So I’m back with the etiquette series. This time it’s on office/work place decorum. Summer is right around the corner and for some this may be your first time stepping into an office setting to work. I want to make sure you all do not end up like Rasheeda aka DaDa on HBO’s Insecure, who lost the internship of her dreams by not knowing proper workplace etiquette.
Who is Our Subject Rasheeda?
If you all haven’t gotten a chance to watch Insecure on HBO you all should. The brainchild of Issa Rae, the wonderful human being who gave us the web series and book Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, If you do not have access to access HBO shows via your cable provider or streaming service, sign up for a 1 month free trial. There’s only 8 episodes lasting roughly 30 minutes each. Anywho, I’m not here to sell on you Insecure. Instead to give you some context and use this as a teaching moment.
Rasheeda is a summer associate at a big law firm. On paper she’s the perfect candidate, but in person, she needs some polishing. She’s loud in the halls, not open to taking advice, and has a false confidence that nothing will go wrong. Molly, a third year associate, finds herself approached by a white partner gently asking her to sharing the company culture with Rasheeda. Although it was uncomfortable, Molly gives her some advice on how to succeed in the workplace. Lowering her voice, having conversations in private, being mindful her surroundings. You know, usual expectations when working in a corporate office.
Source : HBO
Rasheeda rejects this advice as Molly preaching respectability politics and decides not change behaviour. She stated that it got her far in law school and she acted the same way in the interview, thus feeling not need to make a change. Her decision to not heed Molly’s advice costed her the position as summer associate.
Respectability vs Decorum
I’ve read articles about this scene. Some depicted Molly, someone doing well professionally, as being jealous of Rasheeda for being herself. Others said they think it’s not right for people to ask Rasheeda to suppress her identity. These people are wrong. There is a time and place for everything. Identity management is key to succeeding in life.
There is a difference between changing who you are and knowing which identity part of yourself to present given your location. When you’re in the office, one does not know who will be roaming the halls or on the phone with a client. You as an employee are a reflection of the company. Showing poor judgment, such as not keeping more animated conversations in the break room, can be read as such. Not to mention, you could be interrupting the concentration and work of others who reside in cubicles or keep an open door policy. You do not want the reputation of being the person everyone in the office complains about, especially as a newbie.
The analogy I like to use if a doctor’s office. If you went in for a check up and found the doctor and/or nurse gossiping in the halls it would leave a bad taste in your mouth. This should be applied to all work settings. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to connect with your coworkers or expressing yourself, but be mindful of where you do so. Which is something Rasheeda was not.
How to Keep Your Job
Here’s the thing, every office has a different culture. When you’re researching companies and interviewing for positions, you have to ensure it’s a culture and space you can work in. As much as Rasheeda wanted to be a corporate attorney, she was not ready to make the changes needed to fit into big law culture. Summer internships such as these are a test a see if you will add value to the company as a full time employee. To make the most of these opportunities, there’s a few things you should be doing.
- Reach out to alumni from you university or employees via LinkedIn to learn about the company culture.
- Read reviews on GlassDoor and TheMuse.
- Ask example questions during your interview process.
- Try to gauge the behaviour of your superiours and accordingly
- Ask for feedback
- Listen and reflect on advice given to you
If a higher up approaches you with advice on your behaviour, listen and reflect on it. This person has been with the company longer than you. For black women in particular, I know it can feel it at times the “they” DJ Khaled often speaks of is conspiring against you, but you have to learn how to filter through sound advice and that with the sole purpose of tearing you down.
Rasheeda didn’t have that self awareness or trust in someone looking out for her. Someone who went out on limb and put herself in an uncomfortable situation to make the road a little easier for Rasheeda. So my advice to you is come in with an open mind, hunger for knowledge, and mindset of being okay with adapting to your workplace culture. Don’t be Rasheeda and mess up an opportunity of a lifetime.
Until Next Time,