I work hard, take my duties seriously and arrive at work every day with a smile on my face, though it’s hard when our company’s senior management doesn’t respect me. On my own time, I earned an MBA and after that applied for two promotions into management. Each time I felt I was the most qualified candidate, but was passed over. Both times the position was given to less-experienced individuals. Until today, I forced myself to believe that there were reasons other than my race and sex for senior management choosing others.
This morning, when I let our Director of Operations know I intended to apply for the upcoming promotion, he tried to talk me out of it. He started by saying I was good in my position and then said it was because I related well to the “rank and file” possibly because of “where I’d come from” and my parents’ jobs. I didn’t ask what my parents’ job had had to do with my career; the subtext was clear. The lower paid “rank and file” in our company are Hispanic or African-American, as am I. The top two tiers of managers are all white men. The two individuals who received the promotions I longed for are white and male.
The DO then suggested I stay where I am, because I do a good job there and not “try to reach too high” within the company. While I still plan to apply for a promotion into management, I expect to be passed over, particularly after what I learned next. My closest friend in the company and I went out to lunch. When I shared the Director’s comments, she said it was just what she would expect of him. She told me he’d sexually harassed her a year ago, actually threatening her when she wasn’t responsive. I asked her if she’d gone to HR and she said she didn’t because she was a new employee, he’d been here twenty years, he supervises the HR representative and she couldn’t afford to risk her job. What options do I have?
You can apply for the open management position or look for a higher-level position in another company. If you don’t get the promotion, you can ask what the other candidate offers the company that you don’t or what you need to show or do to get a future promotion. If you don’t like the answers you get and feel you’ve been passed over due to prejudice, you can resign or file a complaint with the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission or the Alaska Commission on Human Rights. An investigator will then ask your employer to identify what led them to choose other candidates.
While you may fear you’ll experience retaliation if you make a complaint to a regulatory agency, the senior management in your company has more to fear. Not only does the law protect you against retaliation, but given what you’ve learned from your friend, she and others may join forces with you in the investigation process.
I don’t know if you’ve been discriminated against or not. My years of mediating workplace issues have shown me that four out of five candidates assure me they’re the most qualified for the positions for which they apply. You view those who got the promotions as less experienced, but they may possess qualities you lack. Perhaps, despite your experience and MBA, you lack critical people, organizational or other skills. Like you, however, I suspect stereotyping and prejudice given the DO’s statements. Your coworker appears to have suffered unlawful sexual harassment. What I further know is that when someone decides “enough is enough” and comes forward, wrongs can be righted.
While the road forward for those who file complaints may be difficult, the alternative in which you work hard but feel disrespected and held back can be worse because it can erode your spirit. For that reason, if you’re passed over again and don’t want to bring the matter forward to a regulatory agency, it might be time to exit this company so you can reach as high as you want with a new employer.
© 2018, Lynne Curry
Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and founded The Growth Company, an Avitus company and now serves as Regional Director of Training & Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group company. Send your questions to her at Lcurry@avitusgroup.com, www.thegrowthcompany.com, follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10 or via www.workplacecoachblog.com.