In what can be described as a performance review of the working world, the book The Black Girl’s Guide to Corporate South Africa tackles racism, sexism, ethnic chauvinism, ageism, and sexual harassment. It asks many questions as well, such as how do black women make the most of their efforts and support each other.
In all of this, I did not have a good relationship with my manager at the time, a black female manager. She joined halfway into my time with the team. She was confident and very smart – theoretically smart and street smart as well. She was just not an easy character to please. From the onset, I felt that she would make comments and remarks that would ‘bother’ me. I would ignore them and continue with what I was expected to deliver.
However, the more the time lapsed and the comments intensified, the more unsettled I started to become. She would say things such as, ‘Your people like to study, study, study, what do you have to show for it? You know, you have the potential to be an executive one day but you have zero experience.
What I didn’t know is that she formed a personal relationship with my peers who were her age mates. Initially, I would share with them how I felt victimised and unappreciated by her. Turned out, they would either record my conversations or go and tell her exactly what I had shared in confidence. This would antagonise me further. I would moan and complain about this toxic relationship to anyone I trusted who would listen, including my family and friends. And because I didn’t know better, I was the perfect victim. I was young, I was fearful; I believed everything my boss said was right. My duty as a subordinate was never to question, but just to do.
When you are perpetually reminded that you are young and inexperienced, you take it on the chin; roll your sleeves up and start collecting that experience. Ageism and prejudice at work aren’t just matters for older people – they can have a serious impact on young employees too. It is as though she would have phrased it this way if she had the chance: Stop working so hard. You are making the rest of us look bad. Your chance will come. You’re only young yet.
About the author
Lindelwa Skenjana is an award-winning professional with over 10 years of experience in various sectors of the corporate world. She holds a master’s in ICT for development from the University of Manchester. Lindelwa is a founding member of the Mbewu Movement, a young women’s dialogue forum. She lives in Johannesburg.