar concerns about whether higher education has benefited me in any way. I have a Masters degree and am currently unemployed. When I was working for a brief 10 months after graduating, I was making 35k. I had (and still have) student loans to repay and was living paycheck to paycheck. My husband’s story is the complete opposite. His experience reflects the old school model that seems to work very well for White males in America-you get your education, start at a company, and work your way up. It’s been about 7 years that he’s been in his company and has been promoted almost every year.
The job interview turned orientation sounded like a work environment from a different time period. I am still so baffled that employers (today in 2018) expect employees to show up to work motivated and be productive by giving them no benefits, low pay, and terrible work conditions. The standard in the working world HAS to change.
Thank you again for sharing this!
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. It is frustrating to follow all of the steps of the “old school model” that you mentioned, only to realize that it doesn’t work if you’re a certain gender or race. I’m trying to stay optimistic about employment when I graduate, but I still feel anxious about the hurdles I’ll have to jump before I get a decent job offer. I agree that standards in work environments need to change. Just today, my husband and I had a discussion about the laundry list of requirements that employers have for jobs, only to offer pay that’s a few dollars above minimum wage. Learning how to monetize skills and properly manage finances is definitely needed to get out of the hamster wheel of traditional employment. Thanks again for stopping by!
I think anxiety is totally normal. Optimism certainly helps but like you said, managing your finances and monetizing side hustles can certainly give you the extra cushion and time to find the perfect fit-a place that values you and gives you the proper benefits. It is insane the amount of experience expected for certain jobs and the little pay/minimal benefits they offer. Once again, best of luck. Really looking forward to hearing more about your search and success 🙂
Thank you, I really appreciate your kind words. 🙂