Kai Lawson2 Comments

#MyNextStep | Safe Spaces in Work Places

Kai Lawson2 Comments
#MyNextStep | Safe Spaces in Work Places

I spent over 4 months climbing out of the professional sunken place I told you about, in “Why I Quit my Job. However, not without spending a substantial amount of time wondering if I made the right decision. It was probably the longest time I’ve spent mostly alone, and with my own thoughts. I had a lot of shit to sort out. 

I anticipated that (F)unemployment would have given me time, to live my best life. In a weird, twisted and painful way, it did. I was forced to work through my all of my inner insecurities, in an attempt to reground myself and to determine a new approach to my career. At this stage in my life, there’s absolutely nothing better than having clarity and direction.

In the end, it took over 100 days, before I finally decided to get back to work. In this time, I managed to settle on a more clear idea of what I WANTED and NEEDED to sustain, in the Advertising business. I decided it wouldn’t really matter where I worked or what I did, I just need to feel safe. Not just physically safe— that’s clearly implied. Specifically, I need a space where I would be included into the culture as my authentic self, a space where I could safely recharge when I am not feeling my authentic self, and a safe space where I could express myself, when either of the other spaces become compromised. In the past, I accepted job offers based only on salary requirements, instead of safety requirements. Today, I acknowledge that’s where I fucked up. Don’t get me wrong. Money is still very important to me. However, for the sake of maturity and lessons learned, I now believe the safety of my sanity and my energy are far more of a priority, than my salary and benefits package. This time around, I let safety guide me.

Ironically, a friend from college posted about red flags she experienced, during a job search process. I probably re-read the post and DIED of laughter 4 times, before I responded. It took me back to the moments which I found myself in that very situation, both on the search and in the interview. It validated why my new approach was so important to my survival. 

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To her credit, she didn’t even bother applying for the position. However, the post sparked two thoughts for me. The first being that there are so many agencies hell bent on creating a culture that is cool, that they forget they need to build a culture, within their agency, that feels safe to the people they’re trying to attract and retain. 

I am sure agencies who incorporate a culturally appropriating tone, into their marketing material, don’t even consider what it does to their first impression. For some of us, walking into a space where there are no people of color and we somehow find every piece of copy references how lit, and how dope their squad is, can be extremely uncomfortable. Be clear, WE ARE JUDGING and DISCUSSING THE SHIT OUT OF YOU. We see these as red flags and we run for the hills, or at least when we don’t, we wished we would have.

The second thought, is this silent yet instinctive process of counting the faces that look like ours, in offices during interviews. I do it all the time. It’s a safety check. For many of us, seeing another person of color, is less about just seeing the face, and more about finding a safe space.  

More often than not, that safe space comes from people who share our experiences… and even more often than that, black people in work spaces share a more similar life experience with each other... It’s not to say other people can’t become our safe space. They eventually do. But it’s definitely to say we have a better set of odds, with people who look like us.

We can endure a lot more bullshit, and sustain for much longer periods of time within organizations, when we find a sacred space to vent in our own nuance and language. I imagine, this is why the whole Good Ol’ Boys Club culture, has led to the success of so many white men. Everyone thrives in environments and systems, that are developed and maintained to nurture their authentic and natural selves. 

Once I began my job search, I prioritized finding a workplace that had a safe zone already built into its structure. I didn’t want to volunteer to build it or to be asked to build it. I didn’t want to explain what it should look like to anyone either. In the end, that would cost me more energy, than I can bare to spare. I just wanted to walk into work on day 1 and have access to it. I needed to ensure that I could have all of the things I wanted, so that I could give my agency what they want, from me. My best.

For now, I think I may have found that place and I started last Tuesday.