"Threatening" and Other Coded Words

Our second letter comes from a man that experienced workplace bullying, coded language, placing of like people, and instances of misleading performance reviews. Here is his story, in his own words:

I previously worked at a higher education institution. While there, I encountered issues of age, gender, and race as a I was the only millennial and only black male in the office. The other black person was a middle-aged woman who bullied me and undercut my work.
One experience, I participated in a cross-collaborative project meeting and I asked questions and offered insight that the majority feel was needed or important only to be told by the black supervisor that I was out of line and that I was being insubordinate by speaking in the meeting. I was also berated by that supervisor via email because she was in a meeting while I was going through TSA check at Reagan Airport in DC. I emailed her the information that she needed and guided her with steps to find the other information. She lectured me via email on how I was to do as to give her the exact information regardless of the circumstance and that I was being insubordinate.
I was working on a time-sensitive newsletter project in which I created a draft of the newsletter for review and it was never reviewed individually or together, and was used as an example of me not submitting work in a timely and quality manner when I was pressured to resign within the 90-day period.
At my 30-day review, I received high marks. At my 60-day review, I was then ambushed by the black supervisor and the senior white supervisor for suddenly having poor work performance and creating a hostile environment and unresponsive to constructive criticism without any substantiation or without any 1:1 conversations about said issues.
Subsequently, on my 87th day, I was ambushed again into a meeting that had HR and the white senior supervisor using those same words to force me to resign (again without any protocols or steps ahead). They said that I was even threatening (code for being black and the only male in the office) and that I did not provide quality work performance, which was never the case and never brought to my attention by my supervisors or internal and external partners/co-workers.
This is a detailed summary of how institutions and people are setup against people of color, millennials, and new modes of work. Those you’d believe to be for you (another black employee) weaponize their tokenism against you to create a “there’s only room for one” mentality. But, the truth, is we can create as much room at the table as we want to help each other grow and thrive and achieve.

Many times when we hear stories like this, we hear from decision makers that this type of behavior can’t really be policed. This is categorically untrue. We can police this behavior because we can name it. This writer experienced:

  • Shifting Policies: Policies are often used against people that are the target of bullying at work. Here, our writer received no guidance on his project, yet this was used as “proof” of poor work product. No matter how bad the management, managers are rarely chided for failing to give proper direction. Due to this lack of objectivity or accountability, we often see policies being used as a tool to increase bullying at work, rather than having any effect on preventing it.

  • Weaponized Performance Reviews: We often see sharp variations in performance reviews for targets of harassment. In the beginning, an abuser is making friends and attempting to control, resulting in high marks at the start. If they are unable to establish control, they often take a sharp turn. A good manager will normally show measured areas for improvement balanced with areas of high performance. Good managers rarely, if ever, have rollercoaster performance reviews. Going from nearly perfect scores to severely reduced scores should be a red flag for Human Resources that the manager is using black and white, unpredictable tactics. Instead, performance reviews in these situations are often just used as a way of “documenting” false or severely misleading information.

  • Coded Language: Human Resources, and indeed justice systems are often highly dismissive of coded language. They claim that they cannot enforce language changes, or that the people it is directed at misunderstood. The truth is, most coded language is pretty easy to decipher, and with minimal effort we could hold people accountable. Calling a black male “threatening” is coded language, plain and simple.

  • “Like” Employees: Many stories of workplace abuse have this common thread. Employers will place someone of the same “demographic” in an investigative or supervisory position. The defense is usually that a person who shares the same characteristic (skin color, gender, age, etc) could never discriminate. “Your supervisor is a woman, you could not have experienced pregnancy discrimination.” The truth is, people who share common characteristics are often hard on one another and are fully capable of harassment and discrimination, as well as serving as an instrument of abuse for an establishment. By grouping “like” employees together, institutions isolate those of diversity, pit us against one another, and reward those who serve as their cover.

  • Age Discrimination: Many of us believe that age discrimination is a blanket protection, telling employers that they can not discriminate on the basis of age, period. This is not the case. Employees are only a member of this group if they are forty or over (depending on your location). We have heard many instances of older employees mistreating, isolating, and being blatantly hostile to people who are younger than them, simply because they are younger. As it stands, there are no protections for younger people who are singled out because of their age.

Disclaimer: Enlightened Solutions has not verified the accuracy of these stories. All stories are submitted anonymously and are published with the intent of allowing people to speak about their workplace situations without identifying information.

Have you experienced workplace discrimination? Submit your anonymous story here.