After six years as a small business owner, I recently decided to take my career in a new direction by returning to the traditional workforce. I’m in the middle of an active job search now, which has its challenges. The job market it tight. Plus, I’m looking for a job in another state. And apparently, I must fend off the ignorance of people who hold such gross misconceptions of what it means to be a woman of color (and mother) returning to work.
I live in a predominately white suburban neighborhood in Phoenix that a friend visiting once described as, “Anywhere USA.” The area is fairly generic and lacks the cultural sophistication of the place I call home, Southern California. But the neighborhood is nice and the people are generally friendly, albeit occasionally unaware of their ignorance around race and diversity.
For instance, I adore my neighbor, a kind 50-something white woman and public school teacher. Although we don’t talk often, I always enjoy the time we spend standing in the driveway catching up on one another’s lives. Here’s a glimpse of our conversation yesterday:
Neighbor: How’s school? [I'm a part-time adjunct professor.]
Me: Eh, it’s okay. But we’re trying to move back to San Diego, so I’m actually looking for full-time work out there now.
Neighbor: Hm-m-m-m. How’s the job market out there?
Me: It’s tight. But it’s tight everywhere. I’m optimistic though. I have marketable skills.
Neighbor: Oh. It’s so diverse in San Diego, isn’t it?
Me: [pause] Uh, yea. It’s far more diverse there than it is here.
Neighbor: Well, it just seems to me it would be harder for you to find a job there because of that.
Me: [totally confused] Why do you…? [pause] Oh, is it because of affirmative action, you think…?”
Neighbor: [so genuinely concerned and oblivious to the insult about to spill from her mouth] Well sure. I mean it just seems like it would be easier for you to find a job here where there is less competition from other people…of…color. Right? I mean affirmative action is in your favor here where there are fewer of you. Out there it probably doesn’t even work.
Me: [flabbergasted] Uh…
My son interrupted our conversation and I was grateful because I really didn’t have the energy to explain to why she just completely insulted me, or how she grossly misinterpreted the use of affirmative action. Plus, I needed a minute to compose my thoughts because I tend to fly off the handle in situations like this and I didn’t want to offer her more reasons to misjudge an entire race due to my individual actions.
I also wanted to make sure that in my time away from the traditional workforce that Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action (AA) standards hadn’t changed so dramatically that maybe she was right. Last I checked, my neighbor was also in a protected class since she’s a woman over 40. But that must have slipped past her radar since EEO/AA laws are commonly attributed to people of color.
So I double-checked my facts and my understanding is accurate:
- EEO means that employers must provide equal access to available jobs, training and promotional opportunities. They must also provide similar benefits to everyone and apply policies consistently to all applicants and staff. The bottom line, EEO forbids any bias in employment actions and seeks to eliminate discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, physical or mental disability, medical condition, ancestry, martial status, or age. EEO does NOT mean I get preferential treatment because I’m a woman of color.
- Affirmative action refers to policies and programs designed to correct obvious practices of illegal discrimination, which are typically (not always) directed toward women and people of color. Only in extreme cases will the courts assign quotas to some employers who have a continued practice of illegal discrimination. Otherwise, employers may not use quotas because it is considered a form of reverse discrimination. In other words, Affirmative Action does NOT offer me preferential treatment unless I intentionally pursue an employer who has historically discriminated against women of color (and why in the world would I do that?!).
I’m excited to return to work and I can’t wait to meet the employer who will benefit from my skills and abilities. My hope is that as I go through the job search process that people will see me for my intelligence, my talent, and ability to work alongside them to do great things, rather than the external markers that place me in a “protected class” according to the laws.
And, this may come as a shock to some, but being mom of hue doesn’t make me less intelligent or qualified for work. If anything I’m MORE than you need since I’ve had prove my worth (over and over) because I’m a woman, I’m a mother and I’m of color. But that’s a whole other blog post.