Story on Criticism
City: Los Angeles
Perceptions changed when I started looking out for myself.
Six months after graduation, I began running a department with forty direct employees. My training was brief and hasty. I managed everything: financials, processes, and people. The hardest aspect was the older men, whose eyes – and sometimes words – undermined my efforts.
I got better at managing around the time of my annual review. I wasn’t expecting a glowing review; everything was still new, and I was continuing to learn. My superiors had concerns surrounding my confidence and inability to fit training into my busy schedule. If I didn’t improve, I was out. I was devastated but kept my composure.
Over that weekend I bought two notebooks. In one I brainstormed ways to improve based on their criticism. In the other I began documenting interactions with my bosses, good and bad. I was going to leave the company but wanted to create waves and surprise them first. I was not going to start my career in an environment that didn't encourage and empower new graduates, and where employees were openly miserable.
Over the next 90 days I improved morale, created best practices that were implemented in other departments, and saved my boss’ ass regularly. I learned their game and played it well. But in the weekly meetings, they continued to say I lacked confidence.
I scheduled a meeting with my supervisors’ boss and the head of HR. I had my notebook of evidence and full packets to give the attendees — all of which disproved their theory of my lack of confidence. In the next meeting my bosses made it clear I had met expectations and would not be laid off. Little did they know, it was all part of my exit strategy.
People’s criticism comes through a certain lens. Look at the criticizer – it’s easy to point out someone’s flaws, especially if there are already personal biases abound. Unfortunately, much of this probably stemmed from me being the only black person and the only black female. I stood out, and it always seemed more difficult for me to connect with my managers than it did for my white counterparts. Nonetheless, their perception of me changed when I started looking out for myself and showed I was taking notes on their actions, as they were on mine. I am a true force with or without their support. I turned my “lack of confidence” into a well-documented strength, dismantling their efforts to get rid of me based off an unfair, code-word claim.