Allyna | All Workplaces Are Not Created Inclusive

In 2020, in the midst of the protests and the beginning of the pandemic, I moved to a new city and was looking for work. Because of COVID, the opportunities were pretty limited in my field so, when I was contacted about a marketing position with a private school, I hesitantly said “yes”. While I wasn’t interested in working in education, I was just grateful to finally have a job offer related to marketing and decided to make the best of it.

During the interview process I did ask a lot of questions about workplace culture and diversity initiatives, because on one hand, I had just left a toxic work environment in my previous city, and on the other hand, after viewing the staff page on their website, I was extremely nervous going into a situation where I would be the only person who looked like me or could potentially relate to me, as the school and surrounding community was very wealthy.

I was assured that as a direct result of the protests, and their “moral obligation”, they were in the process of securing DEI training for the entire school, hiring diverse professionals and teachers, and more.

After starting, it was immediately obvious that I was an “other”. I’m not entirely sure if this was about me specifically or just had to do with the cliquiness of the staff, so I didn’t think much of it, as I’m already an introvert. However, a few weeks into the job, during the first staff meeting of the school year, the heads of the school were doing a presentation to deliver updates. One of the updates included information about the upcoming DEI training and initiatives the school would be enacting, and the next slide was about diverse hiring and it included a large photo of me. No one else. And on top of that, my name was spelled incorrectly with far too many letters and in a very stereotypical way.

Aside from this being extremely embarrassing, I was uncomfortable that they basically implied that I was hired due to how I looked as opposed to my professional experience and qualifications (which I had). Also, as a racially ambiguous person, I felt uncomfortable being the spokesmodel for diversity. This is not what inclusion looks like! This wasn’t something I took lightly, and spoke with everyone involved about the incident and was assured that they did not mean it like that, it wouldn’t happen again, etc.

However, the next few months included staff wearing racially inappropriate clothing to work and not being reprimanded, heads of the school rolling their eyes during conversations about promoting more students of color in school communications, volun-telling me I had to participate in groups and clubs (despite my role not being school-staff) as a show of diversity and equal input, really great diverse candidates interviewing for roles but being rejected for far less qualified white candidates, team members blatantly ignoring my ideas and constantly talking over me, and much more.

Ultimately, I stayed at this job for only 6 months and left without having a new job lined up and without notice. This was a huge financial risk for me but it was definitely necessary in order to protect my mental health from being in that environment daily.

I now work for myself and am very specific about the clients I work with because I refuse to be in a situation like that again. Times are changing, so employers need to get better or get out of the way as society learns what inclusive and diverse environments actually look like.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.