How have the inequities in the workforce progressed? I interviewed a healthcare worker who has been a working civilian longer than I’ve been alive; curious if the systems have improved economic conditions for women of color, like herself.
“It’s actually gotten worse.”
Marnesha Hords, 48, expressed how the barriers she’s faced in work spaces throughout her life resembled that of former generations. Older generations, who she remembers advocating for the same equitable conditions demanded today.
“Still to this day I deal with overt and blatant racism, to the point where I’ve actually had to file a couple discrimination complaints against senior executives in various organizations. It’s exhausting.”
Hords shared how the prevention of advancement opportunities, and the inequitable workloads for lower compensation than non-POC counterparts are barriers to Black excellence and wellbeing. Hords explained that the saying she’d heard growing up, “Black women have to work three times as hard for half the recognition and less pay,” became very real for her when she began working.
“Because of the systemic racism that we deal with, Black women have to be three times better than our non-Black counterparts to get half of the recognition and respect in the workspace. I would like to see a level of transformation where Black women don’t have to overwork and over stress themselves to earn respect. It’s exhausting being held to that standard, especially when other systemic barriers cause environment disruptions. But more than that, it’s unfair.”
The healthcare worker says she even experienced a decline in opportunities when she stopped relaxing her hair 10 years ago and went natural. A perm is a texturizing process that straightens Black hair to resemble that of European texture.
“I used to wear my hair permed for a very long time, and then I decided to go natural about ten years ago. During my natural transition, I’ve had white colleagues tell me I should change my hair to move up the corporate ladder and beauty pyramid. Other Black women who had permed hair told me I’d never move up the corporate ladder because that was the standard expected of them. And now that I’ve gotten locs, that has only exaggerated this. But I’m not changing my hair because I am me, and my natural hair is my truth.”
Hords expressed that the standard Black women are held to in the work space can easily perpetuate the stereotype, “the angry Black woman,” whether you have a reason to be angry or not. I asked her about the changes she’d like to see in the workspace for the current, and upcoming generations, to better support these conditions. Hords advocates the removal of oppressive stereotypes that suppress Black freedom of expression, truth, and vulnerability.
“I want the stereotypes of the angry black woman to go away. We’re in a place where society as a whole speaks their truth, and we need to get to a place where black women have that freedom as well, without being looked at as angry black women; and without having to explain our decisions or rationale.”
Hords went on to talk about how equitable working conditions could ease community burdens. Community burdens happen when few people grow wildly successful out of a struggling community and then are expected to give back to their communities to help the many in need. Hords suggested that if more people in her community were given opportunities that supported viable living conditions, less people would need peer or governmental support.
“I need a willingness from white America to accept that it doesn’t have to be white to be right. All the institutions have been written by white people, for white people. There’s more than that way of thinking. We, of all colors and backgrounds contribute to society, so we all deserve a say in how society affects us as the people.”